At least 26 Palestinians have been killed after Israel launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip in response to the firing of more than 300 rockets at Israel by Hamas. International pleas for a de-escalation in the conflict have had no discernible impact yet, with Hamas claiming that it’s acting to protect the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – one of Islam’s holiest sites – from Israeli “aggression and terrorism”. Here is Middle East correspondent for The Independent, Bel Trew, in Ashkelon, across the border from the Gaza Strip.