Israeli air strikes take toll in Gaza

  • Washington Post
  • November 18, 2012 - 11:56 PM

TEL AVIV - Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Sunday killed at least 10 members of one family, including a mother and her four children, and struck two buildings used by journalists, inflicting the heaviest toll on civilians since fighting began Wednesday.

Early on Monday, an airstrike leveled two houses belonging to a single family, killing two children and two adults and injuring 42 people, said Gaza heath official Ashraf al-Kidra. Rescue workers were frantically searching for 12 to 15 people under the rubble.

Shortly after, Israeli aircraft bombarded the ruins of the former national security compound in Gaza City. Al-Kidra says flying shrapnel killed one child and wounded others living nearby.

Militants in Gaza continued to lob dozens of rockets toward Israel, including two powerful long-range missiles that burst over Tel Aviv on Sunday after Israel's anti-missile system intercepted them in mid-air.

With little apparent progress in cease-fire negotiations in Cairo, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that Israel would lose support from the international community if it followed through on threats to deploy troops in Gaza. President Obama reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right of self-defense but said he was hopeful that the fighting could end through diplomacy.

The intense crossfire of recent days illustrated the enhanced capabilities that both sides have achieved since a three-week Gaza offensive in 2008-2009, which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Since Wednesday, Gaza-based militants have fired about 830 rockets that either slammed into Israel or were intercepted, according to the Israeli military. That number exceeds the about 800 that made landfall during the earlier Gaza campaign, called Operation Cast Lead.

Israeli Air Force Gen. Relik Shafir said a cease-fire would be possible only if militants in Gaza stop firing rockets.

"At any given time, we can elevate the level and the type of targets," he said Sunday night in a conference call. He said Israel has taken "great pains" to avoid civilian casualties but acknowledged that is a difficult task "because Hamas fires from populated areas."

Deadliest airstrike

In Gaza on Sunday, Israeli warplanes dropped bombs that hit the Dallu family residence, killing a mother and her four children, ages 10, 6, 2 and 1, as well as five other relatives. It was the single deadliest strike of the campaign, dubbed Pillar of Defense by the Israelis.

"They killed the whole family," said Yasser Sallouha, an uncle of the children, looking despondent as he stood near their bodies at the morgue. "The whole family tree is gone. Were the two children launching rockets? I want someone to answer me. They are taking revenge on children."

The Health Ministry in Gaza said at least 70 people have been killed and 660 have been wounded in the densely populated strip on the Mediterranean since Wednesday.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck two buildings used by Palestinian and international journalists. Military officials said the targets included an antenna used by militants to communicate and an office that produced propaganda. Witnesses said six Palestinian journalists were wounded, including a cameraman whose legs had to be amputated.

The Israeli prime minister hailed the early results of the operation. "We are extracting a heavy price from Hamas and the terror organizations," Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday during the opening session of the weekly Cabinet meeting. "The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation."

Officials said Israel targeted more than 50 "terror sites" Sunday, including underground rocket-launching sites and tunnels. Israel has activated about 17,000 reservists for a possible ground incursion into Gaza.

Arieh Herzog, the former head of Israel's missile defense program, said Sunday that militants in Gaza have stockpiled thousands of rockets in recent years. "We can expect if any political decision doesn't stop this, they can continue fighting for many days," he said.

Talks underway

Cease-fire negotiations in Cairo appeared to make little headway Sunday, although Hamas' newly strong standing was underscored as the group's top leader in exile, Khaled Meshal, met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

An Israeli envoy arrived in Cairo on Sunday, the Associated Press reported, but as fighting in Gaza escalated, it was far from clear whether the visit was a prelude to a deal. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon planned to visit Cairo on Monday to discuss the situation.

Recalling the ground invasion during the 2008-2009 conflict, some Gaza residents have begun to warily contemplate a new round of street fighting.

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