Israel pounds Gaza as Hamas targets Tel Aviv, Jerusalem

Israel pounds Gaza as Hamas targets Tel Aviv, Jerusalem
A Palestinian woman Hamas supporter hold up a rifle during a protest against the kidnapping and killing a Palestinian teenager by Israeli settlers in Jerusalem earlier in the week, and against any Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip in the Jabalya refugee camp, in northern Gaza, on July 4, 2014.

JERUSALEM - Israel significantly broadened its campaign against Gaza Wednesday after militants fired at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in their biggest confrontation since 2012, raising fears of a major Israeli ground offensive.

It was the most serious flare-up in and around the Gaza Strip since November 2012 and came as Israel struggled to contain a wave of nationwide unrest over the grisly murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

Washington, Brussels and a growing number of Arab states have demanded an immediate halt to the violence which is threatening to expand into a wider conflict in a region already bristling with tension.

Since Operation Protective Edge began in the early hours of Tuesday, Israel warplanes have bombed 430 targets in Gaza, and Hamas militants have hit back with 117 rockets, some of which struck Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and as far away as Hadera, 116 kilometres (72 miles) to the north.

So far, 32 Palestinians have been killed, among them militants but also women and children. More than 230 have been wounded.

As dawn broke, residents of the northern Beit Hanun picked through the bloodstained rubble of a house struck by a missile, killing an Islamic Jihad commander and his family.

"We didn't see the rocket that came down on us," said Yunis Hamd who lost six family members in the strike, which left a vast crater.

"It killed all of them," he told AFP.

"This is pure destruction by F-16 aircraft against children and civilians, and the whole world just sits watching," said his neighbour Yasser Abu Awda, whose house was also destroyed.

"No one says anything, not even Arabs and Muslims. We are under siege and no one cares."

So far, neither side has shown any sign of backing down, as Israel stepped up its preparations for a possible ground assault, approving the call up of 40,000 reservists.

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