Israel-Gaza conflict: 25 Palestinians killed as Israel launches largest offensive in two years

Israel attacks more than 150 sites across Gaza while militants fire around 160 rockets

Israel launched its largest offensive in the Gaza Strip in nearly two years, carrying out a blistering aerial assault on scores of targets and killing 25 people.

Officials called it an open-ended operation aimed at ending weeks of heavy rocket fire. As Gaza militants unleashed salvos on cities including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel mobilised forces along the border for a possible ground invasion.

The offensive set off the heaviest fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas since an eight-day battle in November 2012.

The militants fired about 160 rockets at Israel, including a strike that reached the northern city of Hadera for the first time, while Israel said it attacked more than 150 sites across Gaza.

Palestinian medics reported at least 25 dead, including six killed in an air strike that flattened an apartment building in southern Gaza and set off widespread panic.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said continued rocket attacks on Israeli communities would not be tolerated.

“Therefore I have ordered the military to significantly broaden its operation against Hamas terrorists and against the other terrorist groups inside Gaza,” he said on national TV.

“I call on you to display patience because this operation could take time.”

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies who have engaged in numerous rounds of fighting over the years. But until recently, they had been observing a truce that ended the previous hostilities in 2012.

Tensions have been rising since Palestinian militants were blamed for the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on June 12.

Accusing Hamas of being behind the abductions, Israel launched a crackdown on the group's members in the West Bank and arrested hundreds of people. Hamas, which controls Gaza, responded by stepping up rocket fire.

The situation deteriorated last week after the bodies of the Israeli youths were found, and a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem was abducted and burned to death in what Palestinians believe was a revenge attack.

Six Jewish Israelis have been arrested in the killing, and the rocket fire from Gaza has increased in recent days.

Palestinian youths clash with Israeli soldiers

The fighting raged throughout the day. In its fiercest attack, an airstrike flattened the home of a Hamas militant in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, reducing the concrete structure into a smouldering pile of rubble.

Palestinian medical officials said six people, including two children, were killed. Israel's military said it had called the home shortly before the airstrike to warn civilians to leave.

The normally bustling streets of Gaza City were deserted late yesterday. Fearing an Israeli ground operation, many residents from areas near the border moved to stay with relatives living deeper inside Gaza.

In southern Israel, hundreds of thousands of citizens were ordered to stay close to home because of the rockets.

Israeli streets were also quieter in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after attempted rocket strikes set off air-raid sirens in Israel's two largest cities. The Jerusalem municipality said it was opening special bomb shelters.

Militants twice fired rockets at Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial capital, sending people scurrying for cover. Both were intercepted by the “Iron Dome” rocket defence system, with the second shown on live TV, as a winding plume of smoke followed the interceptor into the black skies, culminating with a flash.

Late yesterday, Hamas said it fired four rockets toward Jerusalem, and two distant booms were heard from the city's centre. Three rockets landed in the Jerusalem area, officials said, and police said there were no injuries.

The Israeli military said one rocket exploded in the northern Israeli city of Hadera, about 60 miles from Gaza, in the farthest distance a rocket from Gaza has reached so far. It caused no injuries, the army added.

With its new reach, Hamas' rockets now have an estimated 5 million people - more than half of Israel's population - in range.

Hamas said it had used a new rocket called the R-160 after one of its leaders, Abdel Rantisi, who was killed last decade.

In other violence, the Israeli military said it foiled Gaza militants who tried to infiltrate a military base in southern Israel by sea.

It said four attackers came ashore and attacked the base with grenades and automatic rifles before they were killed. An Israeli soldier was slightly wounded.

As Israel built up forces along the border, the government authorised the army to activate up to 40,000 reservists.

The army said that about 1,000 soldiers were immediately activated, in addition to an earlier group of 1,500 reservists called into action.

“If we need to go inside in a ground operation, then we will do it. These things are on the table. These options exist. We will not stop anything until the rocket firing ends,” said Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the minister for internal security. Israel's last ground offensive was in 2009.

The US State Department condemned the rocket fire on Israeli civilians, defended Israel's right to protect itself, and said it hoped Israel's “strong message” would deter further attacks.

In Gaza, Abu Obeida, a masked spokesman for Hamas' military wing, accused Israel of violating the 2012 agreement and demanded a halt to the airstrikes, its recent crackdown in the West Bank and its opposition to a Palestinian unity government that is backed by Hamas.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee