Fresh Israeli air raids have killed at least eight Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and wounded dozens more, medics say, with Palestinian security sources confirming that at least three of the dead were Hamas fighters.
Israel on Saturday expanded its fierce air assault on rocket operations, striking Hamas government and security compounds, tunnels and electricity transformers after an unprecedented rocket attack on Friday aimed at the holy city of Jerusalem raised the stakes.
The Israeli army said that four of its soldiers were injured by a rocket fired from Gaza. Meanwhile, a newly installed battery of Israel's Iron Dome defence system successfully intercepted a Gaza rocket aimed at Tel Aviv on Saturday.
Palestinian medics said 40 Palestinians have been killed and 345 wounded since Israel launched the aerial campaign against the Palestinian enclave on Wednesday.
In the same period, three Israelis have been killed and 18 injured, including 10 soldiers.
Since the start of its operation, Israel's army said it carried out some 700 airstrikes. It also said that fighters have fired more than 580 rockets over the border, 367 of which hit southern Israel, and 222 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Israeli aircraft have continued to pound weapons-storage facilities and underground rocket-launching sites.
Tunisian minister in Gaza
The Tunisian foreign minister visited the Gaza Strip on Saturday and denounced Israeli attacks on the Palestinian enclave as unacceptable and against international law.
"Israel should understand that many things have changed and that lots of water has run in the Arab river," Rafik Abdesslem said as he surveyed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office, reduced to rubble in a morning air strike.
"[Israel] should realise it no longer has a free hand. It does not have total immunity and is not above international law," he added. "What Israel is doing is not legitimate and is not acceptable at all."
The Israeli military has approved the call-up of 75,000 reservists and massed troops, tanks and armoured vehicles along the border with Gaza, signaling a ground invasion of the densely populated seaside strip could be imminent.
The Gaza Interior Ministry said a government compound was also hit as devout Muslims streamed to the area for early morning prayers. So, too, was a cabinet building where the Hamas prime minister received Egypt's PM on Friday.
In southern Gaza, Israeli aircraft went after the hundreds of underground tunnels used to smuggle in weapons and other contraband from Egypt, people in the area reported.
A huge explosion in the area sent buildings shuddering in the Egyptian city of El-Arish, 45km away, an Associated Press correspondent reported.
The tunnels have also been a lifeline for residents of the area during the recent fighting, providing a conduit for food, fuel and other goods after supplies stopped coming in from Israel days before the military operation began.
Missiles also knocked out five electricity transformers, plunging more than 400,000 people into darkness, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company.
The widened scope of targets brings the two sides closer to the kind of all-out war they waged four years ago.
Hamas was badly bruised during that confrontation, but has since restocked its arsenal with more and better weapons, and has been under pressure to prove its commitment to armed struggle against Israel.
The attack aimed at Jerusalem on Friday and strikes on the Tel Aviv area twice this week underscored the fighters' new capabilities, including a locally made rocket that appears to have taken Israeli defence officials by surprise.
Both areas had remained outside the gunmen's reach in past rounds of fighting, and their use dramatically escalated the hostilities.
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|Timothy V. Gatto|