At least 78 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in Israel’s Gaza offensive, Palestinian officials said on Thursday as militants in the enclave kept up rocket attacks on Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities.
As Israeli officials seemed to hint at a possible invasion by ground forces, eight members of one family, including five children, were killed in an early morning air strike that levelled two homes at Khan Younis in the south of the Gaza Strip near the Egyptian border, the Palestinian Health ministry said.
Israel’s military made no comment on what would be the deadliest strike since its began its assault on Tuesday. The defence minister spoke of “long days of fighting ahead”.
US President Barack Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call that the United States was willing to help negotiate a ceasefire, the White House said.
French President Francois Hollande voiced his concern at the civilian deaths in the Palestinian enclave and called for a truce. A spokeswoman for US Secretary of State John Kerry, who like Hollande spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said of possible escalation: “Nobody wants to see a ground invasion.”
The offensive followed a build-up in violence after three Jewish students were killed in the occupied West Bank last month and a Palestinian youth died in a suspected revenge attack.
Medical officials in Hamas-dominated Gaza said at least 60 civilians, including a four-year-old girl and a boy aged five who were killed on Thursday, were among the 78 Palestinians who have died in Israeli attacks since Tuesday.
Netanyahu said in a televised statement: “So far the battle is progressing as planned but we can expect further stages in future. Up to now, we have hit Hamas and the terror organisations hard and as the battle continues we will increase strikes at them.”