Palestinian press convoy hit as Israel ramps up assault
Palestine saw another bloody day on Wednesday, with the death toll since early Monday morning and the launch of Operation Protective Edge now standing at over 50.
Latest estimates released by the Palestinian Health Ministry put the total number of people killed at 53, with around 479 people injured in a campaign that has seen Israel drop over 400 tons of explosives on the territory.
In the latest deadly attack, a Palestinian was killed as he drove a car clearly marked “TV” containing international journalists from Media24 through Gaza City. Three of the injured are in a serious condition, reports Israeli daily Haaretz.
The attack has already been condemned by Palestine's Interior Ministry, who called it the latest in a series of "dark crimes" against the Palestinian people.
Israel meanwhile has said that it will step up its air strikes on Gaza, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday afternoon, as the death toll from Operation Protective Edge continued to rise.
"We have decided to further intensify the attacks on Hamas and the terror organisations in Gaza," his office quoted him as saying following a consultation with security chiefs.
"The operation will widen and continue until the rocket fire on our cities will stop and quiet returns," he added.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Wednesday that they are open to the campaign, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, could continue for some time.
“We are killing terrorists of different ranks, and this operation will persist and intensify,” he said. “For our part, this doesn’t have to be a short battle.”
“From our standpoint, this is a campaign that will not end anytime soon, and we must continue to maintain stamina and patience,” he added.
The Prime Minister's official spokesperson Ofir Gendelman posted a photo to Instagram of Netanyahu receiving a briefing from military leaders in Southern Israel on Wednesday morning.
Accusations of ‘genocide’ and ‘war crimes’ on both sides
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated that “the murder of entire families is genocide practiced against the Palestinian people.”
Speaking after an emergency meeting of Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, Abbas said that “the war began in Hebron with a blockade of the district and aggression against its population”, warning that the coming days will be “difficult.”
For his part, Netanyahu accused Hamas of committing a “double war crime.”
Speaking to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday afternoon, Netanyahu said that deliberate attempts to harm Israelis while using Gazans as human shields constitutes a double war crime, a phrase he has used many times previously to describe Hamas activities.
Netanyahu also held Hamas responsible for “accidental” civilian casualties in Gaza, a sentiment later echoed by Israeli Finance Minister Naftali Bennett, who spoke to al-Jazeera on Wednesday afternoon.
According to Palestinian Ma'an news agency, Wednesday saw deadly strikes hit Rafah, where a 60-year old was killed and five people injured. Another strike hit Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, killing 40-year-old woman Sahar Hamdan al-Masri and her teenage son 14-year-old Ibrahim. The strike comes shortly after 13-year-old Mohammed Aref and his father were killed in Gaza City, and several hours after two-year-old Muhammad Malaka and his 27-year-old mother Aminah Malak were killed in a strike. A full list of the names and ages of victims is available through news site al-Akhabar.
The majority of those killed so far are believed to have been civilians, although several Hamas figures - whom Israel say they are targeting - have also been killed. Hamas member Abdullah Difallah died on Wednesday morning when a missile hit his motorcycle, while 23-year old Quds Brigades fighter Amjad Zaher Hamdan was killed in a strike in front of his house in northern Gaza. A leading figure inside Islamic Jihad's armed wing, al-Quds Brigade, Hafez Hamed, was also killed.
Calls on the international community to act
Palestine slammed Egypt for failing to open its Rafah border crossing with Palestine.
A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, Ayad al-Bazm, wrote on his official Facebook page that Egypt, “despite calls”, had kept the border crossing in the Gaza Strip closed in the face of “Israeli aggression.”
Khaled Meshaal, head of the political wing of Hamas, said in a speech in Doha on Wednesday that Palestine is looking to Egypt “for support.”
Egypt’s response has been muted, with a Foreign Ministry official saying there is “no mediation”, amid reports from the army that it had destroyed 19 underground tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.
