The armed wing of Hamas claimed that it fired long range rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and Haifa on Tuesday.
“For the first time, the (Ezzedine al-) Qassam Brigades strike Haifa with an R160 rocket, and strike occupied Jerusalem with four M75 rockets and Tel Aviv with four M75 rockets,” a statement said.
It was the first time since a major 2012 conflict that Gaza-based fighters had fired rockets at Jerusalem, and came as Israel pressed an aerial offensive against the besieged coastal Strip.
The death toll among Palestinians rose rapidly. In one bombardment alone, six died in an Israeli strike on a house belonging to the Hamad family in Beit Hanoun. Earlier, an attack on a house in Southern Gaza city of Khan Younis killed seven people and injured more than 25,
Just an hour before the Hamas salvo of rockets, its military wing made a statement on al-Aqsa TV saying it only started firing rockets on Monday in response to Israeli aggression against Palestinians in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. The statement issued in the name of the Qassam Brigades laid out four conditions for a ceasefire: ending all action in Jerusalem and the West Bank, ending the fire on and siege of Gaza, releasing all the prisoners who were recaptured in the Israeli operation launched on 12 June after the disappearance of three Israeli settlers and stopping “meddling” in the Palestinian Unity government.
“They will not dream of calm if they do not stop their aggression towards our people,” the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades statement said. “And stop attempting to break our unity government.”
More than 600 Palestinians were arrested and six killed in the Israeli operation.
“We repeat our warning to the enemy: do not attack our civilian homes or they will be surprised by our attacks,” the brigade also said.
Rocket Intercepted outside Tel Aviv
Also on Tuesday evening a rocket fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. It was unclear which group or individuals in Gaza were responsible for the rocket.
Within the same hour, two Palestinians reportedly crossed the border between Gaza and Israel in an attempt to infiltrate a kibbutz, according to local news reports.
The two men were shot dead by an Israeli army infantry brigade in a gun battle, Haaretz reported.
The death toll in Gaza on Tuesday has risen to 27, with over 100 wounded, as an air strike killed two Palestinians in a neighborhood in Gaza City, according to an emergency services spokesperson.
As strikes continue, Israeli military tanks have reportedly been amassing at the Israeli-Gaza border near Sderot within the past hour, according to social media reports.
The latest air strike in the Gaza City neighborhood followed an earlier attack on a house in Southern Gaza city of Khan Younis that killed seven people and injured more than 25, AFP reported.
The missile strike on the Khan Younis home was the worst attacks on Tuesday in terms of casualties.
There were conflicting reports about the minutes just before the attack. AFP reports that a human shield had been formed around the house to protect it, while Palestinian news agency Ma’an says occupants gathered on the roof after receiving a notice from Israeli authorities that the house would be targeted.
An apparent eyewitness, Ashraf al-Qidra, told Ma’an that that among the seven killed in the attack on the house owned by the Kaware family were two children under the age of five.
Following the Khan Younis strike, Hamas said that “all Israelis” would be targeted.
“The Khan Younis massacre… of children is a horrendous war crime, and all Israelis have now become legitimate targets for the resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.
Tuesday started with Israel announcing that it was calling up 40,000 extra reservists in the latest sign that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is escalating further.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Arab League called on the UN Security Council to hold an urgent meeting to discuss the deadly air campaign.
League General Secretary Nabil al-Arabi has reportedly been in touch with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab foreign ministers to follow the latest developments, a League official said.
String of Attacks
Tuesday has already been filled with a string of attacks, with an Israeli air strike earlier in the day killing five Palestinians in a car in Gaza. The lunchtime strike killed Hamas naval commander Mohammed Shaban, prompting a firm response from Hamas.
“There will be no respite from the fighting as long as the attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank continue,” Ismail Ashkar, a leading Hamas member said following the attack.
According to Haaretz newspaper, he also stressed that a ceasefire was dependent on ending the siege of Gaza and releasing prisoners from the Shalit prisoner exchange who were subsequently rearrested in recent weeks.
The attack comes shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Israeli army to prepare for a possible ground offensive in the Gaza Strip in a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, a senior Israeli official said.
The prime minister gave the instruction at a meeting attended by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Benny Gantz and Shin Bet Chief Yoram Cohen, along with other defense officials.
A senior official had said earlier that the Israeli army was preparing all options for stamping out rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground assault.
“The army is preparing for all possible scenarios, including an invasion or a ground operation,” a senior official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
Another official had earlier confirmed the army had received instructions “to prepare different military alternatives in order to be ready in case of need.”
Netanyahu intends to speak with foreign leaders throughout the day to rally their support of Israel’s Gaza operation, reported Haaretz. The prime minister will stress that Israel had tried to bring about calm in Gaza but Hamas has escalated the situation and increased the rocket fire on Israel.
Israeli warplanes launched an estimated 50 air strikes on the Gaza Strip early on Tuesday in response to scores of rockets fired from there, raising concerns that spiraling tensions will lead to a wider conflict.
It was the most serious flare-up of rocket fire and air strikes in and around the region since November 2012, and came as Israel struggled to contain a wave of protests in Arab towns after the brutal murder of a Palestinian teenager by Israeli settlers.
At a Monday meeting, Israel’s security cabinet had given the army a green light for a “staged escalation”, in which the pressure on Hamas will be stepped up with each passing day, according to Israeli radio. Shortly after the meeting, the Israeli Army announced that it was embarking on a military operation dubbed “Protective Edge.”
The barrage of airstrikes started around midnight and carried on throughout the night. While IDF sources said that 50 targets had been hit, Palestinian sources said that there were at least 70 strikes overnight.
‘Red lines’ Crossed
“Hamas has crossed the red line, and unfortunately it will pay for it,” a senior Israeli official told the private Channel 10 television.
Hamas likewise warned that Israel had “crossed a red line” with its air strikes, and would pay the price.
“If this policy does not stop, we will respond by enlarging the radius of our targets to the point where the enemy will be surprised,” the group’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said in a statement.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzouq said that “our message is one of ongoing resistance until we have victory, by God’s will, through national unity and solidarity among all the powers of our nation.”
“We will make this a lesson that history will not forget.”
In Gaza, medics said seven children and two women were among 17 people wounded in the strikes, all of which were launched from the air apart from three which came from sea vessels.
Two of the injured were in serious condition, an emergency services spokesman said.
So far, rockets fired from Gaza have caused a small number of minor injuries on the Israeli side.
The Israeli army said 81 rockets had struck southern Israel on Monday, around a third of them during a short period in the evening.
Sirens sounded in 10 towns, including as far away as Beit Shemesh, 80 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, an army statement said.
Around 16 rockets struck around the southern city of Beersheva, 40 kilometers from Gaza.
Early on Tuesday, another six hit the south, a spokesman told AFP.
Israel has already called up an additional 1,500 reservists, in a state where around 50 percent of the population has served at least two years of military service, with reports that reinforcements are being sent to the south.
(Middle East Eye – www.middleeasteye.net)