Death toll rises in deadly Gaza strikes

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Apr 9, 2011

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — Israeli airstrikes on Gaza renewed late Saturday killing a Palestinian and injuring four others amid a barrage of projectiles targeting Israel’s western Negev desert.

A drone-fired missile targeting the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City injured four people, two critically, and killed Raed Zuhair Al-Bar, 30, a member of the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees, medics said.

Israeli officials said the military launched a series of strikes against targets in northern Gaza after the air force identified a “squad of terrorists who had just fired missiles” into the Negev.

In Jabaliya, two Palestinians sustained injuries in a separate attack, medics said of the latest attack during a day of hostilities during which Israeli forces killed three Palestinians and injured several others.

The attacks brought the death toll in the coastal enclave to 18 since Thursday afternoon, with more than 60 injuries, 14 of them serious. Six of the dead have been identified as civilians.

Early Saturday, a military spokeswoman said rocket and mortar fire had continued overnight. Raids on Gaza targeted a “large car carrying weapons,” a tunnel and “three Hamas commanders,” she said.

Another army official told Ma’an Arabic that Israel continues to hold Hamas accountable for the lives of civilians in Gaza, and said Israel would retaliate against projectile fire.

“Israel will not give Hamas the chance to decide when the bombing starts and when it ends.”

In Cairo, officials said the Arab League would hold an emergency meeting Sunday.

PLO official Saeb Erekat told the official Palestinian Authority news agency that President Mahmoud Abbas asked the league to hold the meeting and Arab League chief Amr Moussa accepted the request.

Abbas is in Cairo meeting representatives of Palestinian factions in a low-level bid for unity with Hamas, and to brief new Egyptian leaders and media on the current situation in Palestine, WAFA reported.

Erekat said Abbas was seeking a unified Arab voice to come out against the the deadliest 24 hours in Gaza since the end of Israel’s devastating 22-day offensive in December 2008 that claimed the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians — more than half civilians — and 13 Israelis, including 10 soldiers.

Palestinian armed groups declared a unilateral truce, but both Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed mortar and rocket attacks on Israel on Friday as the violence intensified.

By afternoon Saturday, media reports in Israel quoting security sources claimed that the political arm of Hamas had passed Israeli officials a message requesting a ceasefire.

According to the sources, Israel is willing to agree to the request and will wait to reevaluate its position after seeing if there is a halt in rocket and mortar fire, the Haaretz daily reported.

In Gaza City, however, a spokesman for the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, said the group’s operatives would not stand idly by while Israel’s military committed “crimes against the Palestinians.”

The spokesman, “Abu Obeida,” told reporters in Gaza City that “it’s impossible to talk about a truce with the occupation in any way as it carries out massacres against Palestinian civilians.”

Holding Israel responsible for the escalation in violence, the official added that Hamas’ fighters would “respond appropriately and not allow the occupation to shed Palestinian blood.”

“Al-Qassam fired more than 68 projectiles at Israeli towns and military posts including 28 rockets and 40 mortars in response to crimes and assassinations carried out by the occupation,” he said.

Several industrially manufactured Grad rockets were fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon but were intercepted by the newly deployed Iron Dome short-range defense system, the spokeswoman added.

The port with a population of some 113,000 was the second city to be protected by an Iron Dome battery after the desert city of Beersheba which has also been targeted by Gaza-based militants.

The defense system, the first of its kind in the world and still experimental, is not yet able to provide complete protection against rocket fire from Gaza, army commanders have warned.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the rocket fire from Gaza but also urged Israel to show restraint, urging “an immediate cessation of all violence.”

An Israeli diplomat expressed “dismay” at her “choice of words.”

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“We ask, how many more dead corpses of Palestinian children and women does the international community need to see in order to act?”

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