JERUSALEM — Israel carried out more than 200 air strikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip Saturday, as Palestinian rocket fire continued to paralyze southern Israel. At least 40 Palestinians, including 13 civilians, and three Israeli civilians have been killed since the Israeli offensive began on Wednesday.
Israel launched wave after wave of airstrikes on Gaza, shaking the ground and sending black plumes of smoke into the air.
The operation expanded to targeting the symbols of power of the ruling Palestinian militant group Hamas. Israeli warplanes hit the prime minister's office, a police compound and the home of a military commander, as well as weapons depots and smuggling tunnels.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev says the aim is to end Palestinian rocket attacks.
“We are acting now to try to bring about a situation where Hamas understands that it’s not in their interest for them to target Israeli civilians. We want to bring about peace and quiet for the people of the South, for the people of all of Israel. We think that’s attainable,” said Regev.
Hamas has been hit hard, but it is fighting back.
Air raid sirens wailed in southern Israel, as Palestinians fired dozens of rockets across the Gaza border. The sirens sent Israelis scurrying to bomb shelters and the streets were empty.
Khalil al Hayya, a Hamas leader in Gaza, says the Palestinians are acting in self-defense and will not surrender.
He said the “Zionist entity is killing men, women and children … and the war will not end until the liberation of Palestine and Jerusalem.”
The Israeli operation began on Wednesday, when the military leader of Hamas was assassinated in an air strike, following days of rocket attacks. After that, Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket attacks intensified.
The conflict escalated on Friday, when the Palestinians fired a rocket that landed near Jerusalem for the first time. Several rockets have also been fired at Tel Aviv. Both cities used to be out of Palestinian gunners' range, but Hamas has smuggled in longer-range rockets made in Iran.
With no break in the rocket fire coming from Gaza, Israel’s Cabinet authorized the military to call up 75,000 reservists. Tanks, armored personnel carriers and troops are deploying on the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground assault.