Israel expanded its fierce air assault on rocket operations in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip today, striking security compounds, smuggling tunnels and a three-storey apartment building after an unprecedented rocket attack aimed at the holy city of Jerusalem raised the stakes in its confrontation with Palestinian militants.
Israeli aircraft also kept pounding their original targets, the militants' weapons-storage facilities and underground rocket-launching sites. The Israeli military called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and armoured vehicles along the border with Gaza, signalling a ground invasion of the densely populated seaside strip could be imminent.
Israel launched its military campaign Wednesday after days of heavy rocket fire from Gaza and has carried out some 700 airstrikes since, the military said. Militants, undaunted by the heavy damage the air attacks have inflicted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against the Jewish state, including new, longer-range weapons turned for the first time this week against Jerusalem and Israel's Tel Aviv heartland.
Israel has slowly expanded its operation beyond military targets and before dawn today, the Gaza Interior Ministry reported, missiles smashed into two small Hamas security facilities as well as the massive Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, setting off a huge blaze that engulfed nearby houses and civilian cars parked outside. No one was inside the buildings at the time.
The Interior Ministry said a government compound was also hit as devout Muslims streamed to the area for early morning prayers. So, too, was a cabinet building where the Hamas prime minister received the prime minister of Egypt on Friday.
In southern Gaza, Israeli aircraft went after the hundreds of underground tunnels militants used to smuggle in weapons and other contraband from Egypt, people in the area reported. A huge explosion in the area sent buildings shuddering in the Egyptian city of El-Arish, 45 kilometres away, an Associated Press correspondent there reported. The tunnels have also been a lifeline for residents of the area during the recent fighting, providing a conduit for food, fuel and other goods after supplies stopped coming in from Israel days before the military operation began.
Missiles also knocked out five electricity transformers, plunging more than 400,000 people in southern Gaza into darkness, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company. A three-storey apartment building belonging to a Hamas military commander was hit, and ambulances ferried out inhabitants wounded by the powerful explosion. Others were thought to be buried under the rubble.
A mosque in central Gaza was also targeted, but it wasn't clear whether weapons or fighters were being harboured in the area.
At least one person was killed and dozens were wounded in the various attacks, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
In all, at least 30 Palestinians, including a dozen civilians, and three Israeli civilians have been killed since the Israeli operation began.
-- The Associated Press