Gaza violence spirals as UN warns of regional threat

Gaza violence spirals as UN warns of regional threat
Eight Palestinian members of the al-Haj family were killed in an early morning air strike by Israel.

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza relentlessly on Thursday, causing a growing number of civilian casualties, as the UN Security Council was meeting urgently over Israel's spiralling confrontation with Hamas.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has accused Israel of committing "genocide" in Gaza, but Israel showed no sign of letting up, with six children among 27 Palestinians killed in air strikes carried out since midnight (2100 GMT).

And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed even tougher action against Hamas, despite growing international calls for a ceasefire in the worst confrontation in and around Gaza since 2012.

So far, there have been no Israel deaths but Hamas has kept up a steady barrage of rocket fire on cities in central Israel, sending people fleeing for cover as air raid sirens rang out in cities as far away as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and even Haifa.

"We are facing long days of fighting and Hamas attempts to surprise Israeli with attacks from the air, sea and land," Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Thursday.

Empty streets

The violence has emptied the streets from Gaza City to Tel Aviv, as both Israelis and Palestinians take shelter indoors for fear of being caught in the open when the next rocket or missile hits.

On the beachfront in Tel Aviv, cafes which would normally have been bursting at the seams at the height of tourist season, sat empty, their waiters nervously checking the phones for any news of an incoming missile.

But in cafes in Gaza, the story was much darker after an Israeli missile slammed into a coffee shop in Khan Yunis, killing eight as they watched a World Cup semi-final match. Another 15 people were injured.

And Israel has confirmed preparations are under way for a possible ground attack, with tanks seen massing along the border and Netanyahu facing mounting pressure from hardliners within his coalition to put boots back on the ground in the territory from which Israel pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.

A senior official told reporters on Thursday Israel's goal was to get Hamas to stop "the launching of rockets and carrying out terror attacks against Israelis."

"If we can achieve our goals without a ground operation, we would prefer it this way," said the ministry of strategic affairs director general Yossi Kuperwasser.

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