Sixteen Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip early Saturday, bringing the toll on the fifth day of violence to 121, with more than 920 wounded, medics said.
Hamas said that Israel for the first time also hit a pair of mosques in its offensive. It is hoped that the incident will galvanize support in the Muslim world.
“The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much is it hostile to Islam,” said Husam Badran, a Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar. “This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier. “
The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it hit, saying it concealed rockets right next to another religious site and civilian homes.
The latest strike killed three in the eastern Tufah neighbourhood of Gaza City, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
The raid came shortly after two people were killed in a strike that hit a charitable association for the disabled in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, and another three people died in an attack in western Gaza City.
Earlier, Qudra announced the deaths of eight other Palestinians, including a man who died of wounds sustained in an earlier strike, five people killed in Gaza’s northern Jebaliya, and two further south in Deir el Balah.
Local officials said the morning’s raids hit targets that included mosques and homes of Hamas officials, throughout the coastal enclave.
The latest fatalities raise the death toll to 121 since Israel began Operation Protective Edge early Tuesday in an attempt to halt cross-border rocket fire attacks by Hamas.
Meanwhile, Israel vows no let-up: Israel says preparations are under way for a possible ground attack, with tanks and artillery massed along the border and some 33,000 reservists mobilized out of 40,000 approved by the cabinet.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Friday he expected a political decision on a possible ground operation within 48 hours.
“At the moment we are dealing with the first phase… air attacks,” he told television. “I imagine we shall decide tomorrow (Saturday) or the day after on the next stage.”
Early Saturday 16 Palestinians died in a wave of Israeli air strikes. So far, no one in Israel has been killed. Two have been seriously wounded, including a man at a petrol station hit by a rocket.