By Mukwuzi Joseph
Hamas confirmed that several of its top commanders were killed in air strikes on the Gaza Strip today as Israel launched massive bombardments in retaliation for hundreds of missiles fired at its cities.
Israel has vowed to bring ‘total, long-term quiet’ to the region despite growing international alarm at the numbers of civilian casualties being sustained in its barrages on densely populated areas.
The Palestinian death toll rose to 43 on Wednesday, including 13 children and another 230 people wounded.
Hamas said the commander of its Gaza City Brigade, Bassem Issa, was among those ‘martyred’ in the strikes.
Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, named another three slain Hamas officers: Jamaa Tahla, responsible for the improved accuracy of the group’s rockets; Jamal Zabeda, chief of ‘special projects’ in the munitions department; and Hazzem Hatib, head engineer in the munitions wing.
The militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets at Israel since Monday, killing five civilians, including an Arab-Israeli girl in the city of Lod in the early hours of this morning.
‘The army will continue to attack to bring a total, long-term quiet. Only when we reach that goal will we be able to speak about a truce,’ Defence Minister Benny Gantz said today from the southern town of Ashkelon where two Israeli women were killed by Hamas rockets on Tuesday.
The United Nations has warned the two sides they risk a ‘full-scale war’ if there is not an urgent ceasefire.
‘Stop the fire immediately. We’re escalating towards a full-scale war. Leaders on all sides have to take the responsibility of de-escalation,’ Tor Wennesland UN Special Envoy to the Middle East tweeted.
Just after daybreak, the Israeli Air Force unleashed dozens of strikes within the course of a few minutes with what appeared to be bunker buster bombs targeting underground Hamas infrastructure.
The Israeli Defence Forces later dispatched two infantry brigades to the area of a downed militant drone, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.
Boris Johnson condemned the spiralling conflict this morning hours after his former counterpart Donald Trump blamed ‘weak’ Joe Biden for allowing things to escalate.
‘I am urging Israel and the Palestinians to step back from the brink and for both sides to show restraint,’ the Prime Minister said. ‘The UK is deeply concerned by the growing violence and civilian casualties.’
Despite international condemnation for the bloodshed, the worst since the 2014 war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected calls for ceasefire, vowing last night to ‘step up’ attacks.