Chaos in Gaza as Israel steps up bombardment

Israel intensified its attacks on the Gaza Strip in the hours before an expected ceasefire announcement, pounding multiple targets in Gaza City and dropping leaflets telling residents in key areas to evacuate for their own safety.

Amid chaotic scenes at the city's major hospital, a stream of ambulances, minibuses and private cars arrived carrying multiple dead and wounded, at one point an ambulance was arriving every minute as frantic Hamas soldiers waved them through the gathering crowds.

Gaza's medical officials say at least 19 people were killed during Tuesday's attacks, including several children, while in Israel a soldier was killed in a rocket strike in the Eshkol region, Israel Defence Forces confirmed.

As Gazans and media gathered at Shifa Hospital for the arrival of the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu and the Arab League delegation, a long-range missile was fired from nearby, streaking through the sky towards Jerusalem shortly after 2pm.

It was the second time a rocket had been launched toward Jerusalem since Israel's Gaza offensive began last Wednesday, and air raid sirens sounded throughout the city.

Palestinians in the West Bank village of Surif, south of Jerusalem, said a rocket fell nearby, Ma'an news agency reported, while witnesses said a rocket landed near the Bat Ayin settlement.

No sooner was the rocket – believed to be an Iran-built Fajr-5 or an enhanced rocket known as an M75 – fired than the Israeli airstrikes began, the boom of the missile strikes punctuated by the wail of ambulance sirens throughout the coastal strip.

By the time darkness had fallen, five people were killed in a strike on the Tel a-Hawa neighbourhood, one child was killed in Zeitoun, three were killed in Shejaiya and one in Beit Hanoun.

Israel also stepped up its attacks on journalists in Gaza for the third day in a row, killing two Palestinian reporters, Mahmoud al-Koumi and Husam Salameh from al-Aqsa TV, and a third journalist in an airstrike on Deir al-Balah, central Gaza.

“Over the past hour, we targeted 20 terror sites in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF spokesperson tweeted at 8.41pm local time, while the airstrikes and shelling from navy boats stationed off the coast continued well into the night.

More than 139 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli bombardment, according to the Ma'an News Agency, while more than 1000 have been injured.

Five Israelis have also been killed, including a soldier, a woman and three men, Israeli radio reported, while the IDF said more than 140 rockets had been fired by militants into the country's south, hitting the cities of Be'er Sheeva and Ashdod, while one rocket hit a building in the city of Rishon Le'Zion, near Tel Aviv.

As mediated talks continued in Cairo over a potential truce, a senior official announced Israel had delayed its decision on whether to launch a ground invasion by 24 hours to allow Egypt more time to broker a ceasefire.

And while Hamas officials at one point late on Tuesday indicated a ceasefire would come into effect at midnight, there were signs that any announcement would be delayed until the morning, with both Egypt and Israel downplaying reports that an agreement had been reached.

Both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel on Tuesday.

“I prefer a diplomatic solution,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem. “I hope that we can get one, but if not, we have every right to defend ourselves with other means and we shall use them.”

Although Israel has delayed any decision about a ground invasion, it has amassed thousands of troops and tanks on the border in preparation for an assault.

This story Chaos in Gaza as Israel steps up bombardment first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.