Lebanese and Palestinian protesters burn an Israeli flag
during a demonstration to denounce Israeli air strikes on
the Gaza strip, in Lebanon's southern port-city of Sidon.
Photo by Reuters
At least 78 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have
been killed in Israel's Gaza offensive, Palestinian officials
said, as militants in the enclave kept up rocket attacks on Tel
Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities.
As Israeli officials seemed to hint at a possible invasion by
ground forces, eight members of one family, including five
children, were killed in an early morning air strike that
levelled two homes at Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza
Strip near the Egyptian border, the Palestinian Health
Israel's military made no comment on what would be the
deadliest strike since its began its assault on Tuesday
(local time). The defence minister spoke of "long days of
French President Francois Hollande voiced his concern at the
civilian deaths in the Palestinian enclave and called for a
truce. A spokeswoman for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry,
who like Hollande spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas, said of possible escalation: "Nobody wants to see a
The offensive followed a build-up in violence after three
Jewish students were killed in the occupied West Bank last
month and a Palestinian youth died in a suspected revenge
Medical officials in Hamas-dominated Gaza said at least 60
civilians, including a four-year-old girl and a boy aged five
who were killed on Thursday, were among the 78 Palestinians
who have died in Israeli attacks since Tuesday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised
statement: "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 organisations hard and as the battle
continues we will increase strikes at them."
Netanyahu discussed options with his security cabinet as air
strikes continued and officials hinted at a possible ground
offensive, there was no word on when or if this would happen.
"We have long days of fighting ahead of us," Defence Minister
Moshe Yaalon said.
Sirens sounded in and around Jerusalem in the evening and
residents ran for cover as a number of rockets were launched
towards the holy city. Two were intercepted and others fell
in open ground. The remnants of one rocket fell on a building
in an Israeli community in the hills near Jerusalem, police
Militants from Hamas's Qassam Brigades and the smaller
Islamic Jihad group said they had launched separate strikes.
The only Israeli casualties on Thursday were two people who
had minor wounds when a mortar exploded near the Gaza border.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was to brief the
Security Council on the crisis later on Thursday, condemned
the rocket attacks and urged Israel to show restraint. "Gaza
is on a knife edge," he told reporters.
Israel says it has struck more than 860 targets in an
offensive intended to halt persistent rocket fire at its own
civilian population, which escalated after Israeli forces
arrested hundreds of Hamas activists in the West Bank while
hunting for the abducted teenagers.
It says Hamas Islamists put innocent Palestinians in harm's
way by placing weaponry and gunmen in residential areas. The
movement has widespread support among Palestinians.
SMOKE AND RUBBLE
Across the Gaza Strip, smoke and rubble marked the aftermath
of Israeli attacks in the most serious hostilities between
the militants and Israel's powerful armed forces in two
"The Jews say they are fighting Hamas and fighting gunmen
while all the bodies we have seen on television are those of
women and children," said Khaled Ali, 45, a Gaza taxi driver.
Rocket salvoes on Israel - the military said more than 470
projectiles have been fired since Tuesday, including some 170
on Thursday alone - have caused no fatalities or serious
injuries. That has been due in part to interception by
Israel's partly U.S.-funded Iron Dome aerial defence system.
The wail of air raid sirens has paralysed business in
southern communities and sent hundreds of thousands of people
scrambling for shelter in Tel Aviv, the commercial capital
where two rockets were shot down on Thursday. But offices and
shops remain open and roads are clogged with traffic.
One rocket fell in the West Bank between Jerusalem and
Abbas's administrative centre Ramallah. It landed in open
ground close to a Palestinian home. Some rockets have landed
more than 100 km (60 miles) from Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri sounded a defiant note, when
asked about defence minister Yaalon's remarks of further
action to come. "Our backs are to the wall and we have
nothing to lose," he said. "We are ready to battle until the
"KNOCK ON THE DOOR"
Israel's targets in the Gaza Strip have included militant
commanders' homes, which it described as command and control
centres. Palestinian officials put the number of dwellings
either destroyed or damaged at more than 120. Local residents
said some of the houses did not belong to fighters.
Netanyahu has accused Hamas of committing "a double war
crime" by targeting Israeli civilians "while hiding behind
Owners of some of the targeted homes 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. Scenes of
families fleeing their homes have played out daily.
Israeli leaders, who have popular support for the Gaza
offensive, have mobilised some 20,000 army reservists, giving
them the means, if they choose, to mount a land offensive in
one of the world's most densely populated territories.
The last time they did that was in early 2009. Ground troops
did not cross into the Strip during the last major exchange
of rockets and missiles in October 2012.
U.S.-backed Palestinian President Abbas, who is based in the
West Bank and entered a power-sharing deal with Hamas in
April after years of feuding, has denounced the Israeli
In telephone calls with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Abbas "stressed
the need to achieve a ceasefire immediately", the official
Palestinian news agency WAFA said.