Naser Najjar, USA TODAY
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel hammered the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes early Saturday top take out improved rocket launchers that have enough range to strike cities that have never seen missiles from the Palestinian territory.
The bombing hit a police compound, which erupted in flames that spread through a neighborhood, and struck a vast network of smuggling tunnels that Hamas has been preparing for years, according to Israeli Defense Forces. Meanwhile, Israel massed troops near the border in case a ground war is ordered stop the rocket assaults.
The attacks are an attempt to halt an unprecedented barrage of rocket strikes from Palestinian terrorists who are targeting neighborhoods and residential buildings. Some Hamas strikes landed near the holy city of Jerusalem and the cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean.
In the Letwam neighborhood in northern Gaza city, a few young children tried to play soccer on a small square with his family members and neighbors despite the air strikes.
"I like playing soccer but my mom won't allow me to play since the bombings started," said Ali Abu Jalhoum, 10.
"I don't like it when night comes," said Ali. "I hear lot of big explosions and feel scared. I usually sleep beside my mother or big sister."
The airstrikes in Gaza have mostly left the streets deserted, though some stores such as bakeries and pharmacies were open. Long lines formed Saturday for those willing to dash out of their homes and buy bread and supplies.
All other government offices, stories, factories, schools and universities in Gaza have remained shut since Hamas' military leader Ahmed Al Jabari was killed by Israelis in an air strike Wednesday.
Many here were well aware that the Israeli strike was preceded by months of rocket attacks by Hamas, a Islamist group designated a terror organization by the USA and the European Union. But they were still defiant and bitter about Israel's retaliation.
"The Israelis have conquered our country and kicked us out of it and now they are killing women and children," said Mohammed Miqdad, a university student sitting among some classmates and neighbors on a street corner in the Tal Al Hawa neighborhood.
Hamas supporters believe that the entirety of Israel should be a nation for Palestinians and its stated goal is to destroy the Jewish state.
Tal Al Hawa was one of the most damaged neighbors in the Gaza Strip during the three-week military offensive by Israel, Operation Cast Lead, which began in December 2008, again in response to a barrage of rockets fired at Israeli homes.
"It's our right to defend ourselves," Miqdad added, turning the dial on his radio to various local news channels. "This is the first time the Palestinian rockets have reached the Israeli capital and Jerusalem, something considered really big."
But some in Gaza worried how long this air war would go on and the impact on their lives. The territory already more than 40% unemployment and the virtual shutdown of government and business has ground the economy to a halt.
Ez AL Dean Al Khalot, 24, a college graduate who lives in the beach area in the western part of Gaza City, says the constant explosions nearby have him worried about his family's safety, and how he will provide for them.
"We barely get through the day since my income is little and I am the only breadwinner in the family [of six]," said Ez Al Den said. "I've just been sitting here waiting and hoping that this nightmare will be over soon so that I can return back to my work again."
Israeli aircraft also kept pounding their original targets, the militants' weapons storage facilities and underground rocket launching sites. They also went after rocket squads more aggressively. The military has called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and other armored vehicles along the border with Gaza, signaling a ground invasion could be imminent.
Palestinian terrorists have unleashed about 500 rockets against Israel, including new, longer-range weapons turned for the first time this week against Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv heartland. Following those attacks, the military deployed an Iron Dome rocket defense battery in central Israel on Saturday. The system has blown up about a third of the rockets , the Defense Ministry said.
The IDF said the system on Saturday show down a rocket aimed at Tel Aviv.
Ten people, including eight Palestinians involved in the rocket attacks, were killed and dozens were wounded in the various attacks early Saturday, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. In al, 40 Palestinians have died, including 13 civilians, al-Kidra said.
Israel has said it is striking military targets and blames Hamas for the civilian deaths for using people and residential buildings as cover for its missile launchers. Hamas has said it is intentionally targeting Israelis everywhere in the country, boasting of its ability to strike from further ranges.
"Hamas responded to the Zionist aggression and hit them in the depth of their land," he said, referring to rockets aimed Friday at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Three Israelis including a mother who was pregnant died Thursday when a rocket from Gaza slammed into the living room of their apartment.
Meanwhile, some Arab states have lined up to support Hamas. A high-level Tunisian delegation, led by Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem, visited Gaza on Saturday. The foreign minister's first stop was the still-smoldering ruins of the three-story office building of Gaza's prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas.
"Israel has to understand that there is an international law and it has to respect the international law to stop the aggression against the Palestinian people," Abdessalem said.
He did not elaborate on what aspect of international law Israel was violating in its retaliatory strikes. Hamas has fired about 800 rockets into Israel over the past several months, including a barrage of nearly 200 over last weekend.
Egypt's prime minister visited Friday and a Moroccan delegation is due on Sunday.
Israel had been incrementally expanding its operation beyond military targets but before dawn on Saturday it ramped that up dramatically, hitting Hamas symbols of power. The Israeli military said more than 800 targets have been struck since the operation began.
Haniyeh's three-story office building was flattened by an airstrike that blew out windows in neighboring homes. He was not inside the building at the time.
Another airstrike brought down the three-story home of a Hamas commander in the Jebaliya refugee camp near Gaza City, critically wounding him and injuring other residents of the building, medics said.
Missiles smashed into two small security facilities and the massive Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, setting off a huge blaze that engulfed nearby houses and civilian cars parked outside, the Interior Ministry reported. No one was inside the buildings.
The Interior Ministry said a government compound was also hit while Muslims streamed to the area for early morning prayers, although it did not report any casualties from that attack.
Air attacks knocked out five electricity transformers, cutting off power to more than 400,000 people in southern Gaza, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company. People switched on backup generators for limited electrical supplies.
In southern Gaza, aircraft went after underground tunnels militants use to smuggle in weapons and other contraband from Egypt, residents reported.
But the attack aimed at Jerusalem on Friday and two strikes on metropolitan Tel Aviv illustrated Hamas' new capabilities. Both areas had remained outside the rockets' reach before.
Just a few years ago, Palestinian rockets were limited to crude devices manufactured in Gaza. But in recent years, Israel says, Hamas and other armed groups have smuggled in sophisticated, longer-range rockets from Iran and Libya.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in emergency session with Cabinet ministers Friday and they approved mobilizing up to 75,000 reservists, more than doubling the number authorized earlier this week. That would be the largest call-up in a decade. At a parking lot in central Israel, uniformed reservists waited to board buses. One prayed, covered in a Jewish prayer shawl.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, said 16,000 reservists were called to duty on Friday and others could soon follow. She said no decision had been made on a ground offensive but all options are on the table.
President Obama spoke separately to Israeli and Egyptian leaders Friday as the violence in Gaza intensified. In a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to self-defense. To Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, he praised Egypt's efforts to ease regional tensions.
Contributing: The Associated Press