The Israel Defense Forces attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza on Wednesday, raising the Palestinian death toll to above 50, while more than 180 rockets were fired from Gaza at the Israeli home front. Since Operation Protective Edge started Tuesday, nine Israelis have suffered light injuries while running for shelter while 59 have been treated for shock, Magen David Adom emergency services said.
Long-range rockets were launched at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and as far north as Hof Hacarmel Regional Council, near Haifa. Iron Dome interceptor missiles shot down dozens of rockets over Israeli cities with a near-90 percent success rate, the IDF said.
Human rights groups in Gaza said many Palestinian civilians, including children, had been killed in the Israeli airstrikes, with houses at times coming down on families. Medical officials in Gaza said some 400 people, mainly civilians, had been hospitalized.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in the afternoon with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, stressing to them that no country would accept incessant rocket fire on its territory, nor infiltrations by sea or through cross-border tunnels.
In Qatar, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal called on the international community to make it clear to Netanyahu that the Palestinians will not live under occupation.
Meshal warned that “the enemy will see things it’s not expecting,” and called on the Palestinian Authority and its security forces to join Hamas against Israel.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was waging “not a war against one faction, or against Hamas, but against the entire Palestinian people.” Abbas said he asked Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to intervene, adding that he had spoken with Hamas leaders, who, he said, were interested in a cease-fire. The Egyptian envoy in the Palestinian Authority said talks between the sides were ongoing but no agreement had been reached.
In the two days of the operation, Israel has struck more Hamas targets than it did in all of Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel’s eight-day offensive in November 2012, a top Israel Air Force commander said. Military aircraft dropped more than 400 tons of explosives since Monday night, after a heavy rocket barrage was fired at Israel.
“We think Hamas was surprised by Israel’s actions over these two days. We are systematically hitting their infrastructure, where Hamas commanders operate,” he added.
On the home front, a Gaza rocket hit a house in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. The family was out, but heavy damage was reported. Another rocket hit an art gallery in Sha’ar Hanegev. Nobody was wounded, but damage was done to the building. In general, little property damage resulted from the Gazan rockets.
At a security briefing at the IDF Southern Command, Netanyahu said, “We’ve decided to escalate even further our attacks on Hamas and on the terrorist organizations in Gaza. ... The operation will expand and continue until the fire on our communities is over and the quiet is back.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israeli strikes in Gaza had destroyed weapons, terrorist infrastructure, command centers, Hamas institutions, government buildings and terrorists’ homes.
“We are killing terrorists of different ranks, and this operation will persist and intensify,” he said. “For our part, this doesn’t have to be a short battle. We will continue hitting Hamas and other terrorist groups hard.”
However, Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi accused the IDF of committing war crimes in Gaza by “purposefully wiping out entire families.”
Some of the more severe incidents included the hit on the home of Islamic Jihad operative Hafez Hamed, who was killed with five other family members, among them two women and two children. A bombing of the Almanasra home in the Almagazi refugee camp killed four relatives, including a woman and her two sons; a woman and her three-year-old daughter were killed when a house was blown up in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City while two children were killed in the city’s Saja’iyeh neighborhood and a mother and son were killed in Beit Lahiya.
One Gaza resident, a social and feminist activist, told Haaretz that from the start the Israeli government had made its intentions clear, and that there were no limits, even when it came to women and children.
“What’s happening is frightening,” she said. “Everyone in Gaza, without distinction, is a bomb target now, and the statistics speak for themselves. Most of the casualties are innocent civilians, women, and children, and older people who naively thought that staying home would keep them safe.”
An Israel Air Force officer said that when a residential building is targeted because militants are living there, residents are warned in several ways to evacuate beforehand. He said some residents of targeted buildings have tried to ward off airstrikes by going up to the roofs en masse, but he added that such ploys will not be effective.
At about 10 P.M., IDF soldiers opened fire at armed scuba divers approaching Israeli territory from the northern Gaza coast; On Tuesday, five armed Palestinians crossed the border into Israel near the beach of Kibbutz Zikim and were killed by IDF soldiers.