Israel’s air force obliterated symbols of Hamas power on the third day of its overwhelming Gaza assault yesterday, striking a house next to the Hamas prime minister’s home, devastating a security compound and flattening a five-story building at a university closely linked to the Islamic group.
The three-day death toll rose to 315 by yesterday morning, including seven children under the age of 15 who were killed in two separate strikes overnight, medics said. Israel launched its campaign on Saturday in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at southern Israeli towns.
The strikes appear to have gravely damaged Hamas’ ability to launch rockets, but barrages continued. One medium-range rocket fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon killed an Arab construction worker there yesterday. He was the second Israeli killed since the beginning of the offensive, and the first person ever to be killed by a rocket in Ashkelon, a city of 120,000.
On Sunday, Hamas missiles struck for the first time near the city of Ashdod, twice as far from Gaza as Ashkelon and only 40km from Israel’s heart in Tel Aviv.
At first light yesterday, strong winds blew black smoke from the bombed sites in Gaza City over deserted streets. The air hummed with the buzz of pilotless drones and the roar of jets, punctuated by the explosions of new airstrikes.
Most of those killed since Saturday were members of Hamas security forces, though the precise numbers remain unclear. A Hamas police spokesman, Ehab Ghussen, said 180 members of the Hamas security forces were among the dead, and the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugees said at least 51 of the dead were civilians.
Israel’s intense bombings reduced dozens of buildings to rubble. The military said naval vessels also bombarded targets from the sea.
One strike destroyed a five-story building in the women’s wing at Islamic University, one of the most prominent Hamas symbols in Gaza.
Other attacks ravaged a compound controlled by Preventive Security, one of the group’s chief security arms, and destroyed a house next to the residence of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister.
Late on Sunday, Israeli aircraft attacked a building in the Jebaliya refugee camp next to Gaza City, killing a woman, a toddler and three teenage girls, Gaza Health Ministry official Moaiya Hassanain said.
In the town of Rafah, a toddler and his two teenage brothers were killed in an airstrike, Hassanain said. In Gaza City, another attack killed a man and his wife.
The assault has sparked diplomatic fallout. Syria suspended its indirect peace talks with Israel, and the UN Security Council called on both sides to halt the fighting and asked Israel to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza. Israel opened one of Gaza’s border crossings yesterday.
The prime minister of Turkey, one of the few Muslim countries to have relations with Israel, called the air assault a “crime against humanity” and French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned “the provocations that led to this situation as well as the disproportionate use of force.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued his strongest condemnation yet of the operation, calling it a “sweeping Israeli aggression against Gaza.”