Israel launches military offensive against Palestinians

*Military says it targets 50 sites in aerial, naval assaults *Israel also preparing to send ground forces into Gaza

GAZA/JERUSALEM – Israel launched an offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, bombing some 50 targets, including homes, in a campaign meant to end ‘rocket fire’ into the Jewish state.

The Israeli military urged Israelis within a 40km radius of the southern coastal territory to stay within reach of protected areas and ordered summer camps shut as a precaution against the rocket fire.

The military said it targeted about 50 sites in aerial and naval assaults. Palestinian officials said more than 30 of them were bombed in little more than an hour before dawn, including two homes in southern Gaza.

At least nine people suffered shrapnel injuries. There were no other reported casualties because the buildings were believed to have been evacuated beforehand. Witnesses said a house bombed in Khan Younis was flattened. The Palestinian Health Ministry said nine neighbours were wounded by debris from that strike.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry said that the family in the targeted home had received a telephone call from an Israeli intelligence officer asking them to leave the house because it would be bombed, and the family evacuated in time.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said Israel was preparing for the possibility of sending ground forces into Gaza as part of the campaign, which it has dubbed ‘Operation Protective Edge.’

“We are mounting the forces to enable us to mobilise if required. I can't see that happening immediately but we have a green light to recruit more reserve troops that will enable us to carry out a ground mission,” Lerner told reporters.

The Hamas' armed wing threatened an earthquake in response to Israel's attacks. In a statement, the group denounced Israel's bombing of houses as exceeding all red lines and threatened to shoot rockets at longer distances. “We will respond by broadening the range of our targets,” it said.

Air raid sirens wailed as far north as the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Monday night. Israeli police said those were false alarms but the military said the rockets had triggered alerts as far as 80km away. Hamas claimed responsibility for the rocket attack for the first time since a 2012 war with Israel that ended in an Egyptian-brokered truce.

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