Israel continues bombardment of Gaza
Israel says the offensive is at an early stage and will continue for some time. Senior military officials say the Gaza offensive is in response to recent mortar attacks on southern Israel carried out by Hamas militants.
Local sources in Gaza have reported that three Palestinians were killed on Sunday in eastern Gaza in an Israeli air strike on the headquarters of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, a combat wing of Hamas. Several were wounded in the attack.
Using F-16 fighter planes, Israel’s air force targeted Hamas security installations. However, civilian facilities were also hit and an unknown number of ordinary Palestinian citizens were killed.
Hamas has vowed to avenge the action with suicide attacks on Israeli streets and cafes.
“We will not compromise or back down on our religion or cause,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said. “If you kill thousands of us, you will not be able to kill our spirit, our honor, our dignity, our resistance, our loyalty to our martyrs nor our loyalty to this novel quest.”
Earlier, Israeli military spokesman Avi Benayahu said the bombardment of Gaza was “only the beginning.” Israeli leaders said the operation would continue as long as necessary and suggested land forces might be involved, suggesting an invasion of Gaza hadn’t been ruled out.
The country’s Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, said Israeli government had a responsibility to defend its people against terrorists and its final goal was to bring peace to the region.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appealed to the Palestinians.
“You, the citizens of Gaza are not our enemies,” he said. “Hamas, Jihad and the other terrorist organisations are your enemies as they are our enemies. They brought disaster on you and they try to bring disaster to the people of Israel.”
The strike comes eight days after a six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas expired. Both sides accuse the other of not adhering to their commitments.
There's no talk of another truce for the moment.
The bombing raids were aimed at Hamas security compounds. Most of the casualties were said to be in Gaza City, although there are reports of casualties in the settlement of Khan Younis.
Hospitals in the territory are struggling to cope with the numbers of casualties. There are reports of the injured being placed on stretchers on hospital floors due to the lack of beds. Egypt has reopened its border with Gaza and is taking some of the casualties.
According to preliminary information, most of the injured are members of Hamas or the Gaza police controlled by the Islamist movement. The head of the Gaza police was among those killed.
Some of the missiles landed in highly populated areas as children were leaving school. There were reports of parents frantically looking for their children on the streets.
Israel said the strikes were in retaliation for the recent barrage of rocket and mortar fire against Israeli towns by Gaza militants.
In response to the attacks, Hamas fired several medium-range missiles at Israel, killing one Israeli and injuring at least four.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a “last-minute” appeal to Palestinians in Gaza on Thursday to stop rocket fire at Israel and promised to use “Israel's strength” to strike Hamas.
The EU has urged an immediate halt to Israeli air strikes and Palestinian attacks in and around Gaza.
Moscow has also called on Israel to stop the large-scale use of force against the Gaza Strip. It has also urged Hamas to stop rocket attacks on Israel.
“Moscow is confident that the most urgent thing for the present day is to stop armed confrontation, restore the truce and release civilians on both sides from horror and pain,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko said.
Washington gave tacit support for Israel’s action. However, the US has urged Israel to avoid civilian casualties when targetting the Palestinian militant group. A White House spokesman added that Hamas must stop rocket attacks on Israel if the violence is to end.
Thousands of people took to the streets across the Arab world showing their fury at Israel's actions.
The Arab League will gather on Sunday in the Egyptian capital Cairo to discuss the escalation of violence in Gaza.