Tension in Mideast

Added On July 11, 2014

Fresh salvos of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip sent Israelis sprinting for bomb shelters across the country on Thursday as Israel's military offensive on the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave entered its third day.

Over 120 rockets were fired at Israel since midnight, of which 21 were intercepted, the Israeli military reported on the Thursday evening.

In the longest reaching rocket attack into the Negev Desert since the campaign against Hamas began late Monday night, three projectiles were fired at the southern Israeli towns of Mitzphe Ramon, Yeruham and Dimona, some 85 km away from Gaza on Thursday morning, Israeli media said. Hamas announced it launched M-75 rockets toward the Negev, saying it sought to hit air force bases in the area of Mitzphe Ramon.

The Israeli military confirmed that at least three rockets had struck civilian communities in the Negev, but declined to name them.

Rockets continued raining down on southern Israeli cities and communities closer to the border with Gaza, including Netivot, Beersheba, and the coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon.

Hundreds of kilometers further north, air raid sirens wailed in the greater Tel Aviv area early Thursday as Iron Dome engaged Palestinian rockets, shooting down at least seven over Tel Aviv, Israel's economic and hi-tech hub, where the remains of one of the projectiles fell into a gas station. Rockets were intercepted over the suburbs of Rehovot and Bat Yam.

Hamas later announced that M-75 rockets were also employed in the attack on central Israel, marking the first time that this type of munitions was used in the new round of fighting.

Sirens blared in Jerusalem in the early evening and were shortly followed by sounds of blasts, as two rockets were intercepted. Another three fired at the city landed in open areas, including near the Palestinian village of Beitunia.

There were reports of damages to homes and vehicles in several communities targeted by rockets throughout the day, though most fell in open fields or were intercepted. Denise Ben-Shetrit, a 65- year-old woman, was reported to have passed away Thursday after slipping and losing consciousness while running for shelter during sirens the previous day, becoming the first Israeli fatality.

With ever more powerful rockets hitting deeper into its territory, Israel ramped up its air offensive on Gaza, dubbed " Operation Protective Edge," whose stated objective is to stem rocket attacks by Hamas.

Some 320 targets were struck across the seaside enclave between Tuesday and Wednesday, over 120 overnight and 110 since early Thursday morning, bringing the total number of targets bombed in the past 65 hours to over 860, the military updated in a press release.

Among the targets were top Hamas military commanders and rank and file operatives, underground rocket launchers, tunnels, command and control facilities, training camps, military compounds and weapons storage and manufacturing sites.

At least 88 Palestinians were killed and 660 injured over the past three days, according to Gaza medical officials. Eight members of a family, among them five children, were killed in a pre-dawn strike in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, said Palestinian media.

On Thursday afternoon, an Israeli strike targeted three Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants, Mahmoud Walud, Hazem Balusha and Alla'a Abd Al-Nabi, in the northern Gaza Strip.

The Israeli military said in a statement that Al-Nabi was a senior militant who fired numerous rockets at Israel and played an active part in the current escalation.

Earlier Thursday, the military noted that it targeted three Islamic Jihad militants in northern Gaza whom it claimed were involved in manufacturing medium-range rockets, adding that out of the 5,500 rockets in the possession of the group, over 100 have a range of 80 km. A Hamas operative was targeted and killed around the same time, the Israeli army said.

The Jerusalem Post quoted on Thursday a senior military source as saying that the air force had used 800 tons of ordnance against Hamas targets in recent days, doubling the firepower it employed during a major confrontation with Hamas in November 2012.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military continued to amass ground forces on the border with Gaza after receiving authorization on Monday to call up 40,000 reserve troops, in preparation for a possible ground invasion of Gaza.

Earlier in the day, the military contacted an undisclosed number of Palestinians and requested them to vacate their homes in the areas near the border.

Israeli media said the move could either signal that a ground offensive was imminent or was part of psychological warfare being employed in the campaign.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday that the Egyptian efforts to stop the military conflict between Israel and Hamas have failed.

"We do not want any party to put conditions for reaching a ceasefire, what important now is stopping the bloodshed," Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

He added that Egypt has tries to mediate a ceasefire, but all efforts were turned down. Abbas noted that he is making contacts with the United States, Qatar, Turkey as well as Egypt, which mediated a ceasefire in 2012, in order to prevent a possible Israeli ground operation in Gaza.

Abbas said the Palestinians are the ones who pay the price of the conflict with Israel.

Also on Thursday, Morocco condemned the military escalation of the Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

It also warned against the serious consequence that could jeopardize the stalled peace process and the future of the entire region, according to the country's foreign ministry.

Morocco also called on the international community to take immediate actions to end the crisis, protect the civilians, and hold Israel accountable for this "flagrant aggression."