Three Israelis killed as Hamas launches revenge attacks

Rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip took the lives of three Israelis yesterday, the highest toll since Israel began its devastating bombardment of Gaza on Saturday, while the Israeli Prime Minister's spokesman warned the conflict could "get worse before it gets better."

In their deepest missile attack yet, Palestinian fighters struck Ashdod, 25 miles south of Tel Aviv yesterday evening, killing one woman and wounding five other people. Police spokeswoman Sarit Philipson said the woman was killed at a bus station and Israeli media reports said she had alighted from her car after hearing the siren that warns of incoming rockets.

Another person was killed by a mortar and five people wounded during a separate evening attack on the southern Israeli community of Nahal Oz, while in the morning a medium-range Grad missile fired from the Gaza Strip slammed into a construction site in Ashkelon, seven miles north of the Gaza border, killing an Israeli Arab worker.

The deaths brought the toll from three days of fighting to four on the Israeli side and increased the chances of army ground operations. They highlighted the threat from Hamas fighters even with their leaders in hiding from the Israeli bombing campaign.

Hani al-Mahdi, 27, the Bedouin Arab construction worker, was the first ever fatality in Ashkelon from a missile. The 17 wounded, five of whom were in a serious condition, were also Israeli Arab construction workers.

Another six rockets landed in Ashkelon, said the city's Mayor, Benny Vaknin, one day after Hamas succeeded in extending the range of its missiles by striking near Ashdod, 23 miles north of Gaza. The latest strikes have raised Israeli fears of the Islamic militants reaching deep inside Israel, and Israeli officials are warning that Hamas's rocket range now includes Beersheba, a city 30 miles from Gaza.

The nearby border town of Sderot, the Israeli town most frequently targeted by Hamas rockets, also came under a missile barrage yesterday. Ten people were treated for shock.

Terrified Ashkelon residents emptied the streets and Mr Vaknin said "there is beginning to be real harm to livelihoods". Schools have also been shut down. The harm is dwarfed by the devastation in Gaza, where 315 people have died in Israeli bombings.

Mr Vaknin said that he was the first person on the scene after the rocket struck where a public library was being built. "There was an alarm and I came out after I heard the shell fall. By chance I was only 40 metres away," he said. "It was a very difficult sight. I saw the man who was slain. He was at the entrance to the shelter. I helped lift the wounded on to stretchers."

Fayez Abu Sahiban, the Mayor of the southern Israeli Bedouin Arab city of Rahat, criticised Israel's onslaught while visiting his cousin in Ashkelon's Barzilai hospital who was among the wounded in the construction site attack. "Israel is a strong, sovereign state and it should stop this war. It needs to take into account the innocent civilians in Gaza," he said. "The two peoples are suffering from this war and I call on Israel to stop its bombing in Gaza and the Palestinians to stop their fire at Israel. The two sides need to sit at the table and talk to one another, not to speak with shells. Israel should speak to Hamas with the assistance of Egypt."

Seventeen people have been killed in attacks from Gaza this year, including nine civilians, six of whom died from rockets, and eight soldiers, according to Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said it was known that Hamas had developed longer-range missiles which threatened Israeli cities. "This could get worse before it gets better," he told journalists, adding that although the Israelis had benefited from tactical surprise in launching the offensive on Saturday, the Hamas "military machine" remained in place.

The Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the Labour leader who is also running for prime minister in elections on 10 February, told parliament yesterday that the Gaza operation had been planned for months. While Mr Regev dismissed suggestions that the timing was connected to the Israeli elections, the leading candidates – Tzipi Livni, the Kadima leader and Foreign Minister, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud contender – have been vying with each other to demonstrate their hawkish positions. "This is not a conflict that Israel sought," he said, adding that Mr Olmert had told Egyptian mediators last week, before Hamas confirmed the end of a six-month ceasefire, that "quiet from Gaza will be answered by quiet from Israel".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions