Hamas: We'll broaden rocket attacks if IDF strikes continue

Spokesperson: "It wasn't known that bus targeted was carrying kids"; group's political wing distances itself from Izzadin Kassam cmmdr.; reportedly makes ceasefire offer; at least 18 Gazans killed in 48 hours.

Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri 311 (R) (photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)
Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri 311 (R)
(photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)
Hamas said on Saturday it would escalate it attacks against Israel to include a wider range of targets deeper into Israeli territory if the IDF failed to halt its aerial assaults on the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri blamed Israel for an escalation in violence. "If the Israeli escalation continues, amid international silence and complicity, the reactions by resistance factions will broaden," he told Reuters, saying such actions would be necessary to protect Palestinians in Gaza.
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At the same time as it made the threats, however, the group seemed to be attempting to deescalate the situation in the Gaza Strip, which has left more than a handful of its commanders dead.
Abu Zuhri also said that Hamas operatives did not intend to target Israeli schoolchildren when they fired a guided missile at a school bus two days ago, critically wounding a teenager and sparking the latest round of border fighting.
"It was not known that the bus targeted on the outskirts of Gaza carried schoolchildren," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters, adding that the road where the bus was travelling was often used by IDF vehicles.
Officials in Jerusalem said that the government received a request from Hamas' political wing asking for a cease fire Saturday afternoon, Israel Radio reported The request was reportedly delivered through intermediaries, according to the officials.
Additionally, an Israel Radio report quoted Palestinian security officials as saying that the decision to escalate the situation by Hamas was made by the commander of its armed wing, Ahmed Jabari, against the wishes of its political leadership in Gaza and Damascus.
According to the Palestinian source, Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh accused Jabari of "megalomania" for his actions in escalating the situation, according to the report. He added that Jabari's decision to escalate the situation was partly motivated by the assassination of his close friend, Ismail a-Lobed, who was the organization's point man for smuggling weapons into Gaza from the Sinai Peninsula.
Lobed was apparently Hamas' contact person with Beduin smugglers and his assassination presented a huge loss of smuggling routes for the organization, Israel Radio quoted the source as saying.
The current escalation began on Thursday when Hamas used an anti-tank missile against a school bus in the Gaza border region. A 16-year-old boy was critically injured in the attack.
In the following 48 hours, the IDF has forcefully gone after terrorists launching rockets and mortars, but also after Hamas commanders. At least 18 Palestinians, a majority of them Hamas men, have been killed in the strikes.
Early Saturday morning, three Hamas commanders were killed in an IAF air strike on a car in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Palestinian news agencies reported a fourth Hamas man was killed in an IDF strike a few hours later.
Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Strip have fired dozens of Grad rockets and some 100 mortar shells into Israel since Thursday. At least five of the Grad rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome rocket defense system outside Beersheba and Ashkelon.
Reuters contributed to this report