GAZA/JERUSALEM – Israel pounded Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Saturday for a fifth day, killing nine people including two disabled women according to medics, and showed no sign of pausing despite international pressure to negotiate a ceasefire.
"We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when asked if Israel might move from the mostly aerial attacks of the past four days into a ground war in Gaza to stop ‘rocket’ fire. “No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power,” he told reporters in Tel Aviv, a day after a phone call from US President Barack Obama.
Two disabled women were killed and four others wounded and in serious condition when an Israeli tank shell struck a rehabilitation centre in the eastern part of Gaza City, Palestinian medics said. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking for details on why the centre was targeted. A 65-year-old man among seven were killed by air strikes early on Saturday, said doctors in the densely populated sliver of coastal territory.
Residents said a mosque in the central Gaza Strip was bombed to rubble. Inside Israel, a Palestinian rocket seriously wounded one person and injured another seven when it hit a fuel tanker at a service station in Ashdod, 30km (20 miles) north of Gaza. The militants in Gaza warned they would launch rockets at Tel Aviv's main international airport and warned airlines to stay clear.
Gaza medical officials said at least 76 civilians, including 24 children, were among 115 people killed so far in the aerial bombardments on the narrow 40km-(25-mile)-long, sandy strip into which nearly 2 million people are packed. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the Palestinian self-rule area of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, urged the United Nations Security Council to order an immediate ceasefire.
But Israel said it was determined to end cross-border rocket attacks that intensified last month after its forces arrested hundreds of activists from the Hamas movement in the West Bank after the abduction there of three Jewish teenagers who were later found killed. A Palestinian youth was then killed in Jerusalem in a suspected revenge attack by Israelis.
Israel's army chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said his forces were ready to act as needed - hinting at readiness to send tanks and ground troops across the barbed-wire boundary into Gaza, as Israel last did for two weeks in early 2009. "We are in the midst of an assault and we are prepared to expand it as much as is required, to wherever is required, with whatever force will be required and for as long as will be required," Gantz told reporters.
Israel's Gaza operation is the deadliest since November 2012, when around 180 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli air campaign to punish Hamas for attacks. That conflict was eventually halted with mediation from Egypt. But now, Egypt is locked in a feud with Hamas over the group's alleged support for militants in Egypt's Sinai desert – something Hamas denies.