By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ori Lewis
GAZA/JERUSALEM, July 9 (Reuters) - At least 23 people were killed across Gaza, Palestinian officials said on Wednesday, by a bombardment Israel said may be just the start of a lengthy offensive against Islamist militants whose rockets struck deeper than ever before into Israel.
Israelis ran for cover late on Tuesday as air-raid sirens sounded in the business capital Tel Aviv and the holy city of Jerusalem, both of which were hit in the Gaza war of November 2012.
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Hamas said it also fired a rocket at the major northern city of Haifa, 140 km (88 miles) away, and though this was not confirmed, Israel said a rocket had landed in Hadera, 100 km (60 miles) from Gaza, further than had previously been reached.
While the Israelis reported no casualties, the long-range salvo was celebrated by the outgunned Palestinians as proof of their resolve in hostilities that flared three weeks ago after the abduction and murder of three Jewish seminary students.
An Israeli woman holds a poster with photos of the three Israeli teens June 29.
The rocket strikes could lead to an Israeli ground invasion, something officials have said is a possible option.
In the densely populated Gaza Strip, explosions echoed day and night, shaking buildings and sending up plumes of smoke. At least 17 civilians, including five children, were among the 23 dead, Palestinian officials said. On the Israeli side, at least two people were wounded, medics said.
Israel assassinated a senior local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group in the northern Gaza Strip early on Wednesday, neighbors and hospital officials said, and five others including family members were killed.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said she had no initial details on the strike.
The militant, Hafez Hamad, two brothers and his parents were killed when his house was bombed in an air strike in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas media and Gaza interior ministry said. An unidentified woman in the house was also killed.
Another Hamas militant was targeted in another air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Hamas officials said.
Since Israel launched its offensive on Tuesday, five Hamas gunmen, an Islamic Jihad leader and 17 civilians, including seven children, have been killed.
On Tuesday afternoon, Israel's Iron Dome interceptor shot down a rocket fired at Tel Aviv by Gaza faction Islamic Jihad.
"We will not tolerate rocket fire against our cities and townships, and therefore I ordered a significant broadening of IDF (Israel Defense Force) operations against the terrorists of Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
He called on Israelis to rally together and "show resilience because this operation could take time".
Israel has threatened to invade Gaza if the rockets persist.
In a bold infiltration, gunmen from Hamas landed on the shore near Zikim adjacent to the Gaza border, where a kibbutz and a military base are located. Four gunmen were killed.
A picture taken from the southern Israeli border shows smoke billowing during an Israeli air strike on July 8.
ABBAS TALKS TO EGYPT
Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and entered a power-share with Hamas in April after years of feuding, said he had spoken to regional power broker Egypt about the Gaza crisis.
Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Cairo has secured closures on the Egyptian-Gaza border, increasing economic pressure on Hamas from a long-running Israeli blockade.
"Sisi stressed Egypt was interested in the safety of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and sparing this grave assault," a statement from Abbas's office said, adding that Cairo would "exert efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire".
In a televised speech later, Abbas said he had been in touch with the various Palestinian factions and leaders of Hamas whom, he said, did not want an escalation.
Washington backed Israel's actions in Gaza while the European Union and United Nations urged restraint on both sides.
Damage caused by a rocket fired from Gaza strip hitting the city of Ashdod, Israel is seen on June 8.
"We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
"No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel's right to defend itself against these vicious attacks."
The surge in violence along the Gaza border, which is the worst since an eight-day war in 2012 when Tel Aviv was also targeted, followed a chain of events that began with the abduction of three Jewish seminary students in the occupied West Bank on June 12.
Blaming Hamas, which neither confirmed nor denied a role, the Israelis arrested hundreds of its activists in their search for the teenagers who were eventually found dead, as was a Palestinian youth abducted in Jerusalem last Wednesday in a suspected revenge murder.
Palestinian-American Tariq Abu Khdeir who was beaten by Israeli border police and the mother of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
Palestinians have since launched more than 200 rockets from Gaza, Israel has said.
While threatening an "earthquake" of escalation against Israel, Hamas said it could restore calm if Israel halted the Gaza offensive, once again committed to a 2012 Egyptian-brokered truce and freed prisoners it detained in the West Bank last month.
The Israeli military said on Tuesday that, to support regular forces, it had called up 1,000 reserve troops out of a pool of 40,000 approved on Tuesday by the security cabinet. Some 1,500 other reservists have already been mobilized. (Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Noah Browning and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Mark Felsenthal in Washington; Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Toni Reinhold)
BEFORE YOU GO
08/08/2014 2:47 PM EDT
White House Concerned By Renewed Fighting
The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.
"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.
08/08/2014 1:42 PM EDT
Official: 5 Palestinians Killed In Gaza
Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.
The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
08/08/2014 9:23 AM EDT
Palestinian Delegation Says Gaza Talks Will Continue
Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.
"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."
Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.
08/08/2014 9:13 AM EDT
Egypt: Agreement Close In Gaza Talks
Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
08/08/2014 3:58 AM EDT
Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Resume
BREAKING: Israel says it's resumed strikes on Gaza in response to rocket fire, after end of 3-day truce.— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2014
08/08/2014 3:02 AM EDT
Cease-Fire Ends With New Rocket Attacks
A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.
The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.
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08/06/2014 2:46 PM EDT
Official: Israel Agrees To Extend Ceasefire
Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.
Hamas had no immediate comment.
08/06/2014 2:12 PM EDT
IDF: Rocket Sirens Were False Alarm
IDF confirms rocket sirens in southern Israel were false alarm http://t.co/QN677jtlXE— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 6, 2014
08/06/2014 1:18 PM EDT
Report: Rocket Sirens Sound At Gaza Border
ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.
08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT
Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect
Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.
Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.
Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.
The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.
The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.
Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.
Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.