Gaza death toll rises; Hamas fires rockets at Tel Aviv

Smoke trails are seen as rockets are launched towards Israel from the northern Gaza Strip July 12, 2014.   REUTERS-Amir Cohen

Smoke trails are seen as rockets are launched towards Israel from the northern Gaza Strip July 12, 2014. REUTERS-Amir Cohen

(Reuters) – An Israeli air strike on the home of Gaza’s police chief killed 18 people on Saturday, Gaza’s health ministry said, and Hamas fired the largest salvo of rockets yet on Tel Aviv since the start of the Jewish state’s offensive in the Palestinian enclave.

The strike on the home of Tayseer Al-Batsh in Gaza City was the deadliest bombing since Israel launched its offensive on Tuesday to end Palestinian rocket fire into its territory.

A source in the Islamist group Hamas, which has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel since Tuesday, said Al-Batsh, was in critical condition. All of those killed in the air strike were members of Al-Batsh’s family.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health ministry, said 45 people were wounded and others were still trapped under the rubble where rescue workers were searching.

Hamas earlier claimed responsibility for 10 rockets that were launched at Tel Aviv on Saturday but which caused no casualties or damage.

Sirens sounded across central Israel as people rushed for cover from the rockets. One group of youths sitting at the beach cheered as they saw a rocket intercepted in the night sky. In Gaza, Palestinians stood at rooftops chanting Allah Akbar (God is great), cries that also echoed over mosque loudspeakers.

The Israeli military said three of the rockets fired were intercepted over Tel Aviv and another struck an open area.

Hamas had broadcast a televised statement an hour before the salvo to say it was preparing a major attack on Tel Aviv. The Israeli military said it bombed the rocket launcher used for the salvo.

Israel’s offensive has killed 145 Palestinians since Tuesday. Gaza medical officials said at least 82 civilians, including 25 children, were among the dead from the air strikes on the territory into which nearly 2 million people are packed.

A nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader in the territory was among six people killed in an air strike in a Gaza street.

A mosque in the central Gaza Strip was bombed to rubble, residents said. The Israeli military said it had housed a weapons cache. Eight other mosques have been damaged by bombing and 537 Gaza houses have either been destroyed or damaged, the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Association for Human Rights said.

Israel is keeping its options open for a possible ground offensive into densely populated Gaza despite international pressure to negotiate a ceasefire in the conflict.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said he had told troops they might enter the Gaza Strip in the coming days.

“We are attacking and destroying weapon storages, militants’ homes, armaments, launchers, rockets … the damage is great and it grows as time goes by, but it may not be enough, we may need a substantial ground operation,” Yaalon said on Facebook.

Some 20,000 reservists have been mobilized for a possible thrust into Gaza.

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