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Israel steps up offensive against Hamas

- 11 killed in bombing, say officials in Gaza; Jerusalem prepares for possible ground assault

Jersusalem, July 8: Israel began an intensive aerial bombardment in Gaza early today, hitting more than 50 targets, including at least four homes that the military said belonged to militants.

Palestinian officials and witnesses in Gaza said that at least 11 people had been killed, including seven persons in a three-storey house obliterated by an Israeli rocket that went through the roof.

It was the deadliest day so far in the latest resurgence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fed partly by the raw rage over the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank last month and what appeared to be the grisly revenge kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem last week.

The aerial barrage followed the firing of about 80 rockets out of Gaza yesterday that reached deep into southern Israel. Military officials said additional reservists were being called up in anticipation of a possible ground assault.

Witnesses and health ministry officials in Gaza said the first of at least three deadly Israeli airstrikes today destroyed a car in Gaza City, killing three unidentified occupants. The second was an Israeli rocket that witnesses said had been fired by an F-16 warplane on a house in Khan Younis, a town in the southeast part of Gaza, where seven occupants were found dead in the wreckage.

A telephoned warning was made to the owner of the targeted home in Khan Younis five minutes before the bombing, apparently part of the Israeli military’s stated effort to minimise unintended civilian casualties. Salah Kaware, 25, who lived in the house, said that a call came to the cellphone of his brother’s wife, and that the caller urged them to leave. Some of the occupants were descending the upper floor stairway when the roof was hit with a rocket, Kaware said in a telephone interview.

An unidentified member of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls Gaza, was killed in a third airstrike, in an open space in central Gaza.

Ashraf al-Qedra, a health ministry spokesman, said more than 50 people had been wounded since the Israeli air assaults had begun.

The Israeli military said that its targets had included what it called a “terror command centre embedded within civilian infrastructure” utilised by a militant in the southern Gaza town of Rafah.

The air campaign comes after three weeks of escalating confrontation, with rocket attacks from Gaza against southern Israel and Israeli airstrikes on targets it has described as concealed rocket launchers, training sites and weapons manufacturing facilities associated with Hamas and other militant groups.

Fury on both sides over the teenage victims of Israel-Palestinian enmity have fed the momentum.

Al Aksa radio, run by Hamas, reported that residents received warnings a few minutes before the houses were bombed. Hamas’s military wing said in an emailed statement that the bombing of the houses was “a serious escalation” that “will oblige us to enlarge our attacks deeper into Israel”.

Early today, the Israel defense forces announced on Twitter that they had “commenced Operation Protective Edge in Gaza against Hamas in order to stop the terror Israel’s citizens face on a daily basis”.

 
 
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