ROCKETS fired by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip killed three Israelis yesterday as Israel’s warplanes and ships pummelled the coastal enclave for a second day running.
Two men and a woman died when a rocket hit a fourth-floor flat in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi, injuring two babies and a four-year-old boy.
The Israeli military estimated 200 rockets have been fired from Gaza since Wednesday, when prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched Operation Pillar of Cloud with a precision missile strike on Gaza City, which killed the Hamas commander Ahmed Jabari.
His funeral was held yesterday, with supporters firing guns in the air on news of the Israeli death toll and shouting for Jabari: “You have won.”
Yesterday Mr Netanyahu said Israel had “made it clear” it would not tolerate continued rocket fire on its civilians. “I hope that Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Gaza got the message. If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to protect its people.”
His comments came before warning sirens sounded in Tel Aviv, 50 miles from the Gazan border, sending commuters scurrying for cover as an explosion resounded. Israeli officials indicated the incoming rocket landed in the sea. It was the first time Tel Aviv residents have been put on alert for incoming fire since the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraq targeted Israel’s commercial capital.
Since Wednesday, 15 Palestinians have died in Israeli strikes on Hamas targets, including seven civilians and more than 100 have been wounded, said Palestinian medical officials. The Israeli army said 156 targets were hit in Gaza, 126 of them rocket launchers. It said 200 rockets had hit Israel since the start of the operation, 135 of them yesterday.
Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor system has shot down more than 80 rockets, the army said.
Underscoring the sense of an upcoming ground operation, the army received clearance yesterday for a call-up of special reserve units, while national police chief Yohanan Dinino said he expected the number of missile attacks on Israel to increase.
The fighting, the worst since Israel’s ground operation into Gaza in 2008, has paralysed life on both sides of the border. In southern Israel yesterday, residents stayed indoors or close to home and rushed to shelters as sirens signalled incoming fire.
At 8am, Kiryat Malachi resident Yerachmiel Simon, who lives across the street from where the deadly rocket struck, heard the siren and then a loud explosion. “I went outside and I saw that several apartments were hit, one of them the apartment of my dear friends who were killed,” he told The Scotsman. “Every minute I know there can be a siren and that I’ll have to find cover.’”
In Gaza City, retired physician Moussa el-Haddad said airstrikes continued “non-stop” yesterday until 3pm and then there was a respite. “There are some places that are safer than others, so we move to those places in the middle of the house. It’s horrible and scary. I hope it will end soon as no-one is winning,” he said.
Israeli relations with Egypt are hanging in the balance as the fighting intensifies. Cairo recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv on Wednesday in protest over the Israeli military operation. Any Israeli ground attack could cause an all-out rupture between the two nations that signed a peace treaty in 1979.