Israel bombards Gaza hitting prime minister's HQ and shoots down Palestinian rocket fired at Tel Aviv

 

Gaza City

Israel bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with about 300 airstrikes today and shot down a Palestinian rocket fired at Tel Aviv, the military said, widening a blistering assault to include the Hamas prime minister's headquarters, a police compound and a vast network of smuggling tunnels.

The intensified airstrikes came as Egyptian-led attempts to broker a cease-fire and end Israel's four-day-old Gaza offensive gained momentum. The leaders of Hamas and two key allies, Qatar and Turkey, were in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials, and the Arab League was holding an emergency meeting.

The White House said President Barack Obama was also in touch with the Egyptian and Turkish leaders. The US has solidly backed Israel so far.

Speaking on Air Force One, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said that the White House believes Israel "has the right to defend itself" against attack and that the Israelis will make their own decisions about their "military tactics and operations."

The Israeli attacks, which Gaza officials say left 12 dead, came as Palestinian militants fired more than 100 rockets toward Israel, including two aimed at the commercial and cultural center of Tel Aviv. Rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week mark the first time Gaza militants have managed to fire rockets toward the cities, raising the stakes in the confrontation.

The widened scope of targets brings the scale of fighting closer to that of the war the two groups waged four years ago. Hamas was badly bruised during that conflict, but has since restocked its arsenal with more and better weapons, and has been under pressure from smaller, more militant groups to prove its commitment to fighting Israel.

In a psychological boost for the Israelis, a sophisticated Israeli rocket-defense system known as "Iron Dome" knocked down one of the rockets headed toward Tel Aviv, eliciting cheers from relieved residents huddled in fear after air raid sirens sounded in the city.

Associated Press video showed a plume of smoke rising from a rocket-defense battery deployed near the city, followed by a burst of light overhead. The smoke trailed the intercepting missile.

Police said a second rocket also targeted Tel Aviv. It was not clear where it landed or whether it was shot down. No injuries were reported. It was the third straight day the city was targeted.

Israel says the Iron Dome system has shot down some 250 incoming rockets, most of them in southern Israel near Gaza.

Today's interception was the first time Iron Dome has been deployed in Tel Aviv. The battery was a new upgraded version that was only activated on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule, officials said.

Israel opened the offensive on Wednesday with a surprising airstrike that killed Hamas' military chief, then attacked dozens of rocket launchers and storage sites. It says the offensive is meant to halt months of rocket fire on southern Israel.

While Israel claims to be inflicting heavy damage on Gaza's Hamas rulers, it has failed to slow the rocket fire. In all, 42 Palestinians, including 13 civilians, have been killed, while three Israeli civilians have died.

Maj. Gen. Tal Russo, Israel's southern commander, said that Hamas had suffered a tough blow.

"Most of their capabilities have been destroyed," he told reporters. Asked whether Israel is ready to send ground troops into Gaza, he said: "Absolutely."

Israel has authorized the call-up of as many as 75,000 reservists ahead of a possible ground operation. Dozens of armored vehicles have massed along the border with Gaza in recent days.

Israeli officials say they have not yet decided whether to send in ground troops, a decision that would almost certainly lead to heavy casualties on both sides.

In today's fighting, Israeli aircraft pounded militants' weapons storage facilities and underground rocket launching sites, and went after rocket squads more aggressively.

Militants, undaunted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against the Jewish state.

Hamas claims that Israeli intelligence is based on a network of collaborators in Gaza. Officials said two Palestinians have been executed by Hamas' military wing for allegedly providing Israel with sensitive information. One man was shot twice in the head. Another body was tossed into a garbage bin with a gunshot wound to the head.

The violence has threatened the Mideast with a new war. At the same time, revolts against entrenched regional regimes have opened up new possibilities for Hamas. Islamists across the Mideast have been strengthened, bringing newfound recognition to Hamas, which had previously been shunned by the international community because of its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

A high-level Tunisian delegation, led by Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem, drove that point home with a visit to Gaza on Saturday. The foreign minister's first stop was the still-smoldering ruins of the three-story office building of Gaza's prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.

"Israel has to understand that there is an international law and it has to respect the international law to stop the aggression against the Palestinian people," Abdessalem told the AP during a tour of Gaza's main hospital. He said his country was doing whatever it can to promote a cease-fire, but did not elaborate.

It was the first official Tunisian visit since Hamas's violent 2007 takeover of the territory. The West Bank is governed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Egypt's prime minister visited Gaza on Friday and a Moroccan delegation was due on Sunday, following a landmark visit by Qatar's leader last month.

Israel had been incrementally expanding its operation beyond military targets but before dawn on Saturday it ramped that up dramatically, hitting Hamas symbols of power.

Israeli defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential decisions, said military chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz personally ordered the scope of the airstrikes to be increased.

Haniyeh's three-story office building was flattened by an airstrike that blew out windows in neighboring homes. He was not inside the building at the time.

Another airstrike brought down the three-story home of a Hamas commander in the Jebaliya refugee camp near Gaza City, critically wounding him and injuring other residents of the building, medics said.

Missiles smashed into two small security facilities and the massive Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, setting off a huge blaze that engulfed nearby houses and civilian cars parked outside, the Interior Ministry reported. No one was inside the buildings.

The Interior Ministry said a government compound was also hit while devout Muslims streamed to the area for early morning prayers, although no casualties were reported.

Air attacks knocked out five electricity transformers, cutting off power to more than 400,000 people in southern Gaza, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company. People switched on backup generators for limited electrical supplies.

In southern Gaza, aircraft went after underground tunnels militants use to smuggle in weapons and other contraband from Egypt, residents reported. A huge explosion in the area sent buildings shuddering in the Egyptian city of El-Arish, 45 kilometers (30 miles) away, an Associated Press correspondent there reported.

The Israeli military said more than 950 targets have been struck since the operation began.

Today, more than 120 rockets slammed into Israel, causing damage to houses. About 10 Israelis were injured lightly, among dozens of others wounded since the start of the operation.

Despite the violence, Egyptian-led diplomacy was underway to bring an end to the fighting.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was meeting the leaders of Turkey and Qatar today as well as Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to discuss details of a proposed cease-fire.

The Arab League also met to consider sending its chief Nabil Elaraby and a team of foreign ministers to Gaza in the coming two days to assess the situation and respond to humanitarian needs there, according to a draft memorandum obtained by the AP.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters today that during discussions with Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin late Friday, he suggested that Turkey, Egypt, the United States and Russia help broker a simultaneous cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

"It would be good if we could work on it rapidly to solve the matter within 24 hours, because the death toll is mounting," he said.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little