Israeli warplanes attacked dozens of security compounds across Hamas-ruled Gaza yesterday in unprecedented waves of air strikes. Gaza medics said at least 145 people were killed and more than 310 wounded in the single deadliest day in Gaza fighting in recent memory.
The Israeli strikes came in response to renewed rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli border towns. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that “the operation will last as long as necessary,” but it was not clear if it would be coupled with a ground offensive.
Asked if Hamas political leaders might be targeted next, military spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovitch said: “Any Hamas target is a target.”
The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion as black clouds of smoke rose above Gaza. Some of the missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school, and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children. In Gaza City’s main security compound, bodies of more than a dozen uniformed security officers lay on the ground. One survivor raised his index finger in a show of Muslim faith, uttering a prayer. The Gaza police chief was among those killed.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many civilian casualties there were.
Said Masri sat in the middle of a Gaza City street, close to a security compound, alternately slapping his face and covering his head with dust from the bombed-out building.
“My son is gone, my son is gone,” wailed Masri, 57.
The shopkeeper said he sent his son out to purchase cigarettes minutes before the airstrikes began and now could not find him.
“May I burn like the cigarettes, may Israel burn,” he moaned.
Hamas leaders threatened revenge attacks, Israel told its civilians near Gaza to take cover as militants began retaliating with rockets and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for restraint. Egypt opened its border with Gaza to allow ambulances to drive out some of the wounded.
Hamas officials said all of Gaza’s security compounds were destroyed. Israel Army Radio said at least 40 targets were hit.
In response, Gaza militants fired several Grad missiles at southern Israel, the military said. One hit in the border community of Netivot, killing one woman and wounding four people, Israel’s rescue service reported.
Barak, the Israeli defense minister, said that the coming period “won’t be easy and won’t be short for the communities in the south [of Israel].”
Israel declared a state of emergency in Israeli communities within a 20km range of Gaza, putting the area on a war footing.
Hamas said it would take revenge, not just with rocket attacks, but by sending suicide bombers into Israel.
“Hamas will continue the resistance until the last drop of blood,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, speaking on a Gaza radio station.
The first round of air strikes came just before noon, and several more waves followed.
Civilians rushed to the targeted areas, trying to move the wounded in their cars to hospitals.
Television footage showed Gaza City hospitals crowded with people, civilians pushing wounded people into cars, vans and ambulances.
Frantic civilians drove wounded people to hospitals in their cars.
“We are treating people on the floor, in the corridors. We have no more space. We don’t know who is here and what the priority is to treat,” said one doctor, who hung up the telephone before identifying himself at Shifa Hosptial, Gaza’s main treatment center.