Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed 20 people on the third day of a military operation, including four women and four children.
The deaths bring to 70 the number of Palestinians killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on Tuesday to halt rocket fire from the besieged territory.
Israel’s army said it carried out raids during the night against more than 300 Hamas targets, claiming to have hit the Islamist group a total of 750 times since the operation began.
Emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP that an early morning strike hit a coffee shop in the city of Khan Yunis, killing eight people and wounding at least 15.
A second attack blasted a home in the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, killing one person and wounding several others, Qudra said. Further strikes targeted two houses in Khan Yunis, killing four women and four children, he said. After dawn, a car was hit in western Gaza City, killing three people and wounding four others.
Throughout the night explosions were heard across the Palestinian territory after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of even tougher action to come.
The military operation is Israel’s largest against Gaza since 2012.
On Wednesday, 29 Palestinians were killed, and Tuesday’s toll stood at 21, bringing the total number of dead to 70. The dead include at least 11 women and 18 children, according to an AFP count based on medical reports.
There have been no Israeli deaths so far, but Hamas showed its firepower as it launched waves of rockets across Israel that triggered sirens in cities as far from Gaza as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.
Gaza on a ‘knife-edge’
Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,in unusually forthright remarks, said Gaza is on “a knife edge” and the Middle East faces one of its most serious challenges in years.
Ban said he had spent the day talking with world leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as well as US Secretary of State John Kerry.
“I am alarmed by the new wave of violence that has engulfed Gaza, southern Israel and the West Bank – including East Jerusalem. This is one of the most critical tests the region has faced in recent years,” said Ban.
“Gaza is on a knife edge. The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get beyond anyone’s control.”
“The risk of violence expanding further still is real. Gaza, and the region as a whole, cannot afford another full-blown war.”
Ban condemned the rocket attacks launched from Gaza on Israel, saying: “Such attacks are unacceptable and must stop.”
He said he had also urged Netanyahu to exercise maximum restraint and to respect international obligations to protect civilians. – AFP