More Deaths as Israel Expands Air Assaults in Gaza

An Israeli air strike killed three Palestinians in the central Gaza Strip, medics said, with Palestinian security sources confirming they were Hamas fighters.

Saturday’s deaths raised the overall death toll in Gaza to 33 as a relentless Israeli air campaign against Gaza entered its fourth straight day.

“Three men died in an Israeli air strike on Maghazi camp in central Gaza,” said emergency services spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya.

A Palestinian security source told AFP that all three were from the armed wing of the Hamas movement, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.

Israel expanded its fierce air assault on rocket operations in the Gaza Strip, striking Hamas government and security compounds, tunnels and electricity sources after an unprecedented rocket attack aimed at the of Jerusalem raised the stakes in its violent confrontation with armed Palestinians.

Israeli aircraft on Saturday also kept pounding their initial targets, weapons-storage facilities and underground rocket-launching sites.

The Israeli military called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and armoured vehicles along the border with Gaza, signaling a ground invasion of the densely populated seaside strip could be imminent.

Israel launched its military campaign on Wednesday and has carried out some 700 airstrikes since, the military said.

The Palestinian fighters, undaunted by the heavy damage the air attacks have inflicted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against Israel, including new, longer-range weapons turned for the first time this week against Jerusalem and Israel’s Tel Aviv heartland.

Israel has expanded its operation beyond military targets and before dawn on Saturday, the Gaza Interior Ministry reported, missiles smashed into two small Hamas security facilities as well as the massive Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, setting off a huge blaze that engulfed nearby houses and civilian cars parked outside. No one was inside the buildings at the time.

The Interior Ministry said a government compound was also hit as devout Muslims streamed to the area for early morning prayers. So, too, was a Cabinet building where the Hamas prime minister received the prime minister of Egypt on Friday.

In southern Gaza, Israeli aircraft went after the hundreds of underground tunnels used to smuggle in weapons and other contraband from Egypt, people in the area reported.

A huge explosion in the area sent buildings shuddering in the Egyptian city of El-Arish, 45 kilometres away, an Associate Press news agency correspondent there reported. The tunnels have also been a lifeline for residents of the area during the recent fighting, providing a conduit for food, fuel and other goods after supplies stopped coming in from Israel days before the military operation began.

Missiles also knocked out five electricity transformers, plunging more than 400,000 people into darkness, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company.

A separate airstrike leveled a mosque in central Gaza, damaging nearby houses, Gaza security officials and residents said. The military had no comment on that attack.

One person was killed and three dozen people were wounded in the various attacks, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. In all, 30 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since the Israeli operation began.

The Israeli military said it did not immediately had an accounting of its various overnight targets.

The widened scope of targets brings the two sides closer to the kind of all-out war they waged four years ago.

Hamas was badly bruised during that confrontation, but has since restocked its arsenal with more and better weapons, and has been under pressure from smaller, more fighters to prove its commitment to armed struggle against Israel.

The attack aimed at Jerusalem on Friday and strikes on the Tel Aviv area twice this week dramatically showcased the fighters’ new capabilities, including a locally made rocket that appears to have taken Israeli defence officials by surprise.

(Al Jazeera and Agencies)

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