The Israel Air Force (IAF) continued to pound targets in the Gaza Strip Tuesday morning, including homes of Hamas leaders, but Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups remain defiant, hitting back with a fresh barrage of rockets at southern Israel.
The escalated fighting has left five Palestinians dead and dozens of others wounded.
In an update of Israel's aerial operation on Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) spokesperson's unit confirmed that in the last few hours, the IAF struck 40 targets in the Gaza Strip, including the home of Mohammed Abdel Rahman Guda, a Hamas commander, at Rafah in southern Gaza.
The IDF said Guda's home is "a terror command center embedded within civilian infrastructure."
Earlier in the day, the IDF spokesperson's unit said more than 50 targets were hit in the overnight Israeli air strikes, which started early Tuesday morning as part of the so-called major military "Operation Protective Edge". Among these targets are the homes of Iad Sakhik and other top Hamas operatives.
Media reports said Hamas officials have vowed to retaliate. Hamas' military arm was quoted as saying that the strikes on the homes of its top members have "crossed the red line" and that the group would attack targets at the heart of Israel.
Hamas top official Musa Abu Marzouk said attacks on civilian homes is "a serious escalation" and that "the time when attacks on homes went without a response has passed."
According to Palestinian media reports, Israel Navy Dabur class patrol boats also participated in the overnight bombings and targeted a militant group's base northwest of Khan Yunis in central Gaza.
Palestinians reported at least 17 were wounded following the IDF airstrikes in the Gaza Strip overnight. Among the wounded are nine family members from Khan Yunis who suffered light to moderate wounds when their home was bombed, and two children, a seven-year- old boy and a four-year-old girl, who were moderately wounded. Five Palestinians, whom the Israeli military said are militants, were killed and dozens more people were reportedly wounded in fresh Israeli air strikes this morning.
On the Israeli side, Israeli medics reportedly treated seven people lightly wounded by rocket fire at Ashdod, a coastal city near northern Gaza.
The Israeli military has announced its plan to call up several thousands more reservists, in addition to the 1,500 already called up, to replace infantry and tank battalions deployed in the West Bank. These battalions will be sent to southern Israel ahead of a possible ground offensive in Gaza.
After a three-hour meeting Monday night, the Israeli Security Cabinet decided to escalate air strikes on Gaza, but refrain from staging a massive ground incursion into the tiny territory.
Mark Regev, spokesman of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defended Israel's ongoing military operation against Gaza.
"Over the last few weeks, hundreds of such rockets have been fired, we have repeatedly warned Hamas that this must stop and the Israel defense forces are currently acting to put an end to this once and for all," he told reporters Tuesday.
Israeli media reports said Netanyahu intends to speak with foreign leaders throughout Tuesday to rally their support of Israel's Gaza operation. The prime minister is expected to stress that Israel had tried to bring back the calm in Gaza but Hamas has escalated the situation and increased the rocket fire on Israel.
A military source said in a media briefing Tuesday morning that "Operation Protective Edge" will be expanded in the coming days, and will include prepping up forces for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.
"The operation will intensify with regards to the quality and quantity of targets the Israel Air Force is attacking in the Strip, after Hamas stepped it up yesterday. The IDF is continuing to draft forces for the Strip, and intends to draft more, even though the effort is currently concentrated on IAF strikes," accoding to the military source.
Regarding how long the operation is expected to last, the source said the army "is not committed to any end-date. This could take days and even longer. The IDF is acting in attempt to bring back the calm the south enjoyed before the operation, and there are many avenues for actions and targets, but that requires patience."
Militants in Gaza fired more than 85 rockets toward Israel on Monday evening, with Hamas openly claiming responsibility for some of the launches for the first time since the current round of fighting began. The rockets hit several major cities in the south and, also for the first time in the current fighting, caused alarms to go off in central Israel and Jerusalem.