An Israeli operation against Gaza militants has killed 28 people and wounded more than 150 in the deadliest day of violence since 2012.
Air strikes that began in Gaza on Tuesday have killed 24 people, including two women and five children, and Israeli forces have killed four Hamas militants who staged a beachfront assault on an army base just north of the besieged Gaza Strip.
The first casualties early on Wednesday morning were six members of the same family, emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said, when a missile hit their home in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. The home belonged to a commander of the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Qudra said. The missile killed the commander and five of his family members, including his parents, another woman and two children, said Qudra.
Another strike early on Wednesday on the southern city of Rafah killed a young man.
In the worst strike on Tuesday, 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.
Qudra said two teenagers and an eight-year-old child were among the dead and that at least another 25 people had been wounded.
Potential targets for retaliation
Hamas responded by saying “all Israelis” would be potential targets for retaliation.
Shortly afterwards, two Palestinians were killed in a strike in Shejaiya, east of Gaza City, Qudra said. The blast shook buildings in the city and Hamas-run al-Aqsa TV replayed what it said was a video of the strike, which sent a tall cloud of debris into the air. A further three separate air strikes killed three people, including a teenager.
Before that, three people were killed when a missile struck a car in the centre of Gaza City. Al-Aqsa TV showed gruesome images of charred body parts being loaded on to ambulance stretchers. Relatives 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 the head of the group’s naval operations.
The Israeli army confirmed targeting Shaaban, describing him as “a senior Hamas operative”.
Another man was killed in a separate strike near Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, with witnesses saying he was a Hamas militant.
‘Terrorists came out of the ocean’
On Tuesday, the Israeli army shot dead four men from the Brigades on a beach in Israel after they had infiltrated the country not far from the Gaza border.
“A number of terrorists came out of the ocean and attacked the base with Kalashnikov rifles and hand grenades,” said army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.
Soldiers on the base near kibbutz Zikim, just north of the Gaza Strip, shot two of the militants, aircraft killed a third and the navy killed the fourth, said Lerner. One soldier was slightly injured.
The Brigades said its men carried out an attack at Zikim but did not report losses, saying instead that there were heavy casualties on the Israeli side. The armed wing said it fired 10 Katyusha rockets at the Israeli base.
The deaths came hours after Israel announced the start of Operation Protective Edge, aimed at stamping out rocket fire on southern Israel and destroying Hamas’s military infrastructure.
Lerner said about 120 rockets were fired at Israel, 23 of which the Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted, with most of the remaining rockets falling on open ground and causing no damage or casualties. – AFP