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VICE News

Israel Vows to Ramp Up Gaza Offensive as Civilian Death Toll Rises

More than 40 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, many of them civilians, have been killed since Israel's military offensive began Tuesday.

by Olivia Becker
Jul 9 2014, 6:35pm

Photo by Hatem Ali/AP

Israel has ramped up its military onslaught on the besieged Gaza Strip today, killing at least 18 civilians, five of whom were children, in the past day. Twenty-five Palestinians in total have been killed since Tuesday, bringing the death toll to at least 41 people since Israel began its latest military offensive, dubbed Operation Protective Shield.

Israel has dropped a total of 400 tons of explosives on Gaza since Monday night, hitting 400 targets. A top Israeli airforce officer said today that Israel has struck more Hamas targets and destroyed more infrastructure in Gaza in the past two days than in the entire Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel's eight-day offensive on Gaza in 2012.

Israeli leaders made it clear today that they show no sign of letting up the offensive, despite the mounting civilian death toll, and signaled that they plan to further escalate operations in what would likely be a lengthy operation.

"We've decided to escalate even further our attacks on Hamas and on the terrorist organizations in Gaza," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday. "The IDF is prepared for every possibility…The operation will expand and continue until the fire on our communities is over and the quiet is back."

An Israeli airstrike also killed a family of three on Wednesday, including a mother and 4-year-old child, after targeting the al-Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza. Hospitals in Gaza are struggling to handle the influx of casualties.

The Israeli military said Operation Protective Shield is a response to the homemade rockets Hamas has been shooting into Israel in recent days. According to Israeli reports, more than 180 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza in the past two days, some of which have reached as far as central Israel including, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. One rocket reached as far away as the city of Hadera in northern Israel, which is 62 miles from Gaza. No deaths have been reported as a result.

Israel authorized the military to call up an additional 40,000 reservist soldiers for a possible ground invasion of Gaza. The army said reserve soldiers will be sent to the West Bank to free up soldiers there to head to Gaza.

"Despite the fact it will be hard, complicated, and costly, we will have to take over Gaza temporarily, for a few weeks, to cut off the strengthening of this terror army," Yuval Steinitz, Israel's intelligence minister, told Israel Radio. "If you ask my humble opinion, a significant operation like this is approaching."

Hamas has warned that they will not be deterred, and plan on continuing firing rockets into Israel. "What the resistance showed today is only part of what it is capable of," said a Hamas spokesman.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to cease the operation Tuesday night, telling Palestinian state media WAFA that it would "drag things to the cycle of violence."

On Wednesday, Abbas accused Israel of committing "genocide" in Gaza, during a crisis meeting of Palestinian officials in Ramallah.

"It's genocide — the killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people," he said. "What's happening now is a war against the Palestinian people as a whole and not against the [militant] factions."

Although this is the biggest military operation in several years, it is the latest in a familiar pattern of violence in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s last offensive in 2012 lasted six days and killed as many as 133 Palestinians. A similar military incursion, Operation Cast Lead, took place in 2008-2009, during which as many as 1,400 Palestinians were killed along with 13 Israelis. In both previous operations, Israel's stated goals was to stop Hamas rocket fire and weapon smuggling.

Gaza has a population of 1.6 million people, the majority of whom are refugees and under the age of 18.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928