Gaza/Jerusalem: In the worst flare-up in two years, at least 37 Palestinians have been killed as the Israeli military today stepped up its offensive pounding Hamas targets in Gaza while almost the whole of Israel came under rocket fire from Palestinian militants.

Hamas-ruled Gaza witnessed its bloodiest day since November, 2012 with 24 deaths since last evening, including women and children.

More than hundred Palestinians were also injured in Israeli Air Force strikes across the coastal strip which targeted 160 sites, including homes of eight senior Hamas operatives, Muhammad Sinwar and Ra’ed Atar, as efforts to stop rocket attacks on Israel’s southern areas intensified.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said their houses served as Hamas command centres and were used in coordinating the rocket fire on Israel’s south.

Israeli warplanes also bombed the home of a senior Islamic Jihad militant in Beit Hanoun post-midnight, killing him and five members of his family.

A Gaza health ministry spokesman confirmed that the attack killed Hafiz Hamad and five members of his family.

The deaths brought to 28 the number of casualties since the launch of Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’ early yesterday, with the Israeli army not ruling out the possibility of a major ground offensive having called 40,000 reservists on duty.

Twenty-four of those killed in Gaza died in air strikes yesterday, four Hamas militants were killed staging a beachfront assault on an army base just north of the besieged strip, and nine others were killed just before the start of the operation.

The Israeli offensive intensified after calls from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make Hamas pay for their rocket attacks and instructions to the army to “take off the gloves” in dealing with the Islamist faction that has controlled the Gaza Strip since June 2007.

Hamas hit back with long-range rockets that pushed people to the safe shelters in major population centres including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which have relatively remained safe from rocket attacks.

Hamas also fired four rockets at Tel Aviv, 60 kilometres north of Gaza, setting sirens off across the city. Another rocket fired earlier on Israel’s most populous city was shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile defence system.

Schools and kindergartens in a radius of 40 kilometres from Gaza have been closed today and Israeli communities living close to the Gaza border have been advised to stay close to safe shelters.

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