Israel continued its bombing campaign of Gaza for a fourth day Friday, killing a total of 100 people, mostly civilians, and injuring nearly 700, the Gaza health ministry said.
Fighters in Gaza fought back with rockets, without causing any fatalities or serious injuries. But one rocket on Friday hit a petrol station in the port city of Ashdod, causing a huge blaze and injuring three Israelis, an ambulance spokesman said, AFP reported.
The latest two victims were killed in an air strike on a car belonging to the municipality of Gaza, health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra wrote on Twitter. The strike critically wounded a third person.
Gaza medical officials said six people were killed in Israeli pre-dawn attacks.
An air strike on a house in Gaza City killed a man described by officials as a doctor and pharmacist. Medics and residents said an Israeli aircraft bombed a three-story house in the southern town of Rafah, killing five members of the same family, including seven-year-old Ghalia al-Ghanam.
The Palestinians said Israeli tanks fired shells east of Rafah, naval forces sent shells into a security compound in Gaza City and aircraft bombed positions near the borders with Egypt.
Medical officials in Gaza said at least 60 civilians, including a four-year-old girl and a boy of five killed on Thursday, were among the 98 Palestinians who have been killed since the assault began on Tuesday.
Israel says it has struck more than 860 targets in Gaza, including homes.
According to Reuters, owners of some of the targeted homes received telephoned warnings from Israel to get out. In other cases, so-called "knock-on-the-door" missiles, which do not carry explosive warheads, were first fired as a signal to evacuate. Scenes of families fleeing their homes have played out daily.
But residents said in Friday's attack in Rafah no warning was issued and the victims were asleep when their house was bombed.
The four day offensive is the deadliest since October 2012, when around 160 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli campaign to punish Hamas for missile attacks. That conflict was eventually halted with Egyptian mediation.
If Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza, it would be the first since a war in early 2009 when 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
"We have long days of fighting ahead of us," Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri sounded a defiant note, when asked about Yaalon's remarks. "Our backs are to the wall and we have nothing to lose," he said. "We are ready to battle until the end."
The Israeli military said some 550 projectiles have been fired at Israel since Tuesday by Islamist group Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, and by other militant groups.
Some rockets have landed more than 100 km (60 miles) from Gaza. Sirens sounded as far north as the Israeli city of Haifa on Friday, though police said no remnants of rockets, which Hamas said it had fired, were found.
U.S. will support ground offensive if necessary
The U.S. ambassador to Israel told Israeli army radio that his country would support a ground operation in the Gaza Strip if it were necessary to stop rocket attacks on the Jewish state.
"No one wants a ground operation, and we want that Hamas would stop sending the missiles and rockets. But in any case, Israel has full American backing," Dan Shapiro said in a Friday interview with the radio station, according to Israeli TV station Arutz Sheva's website.
U.S. State Department condemned Palestinians firing rockets and accused the Palestinians of "deliberately" targeting Israeli civilians.
Spokeswoman of the U.S. Secretary of State Jen Psaki said, "We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire into Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza."
She continued, "No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we certainly support Israel's right to defend itself against these attacks."
U.S. President Barack Obama told Netanyahu by telephone on Thursday that the United States was willing to help negotiate a ceasefire, the White House said. A spokeswoman for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, "Nobody wants to see a ground invasion."
Kerry also spoke to Egypt's foreign minister in an attempt to get Cairo to use its influence to calm the situation, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. Kerry, she said, had also "reached out" to Qatar.
Hamas says at least 200 houses have been bombed by Israel since Tuesday and that most of the fatalities have come as a result of the house bombings.
French president supports Israel's aggression
French President Francois Hollande expressed his country's solidarity with Israel in the face of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, stressing that Israel has the right to "take all appropriate measures to protect its people from threats", Anadolu news agency reported.
A statement issued by the presidential palace on Wednesday evening said that Hollande had telephoned Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express to him "France's solidarity with Israel in the face of rocket fire from Gaza."
The statement said, "France firmly condemns these attacks", adding that, "Israel can take all appropriate measures to protect its people."
Hamas warns it will target Tel Aviv airport
Meanwhile, Hamas' armed wing has warned airlines that it intends to target Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport with its rockets from Gaza and has told them not to fly there, a statement by the group said Friday.
