Israel has dramatically escalated its aerial assault on the Gaza Strip, targeting hundreds of Hamas sites.

A house is destroyed by a Hamas rocket in Beer Sheba.

A house is destroyed by a Hamas rocket in Beer Sheba. Picture: Dudu Grunshpan/Israel Sun

Palestinians reported the strikes hit a home and a beach cafe, raising the total number of people killed in this week’s offensive to at least 85.

Israel’s missile defence system again intercepted rockets fired by terrorists at the country’s heartland.

The Health Ministry in Gaza has reported 85 deaths, including 22 today. It says about half were women and children though the exact breakdown could not be confirmed.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said Israel struck more than 320 Hamas targets overnight, focusing on underground tunnel networks and rocket launching sites. In all, the military has struck 750 sites since the offensive began on Tuesday.

Israel has mobilised 20,000 reservists for a possible ground operation into Gaza, but for now remains focused on maximising its air campaign, Mr Lerner said.

A ground invasion could lead to heavier civilian casualties on the Palestinian side and put Israeli ground forces in danger.

Neither side is showing any sign of halting their heaviest fighting since an eight-day battle in late 2012.

Israel says that Hamas must cease rocket fire from Gaza for it to consider a truce. Militants have fired hundreds of rockets, striking across the length of Israel and disrupting life across the country.

TheIron Dome defence system has intercepted at least 70 of the projectiles destined for major cities. The system is designed to intercept rockets heading towards populated areas, while allowing others to fall in open areas.

“The ground option needs to be the last option and only if it is absolutely necessary. It is a carefully designed plan of action,” Mr Lerner said.

The Israeli security cabinet has met to discuss its next moves.