ISRAELI WARPLANES HAVE pounded Gaza, killing at least 30 people in a major new confrontation with Palestinian militants, as Hamas flexed its firepower and sent thousands running for shelters across the country.
As the death toll in two days of intense conflict reached 59, including six militants killed on raids into Israel, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accused Israel of committing “genocide” in Gaza.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of even tougher action against Hamas.
There have been no Israeli deaths so far, but Hamas began flaunting its firepower overnight as it launched waves of rockets across central Israel that triggered sirens in cities as far from Gaza as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.
There were no confirmed hits in the northern port city itself but media reports spoke of rockets hitting either open ground or the sea in the surrounding region.
Tanks massed on the Gaza border, AFP correspondents reported, as Netanyahu came under mounting pressure from hardliners within his governing coalition to send ground forces into the territory from which it pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.
“We have decided to further intensify the attacks on Hamas and the terror organisations in Gaza,” his office quoted him as saying.
President Shimon Peres warned that, “if the fire continues we do not rule out a ground incursion,” his office quoted him as saying in an interview with CNN.
This “may happen quite soon,” said Peres, who retires later this month.
Israeli troops killed two Palestinians who came ashore on dunes close to the Gaza border, near the scene of a foiled assault on an army base the night before.
“Two armed terrorists came out of the sea more or less in the same area where the incident took place 24 hours ago,” public radio said. “Army lookouts spotted them and there was a gunfight which ended with both terrorists killed.”
Troops killed four under almost identical circumstances on Tuesday.
The escalation comes with Arab riots inside Israel over the burning to death of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists and the region in flames, with civil war raging in neighbouring Syria and conflict intensifying in Iraq.
The European Union and the United States both called for restraint in the confrontation.
Previously: 28 dead as Israel pounds Gaza Strip >