Israeli airstrikes hit Hamas headquarters in Gaza Friday as the violence in the coastal strip escalated amid international pressure on both sides to halt the bombardment.
Israel scaled up the areal strikes which started four days ago after the Hamas militants fired rockets targeting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel has called on 70,000 reservists to escalate the military offensive if the rocket attacks from Gaza don’t stop.
Hamas official confirmed extensive damage to the headquarters, a mosque and houses in the compound and said the building was targeted four times. The building hosted Palestine Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s office, and Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Kandil visited the office Friday.
"The headquarters was completely destroyed and neighboring houses were damaged as a result of the barbaric Israeli bombing," a Hamas official said, AFP reported.
Israel military spokespersons confirmed the attack on Haniyeh’s office and said Israel had targeted 180 locations with the airstrikes. About 215 rockets were fired from Gaza of which 82 were intercepted with the Iron Dome anti-missile system.
Officials in Gaza said 34 Palestinians, including 18 civilians, had been killed in the ongoing strikes while three civilians were killed in Israel Thursday.
The rocket strike on Jerusalem is surprising as it is considered a holy city by the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians and had not been a target of attacks since 1970.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session with the senior ministers and military officials Friday night to decide on widening the scope of the military operations against Hamas government, according to a Reuters report.
"The Israel Defense Forces will continue to hit Hamas hard and are prepared to broaden the action inside Gaza," Netanyahu said before the rocket attacks on the two cities, Reuters reported.
Israel has closed all roads to the Gaza border amid speculations of a possible ground attack by it.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil’s visit to Gaza has raised hopes on fresh negotiations for truce in the region.
The U.S. and U.N. believe that Egypt, which has close ties with Hamas, can facilitate negotiations for peace in the region. President Barack Obama Friday spoke to Netanyahu reaffirming the country’s support to Israel’s right for self defense while they expressed regret over the loss of civilian lives in Israel and Palestine.
Obama spoke to Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and lauded Egypt’s efforts to bring peace in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had spoken to the foreign ministers of Israel and Egypt and to Jordan's King Abdullah, pushing for Egypt’s mediation on the issue, Reuters reported quoting a senior State Department official traveling with Clinton in Singapore.
"We believe that Egypt has an important leadership role to play on this. It has the relationships in Gaza. The PM traveled there yesterday ... so we believe that they have the stature, the credibility and the relationships to be able to persuade Hamas and its allies to stop," the State Department official said, Reuters reported.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled visit Israel and Egypt next week to push for ceasefire and truce in the region.
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