A picture taken on November 12, 2018 shows a ball of fire above the building housing the Hamas-run television station Al Aqsa TV in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike. Image Credit: AFP

Highlights

  • Flare-up comes amid international ceasefire push 

  • The most intense shelling on both sides since 2014

  • Israeli commandos carried out Gaza raid on Sunday

Gaza: Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets at southern colonies on Tuesday, killing a man in a strike on a residential building and vowing to further escalate their attacks if Israel keeps bombing the Palestinian territory.

As fighting raged throughout the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was meeting with his Security Cabinet to plot a way forward. The meeting was still going on after more than four hours of talks.

The heavy exchange of fire, which was triggered by a botched Israeli undercover raid into Hamas-ruled Gaza late Sunday, marked the most serious escalation since an Israel-Hamas war in 2014.

Israeli medical services said early today that a man has been killed by a rocket that hit an apartment building in a southern colony and a woman was critically wounded. A 48-year-old man was found early Tuesday under the rubble of a building hit by a rocket in the southern city of Ashkelon.

Relatives in the West Bank town of Halhoul identified the man as Mahmoud Abu Asbeh, a Palestinian laborer who had been working in Israel. He left a wife and six children behind. "Everyone in town is sad. It's God's will and there nothing we can do about it," said his cousin, Jihad Abu Asbeh.

Nearly 30 people have been wounded in Israel, three critically, according to medical officials.

On Tuesday, Gaza's Health Ministry said two Palestinians in their 20s were killed in separate airstrikes, raising the number killed since the Israeli offensive began to six, including four militants. At least 25 people have been wounded.

Palestinian fighters on Monday carried out their most intensive shelling of Israel since the 2014 Gaza war in retaliation for a botched cross-border commando raid, drawing Israeli air strikes against Hamas' television station and other targets.

More on Gaza

The flare-up, in which three Palestinian gunmen and a civilian in Israel were killed, threatened to derail efforts by the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar to broker a long-term truce and head off another major conflict in the impoverished district.

Hamas, Gaza's dominant Islamist movement, and other armed factions launched more than 300 rockets or mortar bombs across the border after carrying out a surprise guided-missile attack on a bus that wounded an Israeli soldier, the military said.

Sirens in southern Israeli colonies sent residents rushing to bomb shelters. Several homes were hit.

Israel responded with dozens of air strikes against Gaza buildings including a Hamas intelligence compound and the Al Aqsa Television studios, whose employees had received advance warnings from the military to evacuate.

Al Aqsa TV’s employees had evacuated their office in advance after phoned-in warnings from the Israeli military, and broadcasts resumed after a brief outage.

The armed wing of Hamas threatened to step up its attacks and fire rockets further north toward the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Beersheba if Israel continued its airstrikes.

The spokesman for the Hamas military wing, identified only as Abu Obeida, said the deadly attack on the coastal city of Ashkelon showed the city "has entered the range of fire as a response to the bombing of buildings in Gaza." He said Ashdod and Beersheba "are the next targets if the enemy continues bombing civilian buildings."

School was cancelled in large parts of southern Israel and a local election was postponed because of the threat of further attacks.

Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, Israel's military spokesman, said Hamas was "leading Gaza to ruin" and that Israeli attacks on it would "intensify to the degree required".

The flare-up cast a new cloud over efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Egypt urged Israel to back down. The United States, whose peace mediation has been stalled since 2014, condemned Hamas.

"The escalation in the past 24 hours is extremly dangerous and reckless," tweeted Nickolay Mladenov, a U.N. Middle East envoy. "Rockets must STOP, restraint must be shown by all!"

In Gaza, schools and public institutions were closed as people ventured outside to inspect the damage after a long night of aerial raids. Near the destroyed TV station, residents salvaged papers and belongings from their damaged homes. Debris was strewn across the streets and glass crunched underfoot.

In Gaza City's Rimal neighborhood, a six-story residential building that housed a kindergarten on its ground floor was destroyed.

"All the people here are civilians, children and families. We took our children and fled from here. When we returned, we found great destruction," said Mamdouh al-Shurafa, a resident of the building. "When we are bombed in the middle of the city, where can we go?"

In the most recent war, over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, more than half of them civilians, and tens of thousands were left homeless. Seventy-three people, most of them soldiers, were killed on the Israeli side.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hoped to reach an "arrangement" to avoid another Gaza war and ease Palestinian economic hardship.

But hours later, a botched incursion by undercover Israeli troops in Gaza that killed a Hamas commander, six other Palestinian militants and an Israeli colonel.

"In response to yesterday's crime, the joint command of Palestinian factions announce the beginning of bombardment of the enemy's settlements with scores of rockets," Hamas said in a statement on Monday.

In an apparent attempt to defuse tensions, Israel's military spokesman said the special forces had not been dispatched to assassinate Hamas commanders, a tactic that led to wider conflict in the past and which has largely been abandoned.

Israeli media reports suggested the raid was mounted to gather intelligence.

Violence has simmered since Palestinians launched weekly border protests on March 30 to demand the easing of a blockade on Gaza and rights to lands lost in the 1948 war of Israel's founding. Israeli troops have killed more than 220 Palestinians during the confrontations, which have included border breaches.