At least 81 Palestinians have died and more than 500 have been injured since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge two days ago to prevent rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said Thursday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled out any ceasefire.
The number of injured was put at 567, 20 of them in critical condition, Efe news agency reported citing the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza.
Those who died included seven people – four children and three women – whose home in the southern town of Khan Younes was hit by an Israeli rocket, in the deadliest overnight attacks since the onslaught began.
Three youths also died near the refugee camp of Jabalia in the north when their car was struck by an Israeli bombing.
Palestinian health ministry spokesman Ashraf al Qedra said two-thirds of the casualties were civilians, mostly women and children.
Al Qedra added that the number of civilian casualties had increased over the past 48 hours as the air force pounded residential areas and the coastline.
Israel’s air and naval artillery forces have hit 108 targets overnight and 750 since the operation began, according to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).
The IDF said Palestinian militants had fired 360 rockets at Israel, 67 of which were intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defence system.
The al Qassam Brigades, the Islamist movement Hamas’s military wing, has claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks against Tel Aviv and other cities in central and southern Israel.
No casualties have been reported in the Palestinian attacks, which activated alarm sirens again Thursday in Tel Aviv, but dozens of Israelis have been treated for anxiety and panic symptoms.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israeli lawmakers Thursday that a cease-fire agreement with Hamas qwas not on the agenda at the moment.
The prime minister made the remarks as he briefed ministers during a meeting in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, as Operation Protective Edge entered its third day, Xinhua reported citing the Ha’ aretz daily.
The lawmakers asked Netanyahu whether the operation had specific political goals and whether he was in contact with Egypt or other countries on brokering a ceasefire agreement.
“I am not talking to anybody about a ceasefire right now,” Netanyahu told the members of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. “It’s not even on the agenda.”
The Israeli prime minister said he ordered an increase in airstrikes in Gaza and said he had received support from international leaders he had talked with in the past couple of days, including French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
On Wednesday, Israel’s Defence Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, vowed to increase attacks on Gaza.
“We will continue to hit Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip with heavy blows from the air, from the sea and from the ground so as to ensure the security of Israeli citizens,” Efe cited the online edition of Arutz Sheva as quoting Ya’alon.
Israel has been massing troops on the border with the Strip and has called up 40,000 reservists as it prepares to launch a ground offensive.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of the dangers of escalation and said the peace process was at stake, as the Security Council prepared to meet Thursday in an emergency session to discuss the situation.