GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Israeli military widened its range of targets in the Gaza Strip today to include the media operations of the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers, sending its aircraft to attack two buildings used by both Hamas and foreign media outlets.
The Israeli military also appeared to take over the frequencies of the radio stations of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group to broadcast a recorded, Arabic-language warning to the people of Gaza to stay away from Hamas installations and personnel.
“To the people of Gaza, Hamas is playing with fire and gambling with your fate,” said the message, which was broadcast every five minutes. “The Israel Defense Force is moving toward the second phase of its operation. For your safety, you should stay away from Hamas infrastructure and personnel.”
The message did not say what the “second phase” was, but thousands of Israeli troops are massed near the Gaza border, awaiting an order to invade should Israeli leaders decide on that course. Israeli Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio today that Israel has to be prepared to widen the operation if militants don’t back down.
The military spokesman’s office said it could not immediately confirm it was broadcasting this message, but said it had issued similar warnings over the radio several days ago.
The attack on the second media center shattered a lull in rocket attacks from Gaza that had taken hold the previous night and coincided with Egyptian-led efforts to negotiate an end to the five-day-old confrontation.
Bassem Madhoun, an employee of Dubai TV, said two missiles hit the 15th floor of the building where Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV studio is located. Rescue workers evacuated several people who had been wounded.
Building windows were blown out, and glass shards and debris were scattered on the street below. Some of the journalists who had been inside the building at the time were taking cover in the entrance hallway.
Meanwhile, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra reported that the Palestinian death toll from the operation had risen to 49 after a civilian died of wounds sustained in an Israeli airstrike. Earlier today, he said two Gaza teenagers were killed when another building was hit.
Three Israeli civilians have also been killed since the confrontation began Wednesday.
Israel is reluctant to let up without signs a truce would hold.
Overnight, aircraft targeted dozens of underground rocket launchers and a major Hamas training base and command center, the military said. It said it also attacked a communications antenna.
Israeli gunboats also fired on militant sites on the Gaza shoreline, the military said in a statement, without elaborating.
On Saturday, Israel destroyed the headquarters of Hamas’ prime minister and blasted a sprawling network of smuggling tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip, broadening the blistering offensive against the Islamic militant group.
In neighboring Egypt, President Mohammed Morsi hosted leaders from Hamas and two key allies, Qatar and Turkey, to seek a way to end the fighting.
“There are discussions about the ways to bring a cease-fire soon, but there are no guarantees until now,” Morsi said at a news conference. He said he was working with Turkey, Arab countries, the U.S., Russia and Western European countries to halt the fighting.
Israel launched the operation on Wednesday in what it said was an effort to end months of rocket fire out of the Hamas-ruled territory. It began the offensive with an unexpected airstrike that killed Hamas’ powerful military chief, and since then has relentlessly targeted suspected rocket launchers and storage sites.
The White House said President Barack Obama was in touch with the Egyptian and Turkish leaders. The U.S. has solidly backed Israel so far.
Speaking on Air Force One, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the White House believes Israel “has the right to defend itself” against attack.