Israel obliterated symbols of Hamas power on the third day of what the defense minister described Monday as a “war to the bitter end,” striking next to the Hamas premier’s home, and devastating a security compound and a university building.
The three-day death toll rose to 364 on Monday, with some 1,400 reported wounded. The U.N. said at least 62 of the dead were civilians, and medics said eight children under the age of 17 were killed in two separate strikes overnight. Israel launched its campaign, the deadliest against Palestinians in decades, on Saturday in retaliation for rocket fire aimed at civilians in southern Israeli towns.
Since then, the number of Israeli troops on the Gaza border has doubled and the Cabinet approved the call-up of 6,500 reserve soldiers.
The strikes have driven Hamas leaders into hiding and appear to have gravely damaged the organization’s ability to launch rockets, but barrages continued. Sirens warning of incoming rockets sent Israelis scrambling for cover throughout the day.
One medium-range rocket fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon killed an Arab construction worker there Monday and wounded several others. He was the second Israeli killed since the beginning of the offensive.
At first light Monday, strong winds blew black smoke from the bombed sites over Gaza City’s deserted streets. The air hummed with the buzz of drone aircraft and the roar of jets, punctuated by airstrike explosions. Palestinian health officials said one strike killed four Islamic Jihad militants and a child.
Some Palestinians ventured outside for mourning. In northern Gaza, a father lifted the body of his 4-year-old during a funeral Monday for five children from the same family killed in an Israeli missile strike.
On Sunday, Hamas missiles struck for the first time near the city of Ashdod, only 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Israel’s heart in Tel Aviv. Hamas leaders have also threatened to renew suicide attacks inside Israel. A missile from Gaza struck Ashdod again on Monday, seriously wounding two people.
On Monday, the White House released a statement saying “in order for the violence to stop, Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to respect a sustainable and durable cease-fire.”
But in Damascus, Syria, a senior exiled Hamas official said there can be no talk of a truce with Israel until the assault ends and Israel reopens the Gaza crossings.
“We need our liberty, we need our freedom and we need to be independent. If we don’t accomplish this objective, then we have to resist. This is our right,” the official, Abu Marzouk, told The Associated Press in an English-language interview.
A a six-month truce between Hamas and Israeli expired earlier this month, but Hamas refused to extend it, saying Israel had violated its terms.
Most of those killed since Saturday were members of Hamas security forces, though the precise numbers remain unclear. A Hamas police spokesman, Ehab Ghussen, said 180 members of the Hamas security forces were among the dead, and the U.N. said at least 62 of the dead were civilians. A rise in civilian asualties could intensify international pressure on Israel to end the offensive.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, told parliament Israel was not fighting the residents of Gaza. “But we have a war to the bitter end against Hamas and its branches,” he said. Barak said the goal is to deal Hamas a “severe blow” and that the operation would be “widened and deepened as needed.”