ISRAELI LEADERS HAVE authorised its military to call up 40,000 reservists for a possible assault on the Gaza Strip, the army said.
“Following a directive of the chief of staff the general staff… and the approval of the government, the Israel Defence Forces increased the draft of reserve forces,” the military tweeted in English.
The approval is currently limited to 40,000.
The move came during the most serious flare-up over Gaza since November 2012, as Palestinian militants rained rockets onto southern Israel and Israel hit back with deadly air strikes.
“We have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard,” chief military spokesman General Moti Almoz told army radio earlier, saying the operation would take place “in stages”.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon warned it was likely to be a protracted campaign.
“We are preparing for a campaign against Hamas, which will not end in just a few days,” he said in a statement after meeting security chiefs, which defined the aim as being “to exact a very heavy price from Hamas”.
We will not tolerate rocket fire on Israel cities, and we are preparing to expand the operation with everything at our disposal to strike Hamas.
Israeli strikes on Gaza gave killed 13 people and wounded at least 90, the emergency services said, as the military began an aerial campaign against militants in the Strip.
In the worst strike, a missile slammed into a house in the southern city of Khan Yunis after people had reportedly formed a human shield to protect it, killing seven people.
Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP two people were among the dead and that another 25 people were wounded.
Witnesses said an Israeli drone fired a warning flare, prompting relatives and neighbours to gather at the house as a human shield and that, shortly afterwards, an F-16 warplane fired a missile that levelled the building.
In response, Hamas said “all Israelis” would be potential targets for retaliation.
“The Khan Yunis massacre… of children is a horrendous war crime, and all Israelis have now become legitimate targets for the resistance,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Facebook.
Shortly afterwards, two Palestinians were killed in an air strike in Shejaiya, east of Gaza City, Qudra said without elaborating.
Earlier, three people were killed when a missile struck a car in the Daraj neighbourhood in the centre of Gaza City, he said, correcting an earlier toll of four fatalities.
Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV showed gruesome images of charred body parts being loaded onto ambulance stretchers.
Family members said all of them were Hamas militants, identifying one as Mohammed Shaaban, 32, a senior commander in Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades. He was also head of the group’s naval operations, they said.
Israel’s army confirmed targeting Shaaban, describing him as “a senior Hamas operative.”
In a separate strike near Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, another man was killed, with witnesses telling AFP he was also a Hamas militant.
The deaths came hours after Israel announced the start of Operation Protective Edge, a campaign aimed at stamping out rocket fire on southern Israel and destroying Hamas’s military infrastructure.
Army figures show that militants have fired 130 rockets at southern Israel since midnight without causing any casualties, while the air force struck 150 “terror targets” in Gaza.