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Israel targets Hamas leaders in Gaza raid

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Israeli warplanes bombed the home of a senior Hamas leader early Wednesday, as a campaign against Gaza entered day nine with no sign of an immediate end to hostilities. Israel had resumed Tuesday its punishing air campaign against the Palestinian territory, which has killed 197 people, as international efforts towards a ceasefire collapsed. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Tuesday the army would “expand and intensify” its operation after Hamas snubbed an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

The first major strike on Wednesday hit the western Gaza City home of senior Hamas figure Mahmud al-Zahar, flattening the building, security officials said, but witnesses said the house had been empty. Separate strikes in Gaza City and Jabalia in the north targeted the homes of at least three other Hamas officials, with no immediate reports of casualties.

Wednesday’s early morning strikes came after the first Israeli fatality from a total of nearly 1,000 rockets fired into the Jewish state by Gaza activists.
The man, later identified as Dror Hanin, 37, from a West Bank settlement, was killed in a rocket attack on an Israeli position near the Erez crossing with Gaza late Tuesday. Hamas’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing said it carried out the attack. The civilian had been delivering food to soldiers serving in the area, medics told AFP.

Early Tuesday, Israel’s security cabinet said it would accept an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire to begin at 0600 GMT. But Hamas officials said they had not been consulted on the proposal and would not halt fire without a full-fledged deal including Israeli concessions.

The movement’s armed wing continued to fire dozens of rockets into Israel after the truce deadline, sending tens of thousands scrambling for cover.
At 1200 GMT, the Israeli army announced it was resuming air strikes, after militants fired 47 rockets from Gaza. Those raids hit Gaza City, southern Khan Yunis, Rafah and central Johr al-Deeq, and killed five people.

“This would have been better resolved diplomatically… but Hamas leaves us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it,” Netanyahu said Tuesday.

Later, the Israeli army said it was sending messages to residents of parts of eastern and northern Gaza, “requesting them to evacuate their homes for their own safety” ahead of new strikes. The army issued similar messages to north Gaza residents on Sunday, causing the exodus of 17,000 people who took shelter in United Nations schools.

Overnight, Hamas’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing had rejected the Egyptian proposal for a truce to be followed by talks. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the movement had not been consulted on the truce bid, and called the idea of halting fire before agreeing on terms “unacceptable”.

A top member of Hamas’s exiled politburo, Mussa Abu Marzuq, sounded a more cautious note, saying the movement had no official position on the proposal and discussions were continuing.

Hamas has said it wants the end of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt as part of a truce deal. It also wants Israel to free Palestinians it rearrested after releasing them in a 2011 exchange for an Israeli soldier held by Gaza resistance fighters or more than five years.

In his remarks on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu hit back at domestic critics of his decision to accept Egypt’s proposal.

“These are moments when decisions must be made coolly and with patience, not hastily or noisily,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli premier also fired deputy defence minister Danny Danon, a firebrand member of his Likud party, who was a vocal critic of him during the operation.

Cairo’s proposal was announced overnight, and urged both sides to halt the violence and travel to Egypt for talks. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was due in Cairo on Wednesday, but it was unclear if Hamas officials there were continuing to discuss the truce bid and if Israeli officials would also travel to Egypt.

The proposal won support from Western governments with US President Barack Obama saying he was “encouraged” by Egypt’s efforts and hoped to see calm restored.

And even after the violence resumed, US officials said Secretary of State John Kerry remained engaged and had spoken late Tuesday with Netanyahu and other regional leaders about the crisis from his plane on his flight back to Washington.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge before dawn on July 8, hitting Gaza with an intensive air and artillery bombardment aimed at stamping out rocket fire. Since then, 960 rockets have hit Israel, while another 215 have been intercepted by its Iron Dome air defence system, the army said. SAPA

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