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|Smoke billows from buildings following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Thursday. Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 31 people as a major air campaign entered its third day, with most of the bloodshed in the southern city of Khan Younis (AFP photo)|
AFP | Jul 10, 2014
GAZA CITY — Israeli warplanes kept up their deadly raids on Gaza Thursday but failed to prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Jerusalem, two of which struck near settlements in the West Bank.
As the violence escalated, with more than 30 Palestinians killed on Thursday alone, UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for an immediate ceasefire at an emergency meeting of the Security Council.
“It is now more urgent than ever to try to find common ground for a return to calm and a ceasefire understanding,” he said as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation lobbied the UN for a crackdown on Israel.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a similar plea in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Putin urged an immediate end to confrontation and expressed concern over civilian casualties.
And US Secretary of State John Kerry warned the region was facing “dangerous moment” after speaking to both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
But Israel appeared bent on dealing a fatal blow to Hamas, with Netanyahu reportedly saying talk of a ceasefire was “not even on the agenda”.
Hamas also appeared to have no interest in letting up, striking deep inside Israel over the past 48 hours, with rockets crashing down near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and even as far away as Hadera, 116 kilometres to the north.
As sirens wailed across Jerusalem for the second time in two days, a series of loud explosions echoed across the city as the Iron Dome anti-missile system shot down two rockets fired from Gaza, the army said.
Another two crashed down in open areas in the occupied West Bank, one hitting near the Maaleh Adumim settlement and the other landing near Ofer, an Israeli military prison just west of Ramallah, causing no damage or injuries, witnesses and security officials told AFP.
Hamas fighters from Izzeddine Al Qassam took responsibility, saying they had fired “four M75 rockets at Jerusalem”.
Since the start of the campaign in the early hours of Tuesday, 82 Palestinians have been killed and more than 500 injured.
As the number of victims in Gaza rose, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing, with hospitals in north Sinai placed on standby to receive the wounded, Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported.
But there have been no Israeli deaths or serious injuries, although medics said one woman died on Thursday, a day after falling while running for cover.
“We are facing long days of fighting and Hamas is trying to surprise Israel with attacks from the air, sea and land,” Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Thursday.
The violence has emptied the streets from Gaza City to Tel Aviv, as both Israelis and Palestinians take shelter indoors for fear of being caught in the open when the next rocket or missile hits.
On the beachfront in Tel Aviv, cafes which would normally have been bursting at the seams at the height of tourist season sat empty, their waiters nervously checking the phones for any news of incoming missiles.
But in Gaza, the story was much darker after an Israeli missile slammed into a coffee shop in Khan Younis, killing nine football fans as they watched a World Cup semifinal match. Another 15 people were hurt.
And Israel has confirmed preparations are under way for a possible ground attack, with tanks seen massing along the border and Netanyahu facing mounting pressure from coalition hardliners to put boots back on the ground in the territory from which Israel pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.
“If we can achieve our goals without a ground operation, we would prefer it this way,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, head of strategic affairs ministry.
860 sites bombed
Since the start of the operation, the Israeli military’s biggest offensive on Gaza since November 2012, its forces have hit over 860 “terror sites,” 110 of them on Thursday.
In the same period, Gaza fighters had fired 470 rockets, of which more than 350 had struck Israel, while another 87 rockets were intercepted, an army statement said. Of that number, 103 struck Israel on Thursday, while another 21 were intercepted.
Neither side has shown any sign of backing down, and Israel has approved the call-up of 40,000 reservists as it steps up its preparations for a possible ground assault.
Analysts said Hamas had a clear aim: to drag Israel into a ground war hoping to inflict heavy casualties on its troops who would likely come under fire from anti-tank missiles and explosive devices. Fighters would also be seeking to capture Israeli soldiers to use as leverage.