Israel continues to bombard Gaza, death toll rises to 208
Israel has stepped up its military offensive in Gaza saying it has ‘no choice’ and has asked thousands of Palestinians in the coastal strip to leave their homes amid speculation that a ground operation could follow even as the death toll reached 208 amid air strikes.
An Egypt mediated truce initiative on Tuesday failed to halt rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas militants and other groups who called it ‘capitulation and surrender’, choosing to continue with rocket and mortar fire.
Israel, which suffered its first fatality on Tuesday in a mortar attack at the Ere crossing, said senior Hamas militants had died in strikes on Gaza overnight.
Palestinian medics in Gaza claimed that 208 people had so far been killed in Israeli raids, including 10 overnight, and more than a 1,000 injured in the last nine days of Operation Protective Edge launched by Israel. Among those reported killed was a five-month-old baby, Palestinian medics said charging Israel of having killed mostly innocent civilians.
Israel has accused Hamas and other Gaza-based militant factions of using civilians as human shields as activists of the groups went around telling people not to evacuate homes. Militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel, which on Tuesday caused the first Israeli death.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) dropped leaflets and used recorded phone messages to warn some 100,000 residents of Gaza to leave their homes before 8 am on Wednesday.
The warning came as militants continued to fire rockets at Israeli cities, the IDF said, adding that its Iron Dome missile shield had intercepted four rockets launched at Tel Aviv.
Following continued rocket attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he now had no choice but to ‘expand and intensify the campaign against Hamas’ and that ‘When there is no ceasefire, our answer is fire’.
‘This would have been better resolved diplomatically...but Hamas leaves us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it,’ he said. Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, earlier rejecting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal said it is ‘like an ambush’. The Egyptian-backed truce was to have started at 0600 GMT on Tuesday, after it was approved by Israel’s security cabinet. IDF halted it’s attacks for six hours, but resumed yesterday after militants continued to fire rockets.
The armed wing of Hamas, the Izz ale-Din Qassam Brigades, dismissed the initiative, saying its battle with Israel would ‘increase in ferocity and intensity’.