The Israeli military has launched what could be a long-term offensive against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, striking nearly 100 sites.
It has also mobilised troops for a possible ground invasion aimed at stopping a heavy barrage of rocket attacks against Israel.
The military said “Operation Protective Edge” looks to strike the Islamic Hamas group and end the rocket fire that has reached deeper into Israel and intensified in recent weeks.
The attacks come after tensions soared over the killing of three Israeli teenagers and the apparent revenge murder of a Palestinian teenager by three Jewish suspects.
The military said it was seeking to “retrieve stability to the residents of southern Israel, eliminate Hamas’s capabilities and destroy terror infrastructure operating against the State of Israel and its civilians”.
Nearly 300 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel in recent weeks, including a barrage of close to 100 projectiles yesterday alone, the military said.
It is a huge surge after years of relative quiet that followed a previous Israeli campaign to root out Gaza rocket launchers.
Israel has responded with dozens of air strikes and eight Palestinian militants were killed on Monday.
Israel had signalled that it would not launch a larger offensive if Hamas ceased the rocket fire. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the military to prepare options for every scenario.
“We have repeatedly warned Hamas that this must stop and Israel’s defence forces are currently acting to put an end of this once and for all,” said Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the current round of hostilities was being dictated by Hamas and Israel would continue its barrage as long as its citizens were under fire from Gaza.
“We don’t expect it to be a short mission on our behalf,” he said.
After a brief early morning lull, the rocket fire from Gaza resumed yesterday with more than 15 rockets fired toward southern Israel, including the cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon.
The military said five of the projectiles were intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system. A German cruise operator docking in the Ashdod port said debris fell onto one of its ships as it was departing. No one was hurt.
Israel’s defence minister announced a state of emergency in the region yesterday as summer camps and kindergartens were shut down and residents were encouraged to stay close to their homes.
The military said it had targeted four houses belonging to Hamas militants involved in launching rockets at Israel or other militant activity. There were no reported casualties in the strikes.
It also struck three militant compounds, 18 concealed rocket launchers and a Hamas command centre embedded within a civilian building.
Gaza health official Ashraf Al-Kedra said at least nine Palestinian civilians were brought to a Gaza hospital with light to moderate injuries from the air strikes.