Israel pounds Gaza as Hamas flexes rocket reach
GAZA CITY (2nd UPDATE) – An Israeli air strike killed seven people in the Gaza Strip Thursday, July 10, bringing to 57 the death toll on the third day of a major cross-border confrontation, as the UN Security Council was set for an emergency meeting later in the day.
On Wednesday, July 9, at least 29 Palestinians were killed but Hamas kept up its rocket fire into Israel and sent thousands running to shelters across the country.
The overall toll included 6 militants killed in raids into Israel Wednesday and Tuesday, July 8.
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.
"We have decided to further intensify the attacks on Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza," his office quoted him as saying.
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, who retires later this month.
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 escalation comes with Arab riots inside Israel over the burning to death of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists and the region in flames, with civil war raging in neighboring Syria and conflict intensifying in Iraq.
The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the crisis from 10 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 members.
The meeting follows a request by Arab envoys.
The European Union and the United States both called for restraint in the confrontation.
Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone on Wednesday.
"Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning, and he plans to speak with President Abbas over the next 24 hours," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
"The secretary... has been making calls over the past 24 hours to world leaders, as we continue to evaluate the situation and look for ways to stop the rocket attacks," she added.
The spike in violence came as the Palestinians moved towards greater unity following a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Abbas that ended 7 years of rival administrations.
That deal came after nearly a year of US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed, to the satisfaction of Netanyahu's hardline coalition partners.
The Palestinian teenager 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 specter 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
Six women and nine children were among those killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza on Wednesday, medics said.
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.
"Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired three rockets at Dimona. Two fell in open areas; Iron Dome intercepted the other," it said, referring to the Israeli missile defense 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 kilometers (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. – Rappler.com