GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES): Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza Wednesday, killing 24 people in a major new confrontation with Palestinian militants, as Hamas flexed its firepower and sent thousands running for shelters across the country.
As the death toll from Israel’s two-day Operation Protective Edge reached 45, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accused Israel of committing “genocide” in Gaza.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared bent on ploughing ahead, warning of even tougher action against Hamas.
There have been no Israeli deaths so far. But Hamas began flaunting its firepower overnight, launching waves of long-range rockets across central Israel that triggered sirens in cities as far away as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Sirens even sounded in the northern port city of Haifa, witnesses said, as unconfirmed reports spoke of a rocket hitting near Caesarea and another even further north.
Tanks massed on the Gaza border, AFP correspondents reported, as Netanyahu came under mounting pressure from hardliners within his governing coalition to send ground forces into the territory from which it pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.
Bellicose rhetoric followed from the premier.
“We have decided to further intensify the attacks on Hamas and the terror organisations in Gaza,” his office quoted him as saying.
Outgoing Israeli president Shimon Peres warned a ground incursion into the coastal territory was a looming possibility.