Fears of all-out war rise
A Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip yesterday, drawing the first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 15 in a military showdown lurching closer to an all-out war.
On the second day of an assault that Israel said might last many days and culminate in a ground attack, its warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza City.
Plumes of smoke and dust furled into a sky laced with the vapour trails of outgoing rockets.
The conflict pours oil on a Middle East ablaze with two years of revolution and an out-of-control civil war in Syria.
Palestinian allies, led by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, denounced the Israeli offensive.
Islamist Hamas - which believes Morsi and his newly dominant Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will be its protectors - claimed it had fired a one-ton Iranian-made Fajr 5 rocket at Tel Aviv. But there was no reported impact in the Israeli metropolis.
Morsi said: "The Israelis must realise that this aggression is unacceptable and would lead only to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region."
There was, however, no immediate sign of robust action by Egypt.
On Wednesday, a precision Israeli air strike assassinated Hamas military mastermind Ahmed Al-Jaabari, and Israel shelled Gaza from land, air and sea.
The 15 killed in Gaza included Jaabari and six Hamas fighters plus eight civilians, among them a pregnant woman with twins, and four infants, according to Gaza's health ministry. Medics reported at least 130 wounded.
The Israeli army said 156 targets were hit in Gaza, 126 of them rocket launchers.
It said 200 rockets had struck Israel since the start of the operation, 135 of them since midnight.
Israel's Iron Dome interceptor system has so far shot down 81 rockets headed towards residential areas, the military said.
One of those that got through killed a couple and a young woman neighbour in the Negev region, prey to rocket attacks for five years.
The three died when a rocket hit a four-storey building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, some 25km north of Gaza.
Expecting days or more of fighting and almost inevitable civilian casualties, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets in Gaza telling residents to stay away from Hamas and other militants.