In Meshal’s speech, which was transmitted live by a number of Palestinian news outlets, the leader also addressed Israelis, saying that "within a short time, you will not find any Palestinians who dare to talk about a state based on 1967 [borders]."
His comment was a reference to the agreement that limited Palestinian territory to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
He called on the international community to make it clear that Palestinians will not continue to live under occupation, saying that the reasons for the recent violence are far more complex than the murder of three teenaged Israeli settlers.
“The kidnapping was the start of things as far as Netanyahu is concerned. As if the occupation, the settlements and the blockage don’t constitute a blatant violation of Palestinian rights.”
His speech came in the middle of a bloody day in Gaza, during which 25 people have been killed so far.
President Abbas conducted a telephone call with Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday, in which they discussed ways to end the violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu also called for action, asking the international community to condemn rockets fired by Hamas and other “terrorist” groups towards Israeli cities, reports Haaretz.
‘Acting like children’
After calls from both sides for action and condemnation, France and Germany issued statements in support of Israel condemning rocket attacks from Gaza.
In a phone call to Netanyahu, French President Francois Hollande said France “strongly” condemns what he called rocket fire from Gaza, which he called “aggressions.”
Though he reminded Israel of the need to prevent further escalation, he said it was down to Israel to “take all measures to protect its population.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also answered Israel’s calling, telling Netanyahu that there is “no justification” for rockets fired from Gaza.
According to reports, Germany condemns “without reservation” rocket fire on Israel.
Desmond Tutu, meanwhile, accused both Israel and Palestine of acting like children after a “playground dust-up.”
The Nobel Peace Laureate and retired bishop both sides for claiming the other had started the most recent round of violence.
Clashes in Arab Israeli cities amid fears of further strikes
Wednesday evening saw a demonstration in the West Bank city of Ramallah denouncing what many called “Israeli aggression” on the Gaza Strip, amid reports that Palestinian Authority security personnel in Ramallah had blocked roads to prevent any escalation.
Meanwhile local television channel Palestine Today reports that there were also clashes in Bethlehem and Hebron late on Wednesday.
Clashes broke out as people condemned ongoing violence in the Gaza Strip, which many expect to escalate overnight after Tuesday night saw over a hundred strikes.
“Overnight, the [Israeli army] hit about 160 targets in the Gaza Strip. Over the last two days we attacked a total of about 430 targets,” Almoz told military radio on Wednesday.
According to Almoz Israeli targets included about 120 rocket launchers, 10 Hamas command and control centres, among them two homes, and many tunnels into Egypt.
Rockets aim towards Tel Aviv
Fighters meanwhile continued to launch more rockets into Israel, with al-Quds Brigades providing pictures of five long-range missiles fired towards Tel Aviv on its website.
Warning sirens have been heard throughout much of Israel, including Tel Aviv, which lies over 100 kilometres from the southern Gaza Strip.
Over 90 percent of long-range missiles have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome protection system.
Some shorter range missiles, however, have penetrated southern and central Israel. There have not been reports of any deaths, though light injuries such as smoke inhalation and damage to property have resulted from rocket attacks.
At lease 180 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israeli territory on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Hamas’ armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades confirmed that it was behind the barrage of long range rockets fired at Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
"For the first time, the Qassam Brigades strike Haifa with a R160 rocket, and strike occupied Jerusalem with four M75 rockets and Tel Aviv with four M75 rockets," a statement by the group said.
The last time Gaza-based fighters had fired rockets at Jerusalem was back in 2012, with the group laying out four conditions for a ceasefire.
Israel must end all action in Jerusalem and the West Bank, end the bombardment and siege of Gaza, release all the prisoners re-arrested in the Israeli operation launched on 12 June after the disappearance of three Isreali settlers and stopping "meddling" in the Palestinian Unity government, the group said.
“They will not dream of calm if they do not stop their aggression towards our people and stop attempting to break our unity government,” the statement said.