Gaza death toll reaches 68
10 July 2014, 08:06
Gaza City - Israel's air offensive in the Gaza Strip escalated on Wednesday while Palestinian militants launched more powerful rockets deeper into Israel, amid concerns that hostilities could widen.
The Health Ministry in the coastal enclave said early on Thursday that 68 Palestinians have been killed and more than 400 wounded since the start of the air campaign.
About two thirds of the casualties were civilians, ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qedra said. Israel's military said it bombed more than 600 targets since launching operation Protective Edge early on Tuesday.
The latest casualties saw three women and four children killed in a strike on three houses in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis, Palestinian medical workers said. "Targeting women and children is a proof of the enemy's failure," Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesperson for Gaza's Islamist ruling Hamas movement, said in a statement.
Palestinian militants said they launched close to 400 missiles. The Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted 56 of the rockets over Israel's biggest cities, including one on Wednesday afternoon over Tel Aviv.
Air raid sirens woke up residents of the seaside metropolis in the morning. Five missiles have been downed over the city, an army spokesperson said.
There was a confirmed report of one missile reaching Hadera, about 116km north of Tel Aviv, the farthest a missile from Gaza has ever reached. The expanded reach of the Gaza-launched missiles was raising concern.
Sirens wailed as far north as Zihron Yaakov - south of the northern port of Haifa, but there was no confirmation of a hit. Rockets landed near Dimona, in the south, where Hamas reportedly said it was targeting Israel's nuclear reactor.
Two Palestinian militants were killed while trying to infiltrate a village in southern Israel from the sea, following a similar incident the previous day in which five militants were slain.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not stop pounding militant targets until the missile fire from Gaza ceased. "The operation will be expanded and will continue until the firing at our communities stops and quiet is restored," he told reporters after security consultations in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.
"We have decided to further increase the assault on Hamas and the terrorist organisations in Gaza. Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing at Israel's citizens. The security of Israel's citizens is our primary consideration."