Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday to ramp up a campaign against Gaza militants that has so far cost 43 Palestinian lives.
“We have decided to further intensify the attacks on Hamas and the terror organisations in Gaza,” his office quoted him as saying after consulting defence chiefs in southern Israel.
“The army is prepared for any eventuality,” he added. “Hamas will pay a heavy price for the firing of rockets at Israeli civilians. Security for the citizens of Israel is first and foremost.” Wednesday was the second day of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.
Hamas-ruled Gaza witnessed its bloodiest day since November, 2012 as Israel’s military said it targeted 118 concealed rocket launchers, 10 Hamas command-and-control centres and 10 tunnels, overnight injuring nearly 300. Israel warplanes have so far hit 550 targets in Gaza, and Hamas militants have hit back with 165 rockets, some of which struck Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and as far away as Hadera, 116 kilometres to the north of the coastal enclave.
Palestinian fatalities include militants but also women and children. More than 370 people have been wounded.
Rocket alert sirens sounded in Zichron Yaakov on Wednesday, some 120 kms north of the Gaza Strip, signalling that Hamas has now developed the capability to hit targets anywhere in Israel.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) confirmed that two rockets fell in open areas of the Hof Hacarmel Regional Council south of Haifa.
There were no casualties. Israeli warplanes also bombed the home of a senior Islamic Jihad militant in Beit Hanoun post-midnight, killing him and five members of his family. Meanwhile, Egypt on Wednesday urged Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza to halt their escalating conflict but played down hopes of a Cairo-mediated truce.
Egypt, which has a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, played a key role in mediating ceasefires in past wars between Hamas and the Jewish state. But it has signalled a more hands-off approach in the latest conflict, which comes at a time of mounting tensions between the new government in Cairo and Hamas.