At least 17 Palestinians, including several women and children, were killed on Wednesday, as the death toll rose to 44 in two days of Israeli bombardment of militant positions in Gaza while almost the whole of Israel came under rocket fire from Hamas for the first time.
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.
It brought to 440 the number of targets in Gaza attacked as part of “Operation Protective Edge”.
More than 180 rockets hit various parts of Israel on Wednesday with the Islamist Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip since June 2007, claiming responsibility for most of them.
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.
According to the IDF, more than 225 rockets were fired at Israel since Operation Protective Edge began late on Monday with the Iron Dome interceptor system shooting down 20 while three rockets landed around Jerusalem, the BBC reported.
At least one militant was among the 17 killed on Wednesday as well as six children and five women, Palestinian emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
Israeli Air Force strikes across the coastal strip which targeted 160 sites, including homes of eight senior Hamas operatives, Muhammad Sinwar and Ra’ed Atar, as efforts to stop rocket attacks on Israel’s southern areas intensified.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said their houses served as Hamas command centres and were used in coordinating the rocket fire on Israel’s south.
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.
A Gaza health ministry spokesman confirmed that the attack killed Hafiz Hamad and five members of his family.
The deaths brought to 44 the number of casualties since the launch of ‘Operation Protective Edge’ on Monday, with the Israeli army not ruling out the possibility of a major ground offensive having called 40,000 reservists on duty.
Twenty-four of those killed in Gaza died in air strikes Tuesday, four Hamas militants were killed staging a beachfront assault on an army base just north of the besieged strip, and nine others were killed just before the start of the operation.