"--IANS/EFE"
Gaza/Jerusalem, July 8 (IANS/EFE) At least 10 Palestinians, including four civilians, were killed Tuesday and 40 others were injured at the start of a massive Israeli military operation to prevent rocket attacks aimed at Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Five militants of the radical Islamic Jihad group were killed in an Israeli air strike against their car, an alleged member of the Islamic movement Hamas died in a bombing on the town of Deir al Balah, while four civilians perished when their house was hit in an air attack on the southern town of Khan Younis, said Gaza Strip emergencies' spokesperson Ashraf al Qedra.

The Israeli attacks followed the launch by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) of Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza to stop the terror Israeli citizens face each day, said an IDF spokesperson on his official Twitter account late Monday.

In a later statement, Israel announced that the attack began with aerial and naval artillery strikes against 50 targets of the Islamists in Gaza, including rocket launchers, tunnels, arsenals and training centers.

However, sources at the defence ministry said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not rule out a ground offensive and Israel's Security Cabinet has mobilised 1,500 reservists and called up to 40,000 to gradually reinforce regular troops on the borders of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu said at the end of the Security Cabinet meeting that Israel should be prepared for a long, continuous and tough campaign against Gaza.

In an official statement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday urged the Israeli government to end its military campaign, while he held urgent consultations with several Arab and other world leaders and called them to avert a war escalation that could wreak havoc in the whole region, the Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.

Meanwhile, Israeli cities within a range of 70 km from the Gaza strip, including Tel Aviv, have declared a red alert in the event of new rocket attacks.

The Israeli army said about 200 rockets had been fired from Gaza since June 12, when Israel began a massive search for three Jewish seminar students who went missing in the West Bank and were found murdered last week.

Israel blamed the kidnappings on Hamas, which has denied any role in the deaths, and arrested 500 people, most of them linked to the Islamist movement, during the search.

The Al Qassam Brigades, the Hamas's military wing, announced Monday night it had fired a barrage of 35 rockets at Israel, after the government of Benjamin Netanyahu decided to increase its attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Tensions between the two sides have flared after a Palestinian teenager was bundled in a car in Jerusalem last week and found burned to death hours later in a revenge killing for the murders of the three Israeli students.

Israeli security forces have arrested six people in connection with the murder, one of whom Monday confessed and also confirmed the involvement of the other accused.

Ismail Haniyeh, the deputy chief of Hamas's political bureau, called on the Palestinian people Tuesday to stand united in the face of Operation Protective Edge.

Haniyeh said in a press statement that cooperation between Palestinians was necessary to cope with this critical stage.

The former prime minister of the Gaza Strip suggested a meeting of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in order to look into the situation and also called on the Arab League to hold an emergency session.

--IANS/EFE

ab/vt


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