Six Palestinian militants, including the son of a hardline Hamas leader, were killed in an Israeli air strike today.
Planes attacked a series of targets in the Gaza Strip, stepping up the pressure on the Islamic militant group a day after a rocket fired from Gaza killed an Israeli man.
Today’s violence raised the death toll in two days of fighting to 17 Palestinians, including a baby.
The bloodshed threatened to worsen the continuing violence in the area, which involves near-daily Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza and harsh Israeli reprisals.
The latest wave of violence began yesterday when an Israeli airstrike killed five Hamas militants travelling in a van.
Israeli officials said the five had received training in Iran and Syria, and media reports quoted anonymous officials as saying they were planning a large attack.
Hamas responded by firing more than 40 rockets into Israel, one of the heaviest barrages in months.
One rocket landed in an Israeli college campus in the southern town of Sderot, killing a 47-year-old father of four. It was the first fatal rocket attack since last May.
Overnight, the army said it carried out at least three more airstrikes against militants in northern Gaza. Palestinian officials reported four dead in the attacks.
The strikes continued early today against Hamas installations in Gaza.
Two Hamas fighters were killed and four others injured in an airstrike south of Gaza City, Palestinian medical officials said. Large crowds gathered around the mutilated bodies as they were wrapped in green Islamic shrouds and placed in ambulances.
David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, said: “Israel is compelled to seek out and neutralise the Gaza-based rocket launching sites and those who operate them.
“Israeli civilians cannot be hunted and struck down by these lethal rockets and we are determined to take the necessary steps to protect them.”
Hamza al-Haya, the son of hardline Hamas politician Khalil al-Haya, was among those killed today, Hamas said. The group said he had commanded a rocket-launching squad in northern Gaza.
Khalil al-Haya is one of Hamas’s top figures in Gaza, and has escaped assassination attempts, including an Israeli strike that killed his brother last year.
Earlier, Israeli planes also blasted the office of Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and the Interior Ministry, which were empty. Mr Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders have been in hiding, fearing Israeli assassination attempts.
Mr Haniyeh said in a statement released today: “I condemn the continuous crimes committed by the Zionist occupation against our people.”
He said the attacks would “not weaken the steadfastness and the determination of the Palestinian people”.
Palestinians said the blast killed a six-month-old baby living in the area and heavily damaged the offices of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, a local relief group.
Dr Abdel Hadi Abu Khoussa, the centre’s director, said an ambulance, all of the agency’s medicine and most of its equipment were destroyed.