The Palestinian death toll from Israel’s massive air campaign in Gaza topped 100 people Friday as rockets fired by militants reached deeper into Israel – and for the first time in the fighting, struck from neighbouring Lebanon.
Gaza militants have already fired more than 550 rockets against Israel in the offensive. The Israeli military says it has hit more than 1,100 targets, mostly what it identified as rocket-launching sites, bombarding the territory on average every five minutes.
In Gaza, an Israeli air strike Friday hit the home of a well-known Islamic Jihad leader. Gaza health officials said strikes overnight killed a total of eight people, raising the death toll to at least 98. A later strike pushed the tally over 100 to go along with some 670 wounded, officials said.
Facing a possible Israeli ground invasion, militants warned international airlines they would fire rockets at Tel Aviv’s main airport. A rocket also caused the first serious Israeli casualty: one of eight people hurt when a fuel tanker was hit at a service station in Ashdod, 30 kilometres north of Gaza.
ISRAEL: PM UNDAUNTED BY INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he will not cave in to international pressure to stop the military offensive in the Gaza Strip, waring that Israel will continue its offensive until rocket fire out of Gaza is halted.
At a Friday news conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he’s had “good conversations” with a number of world leaders in recent days, including U.S. President Barack Obama and European leaders. “No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power,” he said.
Israeli leaders, determined to end Palestinian rocket attacks deep into the Jewish state, have hinted that they could order the first ground invasion of the coastal strip in five years. Some 20,000 army reservists have been mobilized.
The salvoes into Israel have so far caused no fatalities, due in part to interception by Israel’s partly-U.S. funded Iron Dome aerial defence system. However, eight people were wounded, one in serious condition, by a rocket on Friday that hit a fuel tanker at a gas station in Ashdod, an ambulance service spokesman said. Firefighters doused the blaze.
If Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza, it would be the first since a war in early 2009 when 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
PALESTINIANS: DEADLY AIR STRIKE ON RAFAH HOUSE
An air strike on a house in Gaza City killed a man described by Palestinian officials as a doctor and pharmacist. Medics and residents said an Israeli aircraft also bombed a three-storey house in the southern town of Rafah, killing three people.
Hamas says at least 200 houses have been bombed by Israel since Tuesday and that most of the fatalities have come as a result of the house bombings.
Owners of some of the targeted homes have received telephoned warnings from Israel to get out. In other cases, so-called “knock-on-the-door” missiles, which do not carry explosive warheads, were first fired as a signal to evacuate. Residents said that, in Friday’s attack in Rafah, no warning was issued and the victims were asleep when their house was bombed.
LEBANON: MISSILE PLATFORMS DISMANTLED
Friday’s rocket launches were fired from the Marjayoun-Hasbaya area toward “occupied Palestinian territories,” a statement from Lebanon’s army said, referring to Israel. The projectiles were launched in the hours before dawn and Israel’s army responded with artillery fire, Lebanese and Israeli military authorities said.
Lebanese security forces arrested a man suspected of firing the rockets, the national news agency said later in the day. He was Lebanese and a member of “fundamentalist groups,” the report said, without naming the groups. It said he had admitted he had been accompanied by two Palestinians who were also members of these groups, and security forces were still searching for the pair.
The army said it had discovered two missile platforms with more rockets ready for launch after searching the area, and had dismantled them.
Southern Lebanon is a stronghold of the Shia militant group Hezbollah, which has battled Israel numerous times. However, recent fire from Lebanon has been blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area and Hezbollah has not been involved in the ongoing offensive. A pair of Lebanon-based al-Qaeda-linked groups, the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has claimed responsibility in the past for similar rocket attacks on Israel.
GLOBAL REACTION: ‘NOBODY WANTS TO SEE A GROUND INVASION’
- United States: The U.S. President told Netanyahu by telephone on Thursday that the United States was willing to help negotiate a ceasefire, the White House said. A spokeswoman for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: “Nobody wants to see a ground invasion.”
- United Nations: The UN’s top human-rights official said on Friday she had serious doubts that Israeli’s military operation against Gaza complied with international law that bans the targeting of civilians and their homes. “We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a statement that also called on Palestinian armed groups to uphold international law.
- Turkey: Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Israeli bombardment of Gaza was blocking efforts to patch up relations undermined by a 2010 attack by Israeli commandos on a Turkish ship that had been challenging its blockade of the Palestinian territory. “We cannot normalise [relations]. First, this cruelty must end,” Erdogan said during a speech in the central Turkish city of Yozgat late on Thursday, calling for a ceasefire.
- France: French President François Hollande voiced his concern at the civilian deaths and called for a truce. Hollande and Kerry both spoke to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank and entered a power-sharing deal with Hamas in April after years of feuding.
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