Palestinian militants fire missiles at Tel Aviv in latest escalation of Gaza violence

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The Independent Online

Twenty-four hours after the proud boast of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel had severely damaged the long-range missile capabilities of Palestinian militants in Gaza with a ferocious barrage of air-to-surface missiles and naval artillery, two Fajr-5 rockets fired by Islamic Jihad landed just south of Israel's densely-populated commercial heartland on Thursday evening.

There was no damage, nor were there any casualties, but sirens wailed across Tel Aviv for the first time since Saddam Hussein's Scud attacks in 1991, sending surprised residents hurrying to shelters. Israeli military officials warned Tel Avivians to expect "an unquiet night".

Yesterday morning, three Israelis were killed when a rocket hit a four-storey apartment building in Kiryat Malachi, 20 miles from Gaza – one of more than 120 rockets fired from Gaza since the conflict erupted on Wednesday with the assassination of the Hamas military chief in an Israeli air strike.

Israel continued its barrage of attacks on more than 200 targets across the Hamas-controlled enclave and began moving bulldozers and tanks into position on the border for a possible land invasion. At least 15 Palestinians have died in the of violence, with dozens more left injured.

"I hope that Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza got the message," Mr Netanyahu, above, told reporters in Tel Aviv. "If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people."

The Israeli attacks left a trail of destruction across Gaza and sent plumes of smoke soaring into the air. The Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israel would pay a heavy price, "for this open war which they initiated".

There was some respite after noon prayers, when a crowd of several thousand marched from the al-Omari mosque in the centre of Gaza City to a cemetery, carrying the body of the dead Hamas leader Ahmed al-Jabari. They were accompanied by dozens of armed men who fired weapons into the air and chanted "God is great" and "God bless al-Qassam", the name of the Hamas military wing.

Earlier, hundreds attended the funerals of four children killed in Israeli attacks on Wednesday. Then it was back to routine, with rockets being fired by militants from civilian areas all over Gaza City.

The Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi led Arab calls of condemnation. "The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region," Mr Morsi said.

Paz Azaran, an Israeli schoolgirl, said: "We know we might have to suffer because there are a lot of missiles coming over here, but we're standing behind our army."