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23 more killed as Israel-Gaza fighting rages on

19 November, 2012

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GAZA/JERUSALEM: Israeli strikes on Sunday killed 23 Palestinians, including 14 women and children, in the bloodiest day of its Gaza bombing campaign, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said.

Nine children, five of them babies and toddlers, and five women were among the victims in violence that raised the overall number of Gazans killed to 69 in around 100 hours of relentless Israeli air strikes. Israel gave off signs of a possible ground invasion of the Hamas-run enclave as the next stage in its air and sea offensive billed as a bid to stop Palestinian rocket fire into the Jewish state, while also spelling out its conditions for a truce.

US President Barack Obama said while Israel had a right to defend itself against rocket salvoes, it would be "preferable" to avoid a military thrust into the Gaza Strip. Such an assault would risk high casualties and an international outcry.

By far the bloodiest strike was in northern Gaza City where a missile levelled a three-storey building, killing nine members of the Al Dallu family, five of them children, and two other people, medics said. Medics said four women and four children were among the dead.

The body of another woman from the same family was also pulled from the rubble but her identity was not immediately clear. The other two victims lived next door.

The Israeli army had no immediate comment on the strike, saying only the air force had hit "a few targets in northern Gaza City". Shortly afterwards, six more Palestinians were killed in four separate strikes.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier he had assured world leaders Israel was doing its utmost to avoid causing civilian casualties in the military showdown with Hamas.

For their part, Gaza militants launched dozens of rockets into Israel and targeted its commercial capital, Tel Aviv, for a fourth day. The Jewish state's "Iron Dome" missile shield shot down two of the rockets fired toward Tel Aviv, Israel's biggest city, but falling debris from the interception hit a car, which caught fire.

Netanyahu said Israel was ready to widen its offensive. "We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organisations and the Israel Defence Forces are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation," he said at a cabinet meeting, giving no further details.

Gaza health official Mufid al Miklalati said 65 Palestinians – around half of them women and children – had been killed in small, densely populated Gaza began, with hundreds wounded. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel since Wednesday, killing three civilians and wounding dozens.

In other air raids on Sunday, two Gaza City media buildings were hit, witnesses said. Eight journalists were wounded and facilities belonging to Hamas's Al Aqsa TV as well as Britain's Sky News were damaged. An employee of the Beirut-based al Quds television station lost his leg in the attack, local medics said.

The Israeli military said the strike targeted a rooftop "transmission antenna used by Hamas to carry out terror activity", and that journalists in the building had effectively been used as human shields by Gaza's rulers.

With Egypt at the centre of efforts to broker a ceasefire, Palestinian officials said it was possible a deal would be reached "today or tomorrow". Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said in Cairo, as his security deputies sought to broker a truce with Hamas leaders, "there are some indications that there is a possibility of a ceasefire soon, but we do not yet have firm guarantees".

Egypt has mediated previous ceasefire deals between Israel and Hamas, the latest of which unravelled with recent violence.

A Palestinian official told Reuters the truce discussions would continue in Cairo, saying "there is hope", but that it was too early to say whether the efforts would succeed.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be in Egypt on Monday (today) for talks with Morsi, the foreign ministry in Cairo said. UN diplomats earlier said Ban was expected in Israel and Egypt this week to push for an end to the fighting.

Listing Israel's terms for ceasing fire, Moshe Yaalon, a deputy to Netanyahu, wrote on Twitter, "If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack."


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