A Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip yesterday, drawing the first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 15 and a military showdown lurched closer to all-out war with an invasion of the enclave.
Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza city, where tall buildings trembled.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said in a televised address that Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip were “unacceptable” and would lead to instability in the region.
The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas claimed it had fired a 1 tonne, Iranian-made Fajr 5 rocket at Tel Aviv in what would be a major escalation, but there was no reported impact in the Israeli metropolis 50km north of the enclave.
The Israeli Army said 156 targets were hit in Gaza, 126 of them rocket launchers. It said 200 rockets had struck Israel since the start of the operation, 135 of them since midnight.
Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor system, which singles out rockets heading for populated areas, shot down 18 rockets in the first hours of the second day of Operation Pillar of Defense, it said.
One of those that got through caught its victims before they could reach the blast shelters that are everywhere in the Negev region. Israeli police said the three died when a rocket hit a four-story building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, about 25km north of Gaza. They were the first Israeli fatalities of the latest conflict to hit the coastal region.
The offensive began on Wednesday when a precision Israeli air strike assassinated Hamas military mastermind Ahmed Al-Jaabari.
The 13 killed in Gaza included Jaabari and six Hamas fighters plus six civilians, among them a pregnant woman with twins, an 11-month old boy and two infants, the enclave’s health ministry said. Medics reported at least 130 wounded.
At Jaabari’s funeral yesterday supporters fired guns in the air celebrating news of the Israeli deaths, to chants for Jaabari of “You have won.”
Aside the from the deaths, about 150 Gazans have been injured in 22 hours of Israeli air strikes, medics said.
Hamas Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said a strike in the northern town of Beit Lahiya had killed a 60-year-old man.
Emergency services said a child had died of wounds he sustained in a strike on Khan Yunis earlier on Thursday.
Soon after dawn yesterday, an Israeli air strike east of the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis killed three Palestinians, medical officials said. The armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said that the three men were all members and were hit as they traveled in a motorcycle-taxi.