"In the light of Israel's ... attacks on the residents of Gaza Strip ... The armed wing of Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base," the statement said.
The group claimed earlier that it had already fired at least one rocket towards the airport Friday but militant rockets, which are largely inaccurate, are not known to have landed in or around the airport, Israel's main international aerial gateway, which is well protected by missile interceptor systems.
Israel airstrikes could breach laws of war: UN
Israel could be violating the laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza, the UN's human rights office said Friday.
"We have received disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes," said spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.
"Such reports raise doubts about whether the Israeli air strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law," she told reporters.
International humanitarian law is UN-speak for the laws of war, and Shamdasani said targeting homes was a violation unless the buildings were being used for military purposes.
Erdogan warns Israel over offensive
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israeli bombardment of Gaza was blocking efforts to patch up relations undermined by a 2010 attack by Israeli commandos on a Turkish ship that had been challenging its blockade of the Palestinian territory.
"We cannot normalize (relations). First, this cruelty must end," Erdogan said during a speech in the central Turkish city of Yozgat late Thursday.
"As long as this is not done, it is not possible that a normalization of the relations between Turkey and Israel be realized," he added, calling for a ceasefire to resume.
Egypt hits out at Israel, opens Rafah crossing
Egypt hit out at Israel Friday for killing civilians in Gaza with "oppressive policies of mass punishment," while urging the international community to act quickly to end the conflict.
"Egypt rejects the irresponsible Israeli escalation in the occupied Palestinian territory, which comes in the form of excessive and unnecessary use of military force leading to the death of innocent civilians," the Foreign Ministry said.
"This represents a continuation of the oppressive policies of mass punishment."
Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing to Gaza Thursday to receive wounded Palestinians as Israel pounded the enclave with airstrikes, an official at the border said.
Hospitals in north Sinai, which borders Gaza and Israel, have been placed on standby to receive the Palestinians, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.
The crossing is usually closed, with Egyptian officials citing the tense security situation in Sinai, where the army is battling an Islamist insurgency.
Protests sweep across Europe
Concerned citizens in a number of European cities staged protests against Israel's aggression in Gaza, Felesteen newspaper reported.
In Spain, the Palestine Solidarity Forum organized a protest in Madrid, during which the participants appealed to Israel to immediately stop its aggression against the Gaza Strip. The protesters read out a statement reminding the international community that 9 July marked the tenth anniversary of the International Court of Justice's decision on the Apartheid Wall erected by Israel inside the occupied Palestinian territories, declaring it illegal.
The protestors demanded "to freeze the partnership agreement between Israel and the European Union; to abolish all forms of military and security cooperation; and to stop all Spanish companies' activities in Israel to avoid becoming a war criminal".
Meanwhile, nearly a hundred people organized a protest in front of the European Parliament's headquarters in Brussels to condemn the continued Israeli attacks. The protesters declared that, "the Israeli actions, including random shelling without any distinction between civilians or military personnel and the killing of children and women, are war crimes which Israeli officials should be tried for."
In Istanbul, the Palestine Solidarity Association organized a similar protest in Oglu Beck Street, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags. The organizers said that the Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are being killed in cold blood.
Similar protests have also been held in London, Portsmouth, Sheffield, Glasgow, Derry, Galway, Paris, Strasbourg, Berlin, The Hague, Athens, Valencia, Rome, Turin, Florence and Geneva, with many more protests planned in the coming days. A selection of photographs of the protests across both Europe and North America were published on the website of Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.
Rally held in U.S. against Israel
Thousands of people gathered outside the Israeli mission to the United Nations in New York City on Wednesday to protest Israel’s crimes against Palestinians, Press TV reported.
People from many different communities including a group of anti-Israeli Jews participated in the rally.
A large number of NYPD officers were present to disperse the crowd. At one point, officers blocked a man passing the rally on motorcycle, knocking him to the ground and arresting him.
The protesters also slammed major media organizations in the U.S. for siding with Israel in their coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
They marched from the Israeli mission to the headquarters of News Corporation, the owner of FOX News in the U.S. and Sky News in Britain.
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