UPDATE: Israel hits key Hamas targets in Gaza offensive
ABOVE: Escalating violence between Israel and Hamas could drive region to war
Israel’s defence minister is vowing its offensive against Hamas will intensify in the days ahead.
Israeli attacks on Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip killed at least 14 people Wednesday, bringing the two-day total to 41, including an 80-year-old woman.
The strikes came after militants fired more than 160 rockets at Israel as tensions between the bitter enemies rose following the deaths of several teenagers.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner says warplanes early Wednesday attacked more than 160 sites including Hamas command centres and 118 concealed rockets launching sites.
The country is also mobilizing ground troops for a possible invasion of Gaza.
Yesterday, 30-year-old Hamad Hafiz and five members of his family were killed in an airstrike on his home in Gaza, according to Israeli news agency Haaretz.
Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported the others killed in the attack as being between the ages of 16 and 62.
Hafiz was a senior member of the military wing of the Islamic Jihad, a group that has also claimed responsibility for rockets fired at Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Hamas’a military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, also claimed responsibility for rockets fired at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and other targets in Israel.
The Israeli military has launched airstrikes on more than 200 targets in Gaza since the start of what it calls “Operation Protective Edge,” hitting more than 50 targets on Tuesday alone.
Palestinian and other Arab media outlets reported children were also among those killed in the Gaza Strip during Tuesday’s raids.
According to Ma’an News Agency, an Israeli airstrike on a home in Khan Yunis overnight killed two boys, ages 13 and 14, along with five other people.
WATCH: Israeli airstrikes slam into Gaza Strip
“Witnesses said an Israeli drone fired a warning flare, prompting relatives and neighbors to gather at the house as a human shield and that, shortly afterwards, an F-16 warplane fired a missile that leveled the building,” the news agency reported.
A separate airstrike in southern Gaza fatally wounded an 8-year-old child, Ma’an also reported.
UPDATES: What’s happening in Israel and the Palestinian territories
Rockets fired at Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa
Hamas fired a another onslaught of rockets into Israel Tuesday evening, hitting the Israeli capital Jerusalem.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) confirmed the strike on Jerusalem, but did not specify where in the city the rocket struck.
Confirmed: A rocket fired from Gaza hit Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 8, 2014
Hamas confirmed it fired four rockets at Jerusalem, one at Tel Aviv – its second attempt that day to bomb the populous coastal city – and one at the northern port city of Haifa.
“For the first time, the al-Qassam Brigades strike Haifa with an R160 rocket, and strike occupied Jerusalem with four M75 rockets and Tel Aviv with four M75 rockets,” Al-Arabiya quoted a release from al-Qassam saying.
If confirmed, it would mark the first time a rocket from Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, reached that far north – about 160 km from the Gaza Strip.
WATCH: As Israel ramped up its offensive against the militants in the Gaza Strip, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets at Israeli cities
During the same barrage of rocket fire, four rockets were fired at Be’er Sheva, in southern Israel, but the Israeli Defence Force intercepted three using its mobile missile defence system, known as the Iron Dome, Haaretz reported.
A fourth rocket struck and open field, according to Haaretz.
Canadian politicians seek shelter in Jerusalem
Seven Canadian politicians rushed to take shelter Tuesday evening when warning alarms sounded ahead of a rocket strike in Jerusalem.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs confirmed to Global News five members of parliament and two senators, visiting Israel with the organization, were out for dinner when the warning siren went off.
Among the group were Newfoundland and Labrador Liberal MPs Gerry Byrne and Yvonne Jones, British Columbia NDP MP Jasbir Sandhu, B.C. Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, Manitoba Conservative MP Ted Falk, along with Conservative Senators Daniel Lang, from Yukon, and Salma Ataullahjan, from Toronto.
According to CIJA, the group made a controlled but urgent move to a bomb shelter, where they remained for several minutes. When an all-clear siren sounded, they returned to their hotel.
Zimmer posted about the experience on Twitter, saying “all is well.”
In Jerusalem, had a rocket warning & went to a shelter briefly for approx 10 minutes. Now out and going to hotel. All is well.
— Bob Zimmer MP (@bobzimmermp) July 8, 2014
All of the visiting politicians, six of whom were travelling with their partners, expressed a desire to continue with the trip, CJIA said.
IDF kills militants trying to enter Israel by sea
The Israeli military says it has foiled an attempt by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip to infiltrate southern Israel by sea.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said four attackers were killed Tuesday, shortly after coming ashore.
He says troops spotted the attackers with hand grenades and assault rifles. One Israeli soldier was lightly injured.
Lerner says it’s the first such infiltration effort in recent memory, and that the army is trying to determine how the men made it so far.
In Gaza, Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
Iron Dome intercepts rocket bound for Tel Aviv
Israeli television stations say a rocket has targeted Tel Aviv but was intercepted.
