Up to 30 Palestinians lost their life and scores others suffered injuries in the beleaguered Gaza Strip as a result of ongoing Israeli land and air attacks, noticeably stepped up over the past hours, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
A spokesman of the ministry, in remarks broadcast by the Palestinian media, monitored in the Jordanian capital, said the latest round of attacks by the Israeli military aircraft and ground forces was the fiercest since launch of the wide-scale Israeli offensive on the enclave 23 days ago.
Israeli warplanes, roaring continuously over the strip, bombed several targets in the region while the Israeli artillerymen targeted buildings and underground tunnels of the Islamic movement, Hamas, entrenched in and around the enclave. TV footages showed plumes of black smoke billowing into the clear skies from the hit locations.
Latest casualty figures include many women and children, the Palestinian official spokesman said.
Among the sensitive targets hit by the Israeli forces were a main power station, residence of the top Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah, along with a number of mosques.
The surge of military assaults coincided with Israeli official reports confirming death of at least 10 Israeli soldiers in close-range combat with the Palestinian fighters in several regions, including the shell-hammered district of Al-Shujaieh. The district had witnessed some of the fiercest clashes between the assaulting forces and the Palestinians, turning scores of buildings and houses into heaps of rubble and twisted metal.
Israel's death toll since flare-up of the fighting has reached 53, bulk of whom were among the military personnel.
The escalation of attacks over the past hours came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to carry on with the offensive on Gaza till disarming Hamas and wrecking its infrastructure, namely the maze of underground tunnels used for smuggling and waging surprise attacks on the Israeli forces stationed around Gaza.
The Israeli forces, since flare-up of the hostilities, have made some advances into the districts skirting the strip. Although the personnel have been moving with protection of heavy armor and under cover of military aircraft flying overhead, they have suffered heavy casualties due to stiff resistance by the militants, particularly trained on guerrilla warfare tactics.
Israeli officials have acknowledged that the Palestinians used some effective surface-to-surface rockets in the ground combats, coupled with deployment of various calibers of rockets of longer range that targeted Israeli cities and towns, including Tel Aviv.
The fighting had erupted in the aftermath of death of three Jewish settlers who lost their life after being kidnapped in the occupied territories. Israel accused Hamas of being responsible for their death, which was also followed with an identical incident that involved a lone Palestinian teenager.