Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas government buildings in Gaza yesterday, including the prime minister’s office, after Israel’s Cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists, preparing for a possible ground invasion.
Israeli planes shattered the office building of Gaza Strip Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh — where he had met on Friday with Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil — and struck the Interior Ministry.
Loud explosions regularly rocked the densely populated Palestinian territory, sending plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. The occasional hiss of outgoing rocket fire showed Islamist militants were pursuing their defiance of the assault.
Despite the violence, Tunisia’s foreign minister arrived in the enclave yesterday in a show of solidarity, denouncing the Israeli attacks as illegitimate and unacceptable.
Officials in Gaza said 41 Palestinians, among them 20 civilians, including eight children and a pregnant woman, had been killed in Gaza since Israel began operations four days ago.
Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.
Israel’s military said its air force had hit at least 180 targets since midnight on Friday, including a police headquarters, government buildings, rocket launching squads and a Hamas training facility in the impoverished territory.
A three-story house belonging to Hamas official Abu Hassan Salah was also hit and completely destroyed early yesterday. Rescuers said at least 30 people were pulled from the rubble.
“What Israel is doing is not legitimate and is not acceptable at all,” Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdesslem said as he visited Haniyeh’s wrecked headquarters. “It does not have total immunity and is not above international law.”
Israel launched a massive air campaign on Wednesday with the declared aim of deterring Hamas from launching cross-border rocket salvoes that have plagued southern Israel for years.
The Palestinians have fired hundreds of rockets out of Gaza, including one at Jerusalem and three at Tel Aviv — Israel’s commercial center. Jerusalem had not been targeted in such a way since 1970, and Tel Aviv since 1991.
Although there were no reports of casualties or damage in either city, the long-range attacks came as a shock and advanced the prospect of an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza
“This will last as long as is needed; we have not limited ourselves in means or in time,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel’s Channel One TV yesterday.
Hamas says it is committed to continued confrontation with Israel and is eager not to seem any less resolute than smaller, more radical groups that have emerged in Gaza in recent years.
The Islamist Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007. Israel pulled settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but has maintained a blockade of the territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session late on Friday with a clutch of senior ministers on widening the military campaign, while other Cabinet members were polled by telephone on increasing mobilization.
Political sources said they decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000. It did not necessarily mean all would be called up.
Three soldiers were lightly hurt by fire from the Gaza Strip yesterday, the Israeli army said.