Middle East

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Gaza toll arises to over 125 amid Israeli blitz

Published 12/07/2014|15:15

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Ximena Silva from Chile at the Ireland Palestine Solidarity campaign proest at the GPO.  Picture;  GERRY MOONEY.  12/7/14
Ximena Silva from Chile at the Ireland Palestine Solidarity campaign protest at the GPO. Picture; GERRY MOONEY.
Palestinians carry the body of Islamic Jihad militant  Mohammed Sowelim, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Jabaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 12, 2014. Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled where two women were killed Saturday, raising the Palestinian death toll from the offensive to more than 120, Palestinian officials said. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Palestinians carry the body of Islamic Jihad militant Mohammed Sowelim, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Jabaliya refugee camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
An Israeli soldier sleeps on a mobile artillery unit at a position on the Israel-Gaza border, Friday, July 11, 2014. Gaza rocket fire struck a gas station and set it ablaze Friday in southern Israel, seriously wounding one person as rocket fire also came from Lebanon for the first time in the four-day-long offensive. Rocket fire by Palestinian militants continued from Gaza toward various locations in southern Israel. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
An Israeli soldier sleeps on a mobile artillery unit at a position on the Israel-Gaza border, Friday, July 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Israel has widened its air assault against the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers, hitting a mosque it said was hiding rockets, as Palestinians said the death toll from the five-day offensive had risen above 125.

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The military said it had struck more than 1,100 targets, including Hamas rocket launchers, command centres and weapon manufacturing and storage facilities, in a bid to stop relentless rocket fire coming Gaza.

Officials in the territory said that besides the mosque, the strikes also hit Hamas-affiliated charities and banks, as well as a home for the disabled, killing two women.

The central Gaza mosque was being used to conceal rockets like those militants have fired nearly 700 times towards Israel over the past five days, the military said. However, the strikes in the densely populated Gaza Strip show the challenge Israel faces as it considers a ground operation that could pose further dangers to civilians.

While there have been no fatalities in Israel from the rocket fire, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said overnight Israeli strikes raised the death toll there to more than 125, with 920 wounded.

Hamas militants have been hit hard, but dozens of the dead have been civilians.

The offensive showed no signs of slowing down today as Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon said his country should ready itself for several more days of fighting.

Shells for Israeli forces' mobile artillery units are seen at their position on the Israel-Gaza border, Friday, July 11, 2014. Gaza rocket fire struck a gas station and set it ablaze Friday in southern Israel, seriously wounding one person as rocket fire also came from Lebanon for the first time in the four-day-long offensive. Rocket fire by Palestinian militants continued from Gaza toward various locations in southern Israel. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Shells for Israeli forces' mobile artillery units are seen at their position on the Israel-Gaza border, Friday, July 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

"We have accumulated achievements as far as the price Hamas is paying and we are continuing to destroy significant targets of it and other terror organisations," Mr Yaalon said after a meeting with senior security officials.

"We will continue to punish it until quiet and security returns to southern Israel and the rest of the country."

Hamas said it hoped the mosque attack would galvanize support for it in the Muslim world.

"(It) shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much it is 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."

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

Critics say such allegations are too sweeping, and that Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the densely populated territories is the main factor putting civilians at risk.

Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, "this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well".

Israel issues early warnings before attacking Gaza targets and the military says it uses other means to do its utmost to avoid harming bystanders. But Ms Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed family homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following the Israeli warnings.

"Justifying all Israeli attacks that lead to civilian casualties by saying Hamas is using human shields is factually incorrect," she said.

The rocket fire from Gaza militants appeared to tail off today, with a new round resuming later in the day. The "Iron Dome", a US-funded, Israel-developed rocket defence system, has intercepted more than 130 incoming rockets, preventing any Israeli fatalities so far. A handful of Israelis have been wounded by rockets that slipped through.

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