Jul 10, 2014

Gaza Death Toll Rises Sharply as Israel Escalates Attacks

Hamas and Palestinian Militant Factions Continue Firing Rockets on Israeli Cities, Towns

JERUSALEM—The death toll in the Gaza Strip rose sharply Thursday as Israel escalated its air and sea assault on the coastal enclave and Palestinian militants launched rockets at Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.

At least 26 Gazans were killed and more than 500 wounded in early-morning attacks, the Ma'an News Agency reported. That brought to at least 81 the number of Palestinians killed in the latest confrontation between Israel and Hamas, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. There have been no Israeli casualties.

Israeli air and naval forces hit 320 targets overnight, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. The targets included underground tunnel networks, rocket launching sites and four alleged members of Palestinian militant groups responsible for missile volleys against Israel.

Hamas and other Palestinian militants in Gaza also showed no signs on Thursday of scaling back or stop their rocket attacks on cities and towns in central and southern Israel.

As of late afternoon, 96 rockets had fallen in Israel, and at least 17 have been intercepted by the Israeli air defense system, the military said.

Israel Radio quoted Brig. Gen. Moti Amoz, the chief military spokesman, as cautioning the Israeli public to be prepared for a long operation. He also said thousands of targets had been approved.

As in the two previous major clashes between Israel and Hamas in 2008 and 2012, the rising civilian death toll in Gaza was a controversy.

The Israeli military said that eight members of a family in the city of Khan Younis, all noncombatants, were killed the when they returned to their home prematurely on Tuesday after being warned that it would be targeted. The Israel air force said the killings weren't intentional.

The Israeli government says Hamas is firing rockets from houses and streets in neighborhoods populated by civilians, thus exposing them to retaliation.

The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem condemned the military's policy of targeting the homes of suspected militants.

"Even if uninvolved civilians are not injured, these houses are not legitimate military targets, and attacking them is a grave violation of international humanitarian law," the group said Thursday.

Fears that the latest round of fighting between Hamas and Israel would trigger further violence in the West Bank were given some credence on Thursday, as Israeli police arrested two Palestinians with explosive devices near the settlement of Ariel.

"We have confirmed it was related to a planned terrorist attack," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

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