Moscow: Israel destroyed the Hamas movement's headquarters in Gaza Saturday as the two sides continued to exchange missiles in escalating violence in the region.
The five−storey building was hit by five or six missiles or bombs in quick succession around 4 a.m., smashing windows in buildings nearby and starting a huge fire, a witness told RIA Novosti.
Witness reports said extensive damage was done to the building, in which Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniye received Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil during a visit Friday.
"The cabinet headquarters was targeted with four strikes and the government stresses that it remains committed to its positions and its stand alongside the people," the Hamas government said in a statement.
The government building had only recently been constructed after an Israeli military operation in Gaza in 2008−09 in which over 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
Six Palestinians in Gaza died in Israeli bombing attacks on the enclave Saturday, the local health ministry said, bringing the total killed since fighting broke out between the two sides Wednesday to 35, with 300 wounded.
Israel has struck "over 200 targets including 120 rocket launch sites and 20 smuggling tunnels since midnight", according to Israel Defence Force spokesman Yoav Mordechai.
"The army has also attacked a building belonging to the Hamas government. A headquarters used by the cabinet as a residence was also destroyed," he said.
Israel says it also carried out strikes destroying the main Palestinian Police headquarters in Gaza City. No one was in the police building at the time, Al Jazeera reported.
It also attacked an internal security headquarters, which it said had counter−espionage functions.
"At last, the house of Akhmed Randura, who commands the Hamas forces in the north, was finally attacked," Israeli Army spokesman Mordechai said.
The Israeli military say their main mission is to prevent rocket strikes on southern Israel, which in the last few days have for the first time been carried out as far north as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
The intensity of rocket firing from the Palestinian side has fallen off significantly since Friday night, Mordechai claimed.
Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence 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.
Palestinian militants have fired more than 450 rockets at Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In a sign of further escalation, the Israeli Cabinet has authorised the military to mobilise up to 75,000 reservists in anticipation of a possible ground offensive on Gaza.
Two elite army brigades have completed the preparation to enter the Palestinian enclave "if necessary", according to the military.
The Palestinians hope Russia and other international players will help use their influence to promote peace in the region and prevent the latest conflict in Gaza spreading, Palestinian National Authority Ambassador to Russia Fayed Mustafa said Saturday.
"We are in constant contact with the Russian Foreign Ministry... and we hope their influence will be crowned with success, as also the influence of other international organizations and states aimed at stopping this aggression and assisting reconciliation and satisfying the interest of all sides," he told Ekho Moskvy radio.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki−moon Friday appealed to both sides of the conflict "to stop this dangerous escalation and restore calm". He also announced through his spokesman that he intended to visit the region shortly.