GAZA CITY // Israeli warplanes kept up their deadly raids on Gaza on Thursday but failed to prevent Hamas from firing rockets at Jerusalem, two of which struck near settlements in the West Bank.
As the violence escalated, with more than 30 Palestinians killed on Thursday alone, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas criticised Hamas for its rocket attacks, asking what the militant group was seeking to achieve through the violence.
The rocket barrages are “unbelievable,” Mr Abbas said on Palestine TV. “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets? We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.”
The Palestinian leader said efforts to have Egypt mediate a truce had failed and he was in contact with the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an attempt to end the violence.
It’s “unacceptable that the Gaza Strip should undergo this type of aggression every two years,” Mr Abbas said. “I don’t have any demands at this point. I just want to stop this bloodshed.”
However, Israel appeared bent on dealing a fatal blow to Hamas, with the Israeli prime minister Netanyahu reportedly saying talk of a ceasefire was “not even on the agenda”.
Hamas also appeared to have no interest in letting up, striking deep inside Israel over the past 48 hours, with rockets crashing down near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and even as far away as Hadera, 116 kilometres to the north.
As sirens wailed across Jerusalem for the second time in two days, a series of loud explosions echoed across the city as the Iron Dome anti-missile system shot down two rockets fired from Gaza, the army said.
Another two crashed down in open areas in the occupied West Bank, one hitting near the Maaleh Adumim settlement and the other landing near Ofer, an Israeli military prison just west of Ramallah, causing no damage or injuries.
Hamas militants from Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades took responsibility, saying they had fired “four M75 rockets at Jerusalem”.
Since the start of the Israeli campaign in the early hours of Tuesday, at least 82 Palestinians have been killed and more than 500 injured.
As the number of victims in Gaza rose, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing, with hospitals in north Sinai placed on standby to receive the wounded, Egypt’s official Mena news agency reported.
But there have been no Israeli deaths or serious injuries, although medics said one woman died on Thursday, a day after falling while running for cover.
“We are facing long days of fighting and Hamas is trying to surprise Israeli with attacks from the air, sea and land,” the Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Thursday.
Israel has confirmed preparations are under way for a possible ground attack, with tanks seen massing along the border and Mr Netanyahu facing mounting pressure from coalition hardliners to put boots back on the ground in the territory from which Israel pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.
“If we can achieve our goals without a ground operation, we would prefer it this way,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, head of strategic affairs ministry.
The violence has emptied the streets from Gaza City to Tel Aviv, as both Israelis and Palestinians take shelter indoors for fear of being caught in the open when the next rocket or missile hits.
Since the start of the operation, the Israeli military’s biggest offensive on Gaza since November 2012, its forces have hit over 860 “terror sites”, 110 of them on Thursday.
In the same period, Gaza militants fired 470 rockets, of which more than 350 struck Israel, while another 87 rockets were intercepted, the Israeli army said. Of that number, 103 struck Israel on Thursday, while another 21 were intercepted.
Neither side has shown any sign of backing down, and Israel has approved the call-up of 40,000 reservists as it steps up its preparations for a possible ground assault.
* Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg News