Putin Urges Peace in Gaza Conflict
“The Russian president has called on opposing sides of the conflict to avoid the escalation of violence, which claims the lives of innocent civilians, and do everything possible to restore peace in the region,” the Kremlin said in a statement following a phone conversation between Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday, killing Hamas' military chief Ahmed al-Jabari and attacking hundreds of rocket-launching sites, ammunition depots and “terrorist” cells that belong to radical Islamist groups operating in Gaza, primarily Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
According to official reports, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have killed at least 15 Palestinians in Gaza, including three children and seven militants, and wounded more than 188 since the start of the operation.
Palestinian militants responded to Israeli air strikes and tank fire by launching about 160 rockets against cities in southern Israel on Thursday, killing at least three people. One of the rockets reportedly reached the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv, but caused no damage or injuries.
Israel claims that its new Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted at least 80 of Palestinian rockets and many of them fell in unpopulated areas.
Netanyahu said earlier on Thursday that the Israeli army was prepared for a "significant widening" of its operation in the Gaza Strip if necessary.
The Israeli offensive follows the latest round of violence on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip that began over the weekend, with numerous rocket attacks from Gaza militants that injured seven Israelis and Israeli airstrikes that killed seven and injured at least 40 Palestinians.
Israel last carried out a full-scale attack on Gaza during Operation Cast Lead four years ago in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.