ASHKELON, Israel — Israel's military launched fresh airstrikes against targets in Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Tuesday, killing several according to a report, in a bid to halt a barrage of rocket fire that has pummeled southern parts of the nation in recent weeks. But it is not yet clear whether a full-scale ground invasion of the Palestinian coastal enclave by Israeli troops will take place.
Israel is seeking to "retrieve stability to the residents of southern Israel, eliminate Hamas' capabilities and destroy terror infrastructure operating against the State of Israel and its civilians," its military said in a statement. It said that nearly 300 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel recently, including close to 100 rockets fired on Monday alone.
Israel says the airstrikes are part of an expanded operation for its military forces it is calling "Operation Protective Edge."
That marks a huge surge after years of relative quiet. The immediate trigger for the escalation has been heightened tensions over the killing of three Israeli teenagers and the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager.
In the small Israeli seaside city of Ashkelon that sits hard by the border with Gaza, mother of two Revital Amsallem — her children are aged three and six — stayed behind the counter of the toy store where she works on Tuesday.
"There's no shelter in this building," said Amsallem, gazing in the direction of the mall, which, like many of the city's buildings, was built before the concept of Red Alert became well known here. The phrase is the code for "incoming rocket." When the alert sounds, anyone within running distance of a bomb shelter seeks safety there. Even so, when the third air raid siren of the morning started to wail on Tuesday, Amsallem stayed behind the counter.
"It's my daughter's birthday today and we were going to throw a party at her preschool, but preschool and summer camps are closed due to the danger," said Amsallem. "But we have to work so the kids are staying with my in-laws."
Gaza health official Ashraf Al-Kedra said that at least nine Palestinian civilians were brought initially to a Gaza hospital with light to moderate injuries as a result of Israel's airstrikes, including several who suffered from shock. He said some of the injured Palestinians were treated and released. But at least five Palestinians were said killed in the bombings, according to al-Akhbar.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the army will gradually increase its attacks on Hamas in Gaza, and is recruiting additional reservists for a potential ground invasion of Gaza. The Hamas rockets that reached Israel have not led to deaths.
In Ashkelon on Tuesday some residents said the outward calm conveyed by the wading pools for sale outside the toy shop, as well as cafes that are staying open, is an attempt to continue with the routines of life despite the deteriorating security situation.
But Amsallem said the fact that her toy store and other shops are open for business Tuesday is "deceptive."
"People are afraid to leave the house and afraid to keep their kids home alone. There's almost no business. We're sleeping in our protected rooms," she said.
Others say they are living in a state of limbo, waiting to see whether Israel will wage an all-out war on Gaza or continue with targeted airstrikes.
"I pray that we'll be able to stop the rockets without a full-scale war," said Ashkelon resident Chaya Turgeman.
Turgeman moved to southern Israel from the north three months ago and said she had grown up with bomb shelters due to years of rocket fire from south Lebanon.
"I guess you could say I traded one problem for another problem," she said.