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Egypt’s new Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, viewed by Hamas as a protector, led a chorus of denunciation of the Israeli strikes by Palestinian allies.
Mursi’s prime minister, Hisham Kandil, will visit Gaza on Friday with other Egyptian officials in a show of support for the enclave, an Egyptian cabinet official said. Israel promised that the delegation would come to no harm
Israel says its attack is in response to escalating missile strikes from Gaza. Israel’s bombing has not yet reached the saturation level seen before it last invaded Gaza in 2008, but Israeli officials have said a ground assault is still an option.
Israeli police said three Israelis died when a rocket hit a four-story building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, some 25 km (15 miles) north of Gaza, the first Israeli fatalities of the latest conflict to hit the coastal region.
Air raid sirens sent residents running for shelter in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial centre which has not been hit by a rocket since the 1991 Gulf War. A security source said it landed in the sea. Tel Aviv residents said an explosion could be heard.
The Tel Aviv metropolitan area holds more than 3 million people, more than 40 percent of Israel’s population.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was committing a double war crime, by firing at Israeli civilians and hiding behind Palestinians civilians.
“I hope that Hamas and the other terrorist organisations in Gaza got the message,” he said. “If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israel would pay a heavy price “for this open war which they initiated”.
After watching powerlessly from the sidelines of the Arab Spring, Israel has been thrust to the centre of a volatile new world in which Islamist Hamas hopes that Mursi and his newly dominant Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will be its protectors.