Israel pounded Gaza enclave with a barrage of missiles from land and sea for a fifth day on Sunday, killing at least three children, targeting media houses and threatening to “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”.
At least eight Palestinian journalists were injured when air raids hit buildings housing local media offices on Sunday in strikes that have already claimed nearly 60 lives.
While the first round of strikes destroyed a building housing Arab Al Quds television network, the second round of raids hit a building with offices of Sky News, al-Arabiya, and the official Hamas-run channel al-Aqsa TV. One of the injured Palestinian journalists had to have a leg amputated.
Two of the children who died were from the same family. The attacks also wounded 12 people.
Later in the day, another strike killed three people, including two women in the narrow Gaza Strip, even as France’s top diplomat Laurent Fabius arrived in the region to bolster Egyptian efforts to broker a ceasefire.
Even as media reports said efforts for a ceasefire were on, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israel was ready to “significantly expand” its operation in Gaza.
Israel’s Interior Minister went a step ahead when he said “the goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages”.
“Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai was quoted as saying by newspaper. Meanwhile, fighters in Gaza fired rockets into Israel though two of them, aimed at the commercial hub of Tel Aviv, were shot down by Israel’s anti-missile system, reports said.
Huge plumes of smoke were seen billowing the Gaza sky after five days of incessant bombing which Israel says is aimed at deterring Hamas fighters from launching rockets into its territory.
The violence escalated after Israel killed a Hamas military commander in a raid on Wednesday.
Fears are also growing of a ground assault by Israel as thousands of Israeli troops backed by armour massed along the border.
“We are extracting a heavy price from Hamas and the terror organisations… The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting.
The Israeli military said its aircraft had targeted dozens of underground rocket launchers overnight, “causing severe damage to the rocket launching capabilities of Hamas and other terror organisations”. It said that its navy had also shelled Gaza.
Egypt, meanwhile, stepped up efforts to achieve a truce as it hosted Palestinian and Israeli officials for ceasefire talks. French diplomat Fabius meanwhile termed it “an emergency situation” and pleaded that “war must be avoided”.
While US President Barack Obama declared that he respects Israel’s right to defend itself, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned Israel that a ground assault by it may cost it international support. Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi also warned that an Israeli ground invasion would have “serious repercussions”. He said Egypt would never accept it “and neither will the free world”.
Gaza violence: India for direct Israel-Palestine talks
“Deeply concerned” at escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, India on Sunday asked both sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid taking any action that may further exacerbate the situation.
India also said it was necessary that direct talks begin between the two sides without any further delay.
“We are deeply concerned at the steep escalation of violence between Israel and Palestine, focused around Gaza, that threatens the peace and security of that region,” the official spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs said on the violence in Gaza.
He also said, “It is, therefore, imperative that the situation be de-escalated urgently as the region is already undergoing turmoil. We urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid taking any action that may further exacerbate the situation.”
“It may be mentioned that an emergency meeting on Palestine was held at the UN Security Council on November 14 under India’s Presidency to send a strong message from the Council to those concerned to de-escalate the situation and to stop the violence immediately.” It is also necessary that direct talks begin without any further delay between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) leading to a comprehensive resolution of the Palestinian situation, he said.
The Israeli army and militants in Gaza are continuing to trade fire for the last five days with no signs of abating and the casuality in the strikes has reached 55, including 52 Palestinians.