Air raid sirens went off in the city, which is Israel’s commercial capital and about 70 kilometres north of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military didn’t immediately confirm the report, but an explosion was heard shortly afterward.
Israeli TV stations say the rocket was intercepted by Israel’s “Iron Dome” defence system.
The apparent rocket attack would be the deepest strike by Palestinian militants since Israel launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip earlier Tuesday.
Israel hits nearly 100 targets in Gaza Strip
The Israeli military launched what could be a long-term offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday striking nearly 100 sites in Gaza and mobilizing troops for a possible ground invasion aimed at stopping a heavy barrage of rocket attacks against Israel.
The military said “Operation Protective Edge” looks to strike the Islamic Hamas group and end the rocket fire that has reached deeper into Israel and intensified in recent weeks.
The attacks come as tensions have soared over the killing of three Israeli teenagers and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by three Jewish suspects.
The military said it was seeking to “retrieve stability to the residents of southern Israel, eliminate Hamas’ capabilities and destroy terror infrastructure operating against the State of Israel and its civilians.”
Nearly 300 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel in recent weeks, including a barrage of close to 100 projectiles on Monday alone, the military said, a huge surge after years of relative quiet that followed a previous Israeli campaign to root out Gaza rocket launchers.
Israel has responded with dozens of airstrikes, and eight Palestinian militants were killed Monday. Israel had signalled that it would not launch a larger offensive if the militant group Hamas ceased the rocket fire. But the same time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the military to prepare options for every scenario.
“We have repeatedly warned Hamas that this must stop and Israel’s defence forces are currently acting to put an end of this once and for all,” said Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the current round of hostilities was being dictated by Hamas and Israel would continue its barrage so long as its citizens were under fire from Gaza.
“We don’t expect it to be a short mission on our behalf,” he said.
After a brief early morning lull, the rocket fire from Gaza resumed Tuesday with more than 15 rockets fired toward southern Israel, including the cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon. Associated Press video footage showed launches from inside Gaza residential neighbourhoods.
WATCH: Tel Aviv residents remaining calm in the face of Hamas rocket attacks
The military said five of the projectiles were intercepted by the country’s sophisticated Iron Dome missile defence system. A German cruise operator docking in the Ashdod port said debris fell onto one of its ships late Monday as it was departing.
None of the 2,700 vacationers and crew aboard the AIDAdiva was harmed and the ship continued to Crete without delay.
Israel’s defence minister announced a special state of emergency in the region Tuesday as summer camps and kindergartens were shut down and residents were encouraged to stay close to their homes.
The military said it had targeted four houses belonging to Hamas militants involved in launching rockets at Israel or other militant activity. There were no reported casualties in the strikes.
The military identified the men whose houses were targeted as Eiad Sakik, Abdullah Hshash, Samer Abu Daka, and Hassan Abdullah. The Associated Press filmed Abu Daka and Abdullah’s demolished homes in the Khan Younis area of the Gaza Strip.
In addition, the military said it struck three militant compounds, 18 concealed rocket launchers, and other militant infrastructure sites. Most were targeted by airstrikes, and three were attacked from the sea. Later, it also took out a Hamas command centre embedded within a civilian building.
Gaza health official Ashraf Al-Kedra said at least nine Palestinian civilians were brought to a Gaza hospital with light to moderate injuries from the airstrikes, including several who suffered from shock. He said some of the injured Palestinians were treated and released.
WATCH: Residents of Gaza woke up to flattened homes on Tuesday
Lerner, the military spokesman, said the army will gradually increase its attacks on Hamas in Gaza, and is recruiting additional reservists for a potential ground invasion of Gaza.
Hamas has amassed about 10,000 rockets, including longer-range rockets that can reach “up to Tel Aviv and beyond,” Lerner said, adding that the military was preparing for the possibility that Hamas would launch rockets toward Israel’s heartland and its commercial and cultural hub.
The military ordered hundreds of thousands of Israelis within a 40-kilometre radius of the Gaza Strip, including Israelis in the major southern city of Beersheva, to stay indoors and near shelters.
Lerner said last month’s kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank was connected to the intensified rocket fire carried out by Hamas militants in Gaza. Israel blames Hamas for the teens’ abduction and is conducting a manhunt for two Hamas-affiliated Palestinians in the West Bank it believes carried out the kidnapping and killing.
The Israeli government has not yet provided proof of Hamas’ involvement in the kidnapping.
Tensions have been high since three Israeli teenagers kidnapped June 12 in the West Bank were later found dead, followed by last week’s slaying of the Palestinian youth.
The charged climate inspired President Barack Obama to pen an op-ed for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
“All parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution,” Obama said in the piece published Tuesday.
Obama warned of a “dangerous moment” for the region after the collapse of U.S.-backed peace talks.
“As I said last year in Jerusalem, peace is necessary, just, and possible. I believed it then. I believe it now,” he wrote. “Peace is necessary because it’s the only way to ensure a secure and democratic future for the Jewish state of Israel.”
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