The armed wing of Hamas says it will step up attacks and fire rockets at the Israeli towns of Ashdod and Beersheba if Israel continues to carry out air raids on civilian buildings in Gaza.
At least seven Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on the besieged enclave since late Monday in the worst violence between the two sides since the 2014 war.
The Palestinian health ministry said Khaled Akram Yousef, 29, was killed on Tuesday in an Israeli offensive targeting “a group of citizens in the northern Gaza Strip”.
Hamas’ warning that it would extend the range of its rocket fire was issued on Tuesday, hours after a rocket from Gaza killed an Israeli man in a direct hit on a residential building in the coastal town of Ashkelon.
The rocket was fired after an Israeli air raid destroyed Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV building in Gaza on Monday evening.
The spokesperson for the Hamas military wing said in a statement that Ashkelon “has entered the range of fire as a response to the bombing of civilian buildings in Gaza”.
“Occupied al-Majdal (Ashkelon) is now in our cross hairs in response to the shelling that targeted civilian buildings in Gaza … Ashdod and Beersheba are the next targets if the enemy continues to bombard civilian buildings,” Abu Ubaidah said on Twitter.
Of the three cities, Ashkelon is closest to Gaza.
Hamas video captures missile attack
Meanwhile, Al-Aqsa TV broadcast a video showing the moment when Palestinian fighters targeted an Israeli army bus near the Gaza Strip border, east of Jabalia. The vehicle exploded moments after Israeli soldiers disembarked.
Hamas said in a statement that its fighters were able to hit the bus near the settlement of Miflasim using a Kornet anti-tank guided missile.
It affirmed that the operation came in response to Israel’s raid east of Khan Younis on Sunday evening, during which seven Palestinians were killed.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Ali Abunimah, cofounder of the Electronic Intifada website, said the video served as a warning to the Israelis.
“What we saw today on the video was Hamas had within its sights a bus full of Israeli soldiers. It could’ve fired at that bus when it was full – which would have been an entirely legitimate attack against a military target.
“Instead it allowed all the soldiers to disembark the bus, all except one who was injured, in order to send a message to Israel that ‘look, we have the capability to inflict tremendous damage to you, but we do not want an escalation’,” Abunimah said.
The Israeli army did not comment on the video.
Abunimah added that Israel was targeting the people of Gaza with “terror, bombing and killing”.
“But they’ve also subjected their own Israeli population to the retaliatory operations of the Palestinian resistance factions,” Abunimah told Al Jazeera.
Israeli military spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said Israeli warplanes, tanks and naval vessels were involved in attacks against military compounds, observation posts and weapons facilities belonging to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
He said the Israeli military had enhanced its deployment along the border but has yet to mobilise its reserves.
He added that Gaza groups were believed to have an arsenal in excess of 20,000 rockets and mortars of different calibre and range.
‘Nowhere to go’
In Gaza, schools and public institutions were closed on Tuesday as people ventured outside to inspect the damage after a long night of aerial raids.
Near the destroyed TV station, residents salvaged papers and belongings from their damaged homes. Debris was strewn across the streets and shattered window glass crunched under people’s feet.
In Gaza City’s Rimal neighbourhood, a six-story residential building that also housed a kindergarten on its ground floor was destroyed.
“All the people here are civilians, children and families. We took our children and fled from here. When we returned, we found great destruction,” said Mamdouh al-Shurafa, a resident of the building.
“When we are bombed in the middle of the city, where we can go?”
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza after it won elections in the enclave in 2006. In the most recent war, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, more than half of them civilians, and tens of thousands were left homeless. Seventy-three people, most of them soldiers, were killed on the Israeli side.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza since the Hamas takeover, a blockade that has devastated Gaza’s economy.
In recent weeks, Egyptian and UN mediators had appeared to make progress in brokering informal understandings aimed at quieting the situation.
Last week, Israel allowed Qatar to deliver $15m to Gaza to allow cash-strapped Hamas to pay the salaries of thousands of government workers. At the same time, Palestinians have lowered the intensity of the border protests in recent weeks.