THE death toll in Gaza rose sharply yesterday after Palestinians claimed up to 16 people died in Israeli air strikes, including eight members of a single family.
The intensification of the aerial assault saw the Israeli Defence Force hit more than 320 Hamas targets – the most yet in a three-day offensive that has killed at least 74 Palestinians. Some 60 of the dead were civilians, including a four-year-old girl and boy aged five.
With Israel’s Iron Dome defence system shooting down hundreds of rockets fired by militants, neither side is showing any sign of halting the heaviest fighting seen since an eight-day battle raged in late 2012.
The current conflict has seen Israel hit around 750 Hamas targets, focusing on underground tunnel networks and rocket launching sites.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, warned yesterday that the country has already mobilised 20,000 reservists for a possible ground operation.
This could lead to heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side while putting Israeli ground forces in danger.
“The ground option needs to be the last option and only if it is absolutely necessary,” Lt Col Lerner said.
Palestinian medical officials said a strike in the early hours of yesterday hit a home in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, killing eight members of the Al Haj family, five children among them.
Tractors cleared away large piles of debris from the demolished building as one man lay atop on a mattress and blankets that remained. Earlier, at least eight others were killed when a strike hit a Gaza beach cafe where they were watching the World Cup semi-final match between Argentina and the Netherlands, according to eyewitness Mahmoud Sawali.
“We only ask of help from God. Here I have two brothers who are martyrs, and I’m looking for the third,” he added.
Khaled Ali, a 45-year-old Gaza taxi driver, said: “The Jews say they are fighting Hamas and fighting gunmen while all the bodies we have seen on television are those of women and children.”
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon condemned the rocket attacks and urged Israel to show restraint.
Israel has accused militants of deliberately endangering civilians by using homes and other civilian buildings for cover. The Israeli security cabinet met yesterday to discuss its next move.