Israel pounds Gaza as Hamas flexes rocket reach

Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed 14 people Thursday, medics said, on the third day of a widening military campaign, as the UN Security Council was set for an emergency meeting.

The first strike hit a coffee shop in the city of Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP, adding that six men were killed and at least 15 other people wounded.

The second, in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, on the home of Raed Shalat, killed him and wounded several others, Qudra said.

Further strikes on two houses in Khan Yunis killed seven people - three women and four children, he said.

Dozens of strikes were heard slamming into the besieged Palestinian territory in the early hours of Thursday, as Israel's Operation Protective Edge, the largest military campaign against Gaza since 2012, entered day three.

On Wednesday, 29 Palestinians were killed, and Tuesday's toll stood at 21, bringing the total number of dead to 64. But Hamas kept up its rocket fire into Israel and sent thousands running to shelters across the country.

The dead include at least 10 women and 18 children, according to an AFP count based on medical reports.

The overall toll included six militants killed in raids into Israel Wednesday and Tuesday.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accused Israel of committing "genocide" in Gaza but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of even tougher action to come.

There have been no Israeli deaths so far, but Hamas showed its firepower as it launched waves of rockets across Israel that triggered sirens in cities as far from Gaza as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.

There were no confirmed hits in the northern port city itself but media reports spoke of rockets hitting either open ground or the sea in the surrounding region.

Tanks were seen massed on the Gaza border as Netanyahu came under mounting pressure from hardliners within his governing coalition to put boots back on the ground in the territory from which Israel pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.

President Shimon Peres warned that, "if the fire continues we do not rule out a ground incursion", his office quoted him as saying in an interview with CNN.

This "may happen quite soon", said Peres.

Israeli troops on Wednesday killed two Palestinians who came ashore on dunes close to the Gaza border, near the scene of a foiled assault on an army base the night before.

Troops killed four under almost identical circumstances on Tuesday.

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the crisis from 10:00 am (1400 GMT), with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon due to give the latest about the situation on the ground, followed by closed-door consultations between the Council's 15 member states.

The meeting follows a request by Arab envoys.

- Gaza is 'on a knife edge' -

Ban called the new wave of violence "one of the most critical tests the region has faced in recent years".

"Gaza is on a knife edge. The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get beyond anyone's control," he said.

"The risk of violence expanding further still is real. Gaza, and the region as a whole, cannot afford another full-blown war."

Ban earlier spoke with world leaders including Netanyahu, Abbas and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry.

He condemned the rocket attacks, saying: "Such attacks are unacceptable and must stop."

He also urged Netanyahu to exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians.

The European Union and the United States also called for restraint.

In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia the executive committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation was to discuss the spiralling crisis Thursday.

The escalation comes with Arab riots inside Israel over the burning to death of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

The boy was murdered in apparent revenge for the kidnap on June 12 of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank, who were subsequently killed.

Their abductions sparked a huge Israeli assault on Hamas's infrastructure in the territory and retaliatory rocket fire from the Islamists' Gaza power base.

Three of the six Israelis held over the young Palestinian's abduction and killing last week are to be released on Thursday, Israeli media said, raising the spectre of renewed unrest by outraged Palestinians.

The three expected to be let out of custody deny involvement in the murder, while the remaining three are said by authorities to have confessed.

- Dimona under fire -

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal demanded world pressure on Israel to end its campaign.

"If the world wants an end to the bloodshed it must put pressure on Netanyahu and his criminal gang to stop aggression against Gaza," Meshaal said in a televised speech from his base in Doha.

The Israeli air offensive failed to staunch the rocket fire by Gaza militants, which sent Israelis scurrying into shelters across more and more of the country.

Three rockets were fired at the southern town of Dimona where Israel has a nuclear reactor, the military said on Twitter.

"Two fell in open areas; Iron Dome intercepted the other," it said, referring to the Israeli missile defence system.

The Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Gaza-based Hamas, said it "launched three M75 rockets at Dimona", referring to the Gaza-produced rockets with a range of about 80 kilometres (50 miles).

Early on Thursday the Israeli military said that during the course of the preceding day, "at least 82 rockets hit Israel" and 21 were intercepted.

So far, neither side has shown any sign of backing down, as Israel stepped up its preparations for a possible ground assault, approving the call up of 40,000 reservists.

by Jean Marc MOJON © 2014 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Jul 10, 2014