Israeli strikes on Gaza killed 10 Palestinians and destroyed the Hamas government headquarters today as Israel called up thousands more reservists for a possible ground war.
After Palestinian militants fired rockets at the heart of Israel yesterday, Israeli warplanes carried out 180 air strikes overnight, Israel TV reported, with the strikes levelling the headquarters of the Hamas government. "It's like a real-life horror movie, what I saw today ... It's a miracle we're still alive," said 18-year-old Suha, standing in front of her house.
Medics said 40 Gazans have been killed and more than 350 wounded since Israel launched an aerial campaign on the enclave on Wednesday afternoon, with at least five militants among the 10 people killed in Saturday's raids.
As the toll rose, sirens went off in Tel Aviv for a third day running, sending people scuttling for cover, a day after a rocket crashed into the sea near the city centre, AFP correspondents said. The fire was claimed by Hamas's armed wing.
While Cairo was at the centre of efforts to halt the violence, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti appealed for a truce in a telephone conversation with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, Monti's office said.
He called for "a truce between the parties as soon as possible, to bring to an end the fighting and allow dialogue and peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to begin again."
Since the start of Operation Pillar of Defence, the Israeli army says militants have fired more than 600 rockets over the border, of which 404 hit and 230 were intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system.
Over the same period, three Israelis have been killed and 18 injured, including 10 soldiers, with the army saying the air force had hit more than 830 targets in Gaza.
Today, four Israeli soldiers and five civilians were hurt in separate rocket attacks on the south which hit a building and a car, police and the army said. Another militant group in Gaza, Islamic Jihad, claimed those attacks.
The military said it had sealed off all main roads around Gaza and declared a closed military zone, in the latest sign it was poised to launch its first ground offensive on the territory since the 22-day campaign over New Year 2009.
Overnight, the air force hit Gaza City, targeting Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya's headquarters, other government buildings, including the interior ministry and police compound, militant training facilities and "dozens of terror sites," it said.
Correspondents at the scene said the headquarters, which had been emptied over attack fears, was reduced to a pile of rubble but there were no reports of casualties. Air strikes in southern Gaza, notably Rafah, killed six people while three more died in an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in central Gaza, medics said. Another man died of injuries sustained in a morning strike on Gaza City.
Today's violence came as Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem paid a brief solidarity visit to Gaza, a day after a similar mission by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil. The world must stop Israel's "blatant aggression," Abdessalem told AFP on his arrival in Gaza City, where he visited the ruins of the cabinet building where a day earlier Haniya had received Qandil.
The Tunisian minister called on the Arab League to act to halt the aggression as it gathered for talks in Cairo. Egypt and Turkey, meanwhile, put the onus on Israel to end the fighting, as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Cairo a day after Washington urged the two Muslim countries to pressure the Palestinians.
After a meeting with his counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr said they both agreed on "denouncing Israel's aggression and on the need to swiftly stop this aggression."
President Barack Obama reiterated US support for Israel's right to defend itself during a telephone call with Netanyahu.