29 Dec 2008

Israel bombs Gaza for second day

12:03 pm on 29 December 2008

Israel has bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip for a second day and is preparing for a possible invasion after killing at least 296 Palestinians.

Israel said on Sunday that the campaign was a response to daily rocket and mortar attacks that intensified after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire on 19 December.

Israeli tanks are deployed on the edge of the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet has approved a call-up of 6,500 reservists.

The operation is called "Solid Lead". The Haaretz daily newspaper said on Sunday that preparations began more than six months ago. The attacks were launched on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

An election is due in Israel on 10 February.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told NBC's Meet the Press programme that Israel's goal was: "not to reoccupy Gaza Strip." Asked on Fox News if Israel was out to topple Gaza's Hamas rulers, she replied: "Not now."

A spokesman for the prime minister said Israel would press on with the campaign until its southern population no longer live "in fear of constant rocket barrages."

Hamas urged Palestinian groups to use "all available means, including martyrdom operations" - a reference to suicide bombings in Israel.

Israel expanded its air campaign to the southern Gaza Strip, bombing some 40 smuggling tunnels running under the border with Egypt.

The death toll since Saturday is reported to be 296. More than 700 Palestinians were wounded.

Hamas said 180 of its members were killed and the rest included civilians.