Israeli strikes kill more Palestinians; death toll rises to 85 in fourth day of offensive
Israeli air strikes on Gaza killed four more Palestinians before dawn today, raising the death toll from the four day offensive to at least 85, while a Palestinian rocket hit a fuel tanker at an Israeli petrol station causing a huge blaze.
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 Israeli military said it launched fresh naval and air strikes early on Friday, giving no further details.
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.
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 defense system. However, eight people were wounded, one in serious condition, by a rocket on Friday that hit a fuel tanker at a petrol station in Israel's port city of Ashdod, an ambulance service spokesman said. Firefighters doused the blaze.
Three rockets were intercepted over the Tel Aviv metropolitan area on Friday morning, the military said. Fire was also exchanged across Israel's northern border. Lebanese security sources said two rockets were fired into northern Israel on Friday but they did not know who had fired them. Israel responded with artillery fire.
Israel's chief military spokesman, Brigadier-General Motti Almoz, said one rocket fell near Kibbutz Kfar Yuval and that there were no casualties or damage.
The Palestinians said Israeli tanks fired shells east of Rafah, naval forces sent shells into a security compound in Gaza City and aircraft bombed positions near the borders with Egypt and Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised statement on Thursday: "So far the battle is progressing as planned, but we can expect further stages in future. Up to now, we have hit Hamas and the terror organizations hard and as the battle continues we will increase strikes at them."
The four day offensive is the deadliest since October 2012, when around 160 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli campaign to punish Hamas for missile attacks. That conflict was eventually halted with Egyptian mediation.
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.
"We have long days of fighting ahead of us," Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri sounded a defiant note, when asked about Yaalon's remarks. "Our backs are to the wall and we have nothing to lose," he said. "We are ready to battle until the end."
The Israeli military said some 550 projectiles have been fired at Israel since Tuesday by Islamist group Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, and by other militant groups.
Some rockets have landed more than 100 km (60 miles) from Gaza. Sirens sounded as far north as the Israeli city of Haifa today, though police said no remnants of rockets, which Hamas said it had fired, were found.
The military added that it had targeted some 210 sites in the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours, among them "long-range rocket launchers, Hamas leadership facilities and terror and smuggling tunnels".