Navy Joins Bombardment of Hamas Terrorist Bases; War Footing: An Israeli Soldier in Front of a Merkava Tank near the Northern Gaza Strip, Left. Tel Aviv Has Announced a Four-Kilometre "Closed Military Zone" around Gaza. above, an Israeli Missile Strike on the Hamas-Controlled Islamic University in Gaza City Wounded: An Israeli Casualty in Ashkelon

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Byline: KIRAN RANDHAWA

ISRAEL'S air force obliterated Hamas strongholds today, the third day of its overwhelming assault on Gaza.

Planes struck a house next to the Hamas prime minister's home, devastated a security compound and flattened a five-storey building at a university closely linked to the Palestinian Islamic militant group. The Israeli navy joined the attack, launching a bombardment from the sea.

Hamas responded by firing rockets deeper into Israel than ever before. Missiles hit targets up to 23 miles from the Gaza strip, leaving two dead and 15 injured.

An Israeli was killed today in the southern city of Ashkelon, 10 miles north of Gaza, in a rocket attack that wounded seven others.

Today Israel declared a buffer zone around Gaza up to four kilometres wide as a "closed military zone". A military spokesman said the new policy meant that civilians, including journalists, may be barred from the area, opening the way for a ground assault. Tanks have massed on the border and 6,500 reserve soldiers have been put on standby. Israel today warned it will fight a "war to the bitter end" as it intensified its air raid in the deadliest blitz of the Palestinian territory.

The country's defence minister said the offensive would be as "widened and deepened as needed." Ehud Barak said the operation would continue and even intensify with the goal to force militants to stop "hostile actions" against Israeli civilians. He said: "We have a war to the bitter end against Hamas and its branches."

A spokesman for Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert said the military action would go on until the population in southern Israel "no longer live in terror and in fear of constant rocket barrages".

The three-day campaign has left at least 310 Palestinians dead and another 1,400 wounded. There are reports that Hamas military commander Ahmed Ja'abriwho may have been killed. …