GAZA BURNING: A ball of fire is seen following an early morning Israeli air strike on Rafah in the southern of Gaza strip, yesterday. Photo: AFP
Israel's aerial bombardment of Gaza claimed its 105th Palestinian life yesterday as Hamas pounded central Israel with rockets and Washington offered to help broker a truce.
Diplomatic efforts to end the hostilities between Israel and Hamas militants gathered pace, with US President Barack Obama phoning Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities," the White House said.
But Netanyahu remained resolute, saying he would not end his campaign until he achieved his goal of stopping the Hamas fire, reports AFP.
"No international pressure will prevent us from striking the terrorists who are attacking us," he told a news conference in Tel Aviv.
A relative mourns over a body of a victim killed in Israeli air strike. Photo: AFP
"I had a very good conversation with President Obama and other leaders," he added. "All of these leaders understand the need to act."
The UN's top human rights official has called for an investigation into Israeli air strikes on Gaza, on the grounds that the targeting of Palestinian homes -- resulting in a high death toll among civilians, particularly children -- could violate international law.
However, the Israeli prime minister said his government would not be deflected by criticism from abroad, refusing to rule out a ground offensive and vowing there would be more air strikes.
He claimed Israeli planes and drones had attacked more than 1,000 targets in Gaza so far this week, adding, "there are still more to go", reports The Guardian.
Netanyahu said Israel had already struck Gaza with twice the force used during the last offensive of its kind in 2012, and he would not rule out following the air campaign with an incursion by ground troops. "We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities," he said.
Raising fears of an expanded conflict, at least one rocket fired from Lebanon struck an open area in northern Israel early yesterday.
But despite mounting international concerns, truce efforts were falling on deaf ears, according to Egypt, which has played a key role in mediating previous Hamas-Israel ceasefires.
"Egypt has communicated with all sides to halt violence against civilians and called on them to continue with the truce agreement signed in November 2012," the foreign ministry said.
"Unfortunately, these efforts... have met with stubbornness."
After weeks of rising rocket fire on its south, Israel appeared bent on dealing a fatal blow to the Islamist Hamas, with Netanyahu reportedly saying talk of a ceasefire was "not even on the agenda".
Ismail Haniya, Gaza's former prime minister and the most senior Hamas official in the coastal enclave, also ruled out any end to hostilities.
"(Israel) is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are (simply) defending ourselves," he said.
Late last night, two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
Qudra said the two men, one in his 40s and the other in his 80s, were killed in the Shejaiya area, east of Gaza City.
"This brings the number of martyrs since the beginning of the Israeli aggression to 105," he told AFP.
Earlier, a three-year-old child was killed when a home in northern Gaza was hit, Qudra said, shortly after an elderly man was killed in Beit Lahiya.
Palestinians carry a body after being removed from under the rubble of a home destroyed by Israeli air raid on Rafah. Israel could be violating the laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza, the UN's human rights office said yesterday, as the death toll from the Israeli strikes rose to 100. Photo: AFP
The body of a man killed earlier in the week was also found in Deir al-Balah, Qudra said.
Yesterday morning, six Palestinians were killed in two strikes, including one on the home of an Islamic Jihad militant in the southern city of Rafah, medical sources said.
Witnesses said the militant, Abdel Razzaq al-Ghannam, was not at home when the attack took place, but five other people, including a woman and a seven-year-old child, were killed.
Another 15 people were wounded in the attack which came an hour after another raid on Gaza City's Tel el-Hawa neighbourhood that killed 33-year-old Anas Abu al-Kass.
Qudra said 154 people were wounded in strikes across the Gaza enclave yesterday.
AIRPORT UNDER FIRE
Israel's military chief of staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, warned Gaza militants the army was intending to "broaden its activity as necessary, with all necessary force".
Israel has confirmed preparations are under way for a possible ground attack, with tanks and artillery massed along the border and some 33,000 reserves mobilised out of the 40,000 approved by the cabinet.
Military officials quoted by public radio said the political leadership was expected to take a decision on a ground operation "within 48 hours."
Meanwhile, Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, kept up a steady stream of rocket fire on central Israel, with sirens sending people fleeing for shelter in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and even the northern port city of Haifa.
On Friday morning, three Gaza rockets were shot down over Tel Aviv by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, the army said, as the Brigades claimed their militants had fired M75 missiles at Israel's main international airport near there.
Israel's Airport Authority said Ben Gurion airport had been closed for "nine minutes" but then normal operations resumed.
PASSENGER JET DIVERTED
Hamas warned "all foreign airlines" to halt flights due to "the dangers surrounding all the airports due to the ongoing war".
As a result of the fire from Lebanon, a Polish passenger jet heading to Tel Aviv was forced to make an emergency stop in Cyprus, before returning to Poland, aviation authorities said.
In Gaza, another 11 Palestinians, including a woman and seven-year-old child, were killed in separate Israeli air strikes on Friday, hiking the overall death toll to 103, medics said.
More than 500 people in Gaza have been injured.
So far, no one in Israel has been killed, and less than a dozen people hurt, two of them seriously, medics said.
In northern Israel, at least one rocket fired from Lebanon struck an open area near Metula, prompting troops to hit back with artillery fire, the army said.
Military officials said they believed a Palestinian group had fired in solidarity with Hamas, public radio reported, as fears grew the violence in Gaza could spread to other fronts.
Over the past 24 hours, the army confirmed hitting 21 Hamas-owned structures, prompting a warning from the UN's human rights office over the number of civilian casualties from strikes on homes.
"Buildings that are ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets," said spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.
"Even when a home is identified as being used for military purposes, any attack must be proportionate... and precautions must be taken to protect civilians."
A group of 34 charities and NGOs also called for an end to the fighting.
"Military actions by all parties must stop," said a statement signed by groups including ActionAid, CARE, Oxfam and Save the Children.
Since the start of Israel's operation Tuesday, 460 rockets have struck the Jewish state, and Iron Dome has shot down 121.
Another 53 crashed into Israel since midnight Thursday, while 18 more were intercepted, the army said.