Jul 12, 2014

Israeli air strikes kills 120 Palestinians as Netanyahu vows to press on with attacks

Sixteen Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip early Saturday, bringing the toll on the fifth day of cross-border fighting to 121, medics said. Israel showed no sign of pausing despite international pressure to negotiate a ceasefire with the militants.

The latest strike killed three in the eastern Tufah neighbourhood of Gaza City, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
The raid came shortly after two people were killed in a strike that hit a charitable association for the disabled in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, and another three people died in an attack in western Gaza City.

Earlier, Qudra announced the deaths of eight other Palestinians, including a man who died of wounds sustained in an earlier strike, five people killed in Gaza's northern Jebaliya, and two further south in Deir el Balah.

Local officials said the morning's raids hit targets that included mosques and homes of Hamas officials, throughout the coastal enclave.

The latest fatalities raise the death toll to 121 since Israel began Operation Protective Edge early Tuesday in an attempt to halt cross-border rocket fire by militant groups.

While there have been no fatalities in Israel, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said overnight attacks raised the death toll there to over 120, with more than 920 wounded.

Since then, militants have fired approximately 520 mortar rounds and rockets that struck Israel, while another 140 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system, an Israeli army statement said late Friday.

Asked if Israel might move from the mostly aerial attacks of the past four days into a ground war in Gaza to stop militant rocket fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied, "We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities."

"No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power," he told reporters in Tel Aviv a day after a telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama about the worst flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence in almost two years.

Read: Hamas' music video, entitled 'Shake Israel's Security', targets Israelis and Palestinians
On Friday Washington affirmed Israel's right to defend itself in a statement from the Pentagon. But defence secretary Chuck Hagel told Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya'alon he was concerned "about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect civilian lives and restore calm."

It is the deadliest violence since November 2012, with a growing number of rockets fired at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and even as far north as Haifa.

A rocket seriously wounded one person and injured another seven Israelis when a fuel tanker was hit at a service station in Ashdod, 30 km (20 miles) north of Gaza. Palestinian militants warned international airlines they would fire rockets at Tel Aviv's main airport.

Two soldiers were wounded along the border with Gaza when Palestinians fired an anti-tank missile.
And an elderly woman was injured when a rocket hit her home in the southern city of Beersheva.

Israel has authorised the call-up of 40,000 reservist troops, and threatened a ground operation to stamp out the rocket fire.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the United Nations Security Council to order an immediate truce.

But Israel said it was determined to end cross-border rocket attacks that intensified last month after its forces arrested hundreds of activists from the Islamist Hamas movement in the occupied West Bank following the abduction there of three Jewish teenagers who were later found killed. A Palestinian youth was killed in Jerusalem in a suspected Israeli revenge attack.



Israel's campaign "will continue until we are certain that quiet returns to Israeli citizens," Netanyahu said. Israel had attacked more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and there were "more to go."

Israel's military commander, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said his forces were ready to act as needed - an indication of a readiness to send in tanks and other ground troops, as Israel last did for two weeks in early 2009.

"We are in the midst of an assault and we are prepared to expand it as much as is required, to wherever is required, with whatever force will be required and for as long as will be required," Gantz told reporters.

The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it hit, saying it concealed rockets right next to another religious site and civilian homes. It said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups systematically use this tactic of abusing religious sites to conceal weapons and establish underground tunnel networks, deliberately endangering its own civilians.

"Hamas terrorists systematically exploit and choose to put Palestinians in Gaza in harm's way and continue to locate their positions among civilian areas and mosques, proving once more their disregard for human life and holy sites," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.

Western-backed Abbas, who is based in the West Bank and agreed a power-sharing deal with Gaza's dominant Hamas in April after years of feuding, called for international help: "The Palestinian leadership urges the Security Council to quickly issue a clear condemnation of this Israeli aggression and impose a commitment of a mutual ceasefire immediately," he said.

Race for shelter

After the failure of the latest US-brokered peace talks with Israel, Abbas's accord with Hamas angered Israel.

The rocket salvoes by the hardline movement and its allies, some striking more than 100 km (60 miles) from Gaza, have killed no one so far, due in part to interception by Israel's partly-US funded Iron Dome aerial defence system.

But racing for shelter had become a routine for hundreds of thousands of Israelis and their leaders have hinted they could order troops into the Gaza Strip, a 40-km sliver of coastline that is home to nearly 2 million people. Some 20,000 reservists have already been mobilised, the army says.

Hamas's armed wing said it would fire rockets at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion international airport and warned airlines not to fly to Israel's main gateway to the world.

The airport has been fully operational since the Israeli offensive began and international airlines have continued to fly in, with no reports of rockets from Gaza - largely inaccurate projectiles - landing anywhere near the facility, inland of the coastal metropolis. It is within an area covered by Iron Dome.

Hamas said Israel for the first time also hit a pair of mosques in its offensive. It hopes the incident will galvanize support in the Muslim world.

"The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much is it hostile to Islam," said Husam Badran, a Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar. "This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier."
Lebanese rockets Fire was also exchanged across Israel's northern border. Lebanese security sources said two rockets were fired into northern Israel on Friday but they did not know who had fired them. Israel responded with artillery fire. Palestinian groups in Lebanon have often fired rockets into Israel in the past.

Lebanese security forces arrested a Lebanese man suspected of firing the rockets with two Palestinians, the national news agency said. The Israeli military said they caused no damage.

Palestinians said Israeli tanks fired shells east of Rafah, ships shelled a security compound in the city of Gaza and aircraft bombed positions near the Egyptian and Israeli borders.

The offensive is the deadliest since November 2012, when around 180 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli air campaign to punish Hamas for missile attacks. That conflict was eventually halted with mediation from Egypt, which was then governed by Hamas's Muslim Brotherhood allies.

But Egypt, now ruled by the Brotherhood's enemies, is today locked in a feud with Hamas over the group's alleged support for militants in Egypt's Sinai desert - something Hamas denies. Cairo said on Friday its "intensive efforts" with all sides to end the warfare has met only "intransigence and stubbornness".

Izzat El-Risheq, a Hamas official told Arab television Al-Hadath "there are efforts for a ceasefire," but demanded Israel stop its offensive before any deal could be reached.

If Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza, it would be the first since a three-week war in the winter of 2008-09, when some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

The Israeli military said some 550 projectiles have been fired at Israel since Tuesday and that it had targeted some 210 sites in the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours, among them "long-range rocket launchers, Hamas leadership facilities and terror and smuggling tunnels." An anti-tank rocket fired near the Gaza border wounded two Israeli soldiers on Friday, and Israel said it had targeted seven Hamas militants accused of involvement in rocket attacks.

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