News Middle East

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Palestinian civilians told to vacate militant areas

Robert Tait


Published 25/08/2014 | 02:30

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The remains of a commercial centre, which witnesses said was hit by an Israeli air strike on Saturday, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters
A Palestinian looks at the remains of a commercial center, which witnesses said was hit by an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters
Gila and Doron, the parents of four-year-old Israeli boy Daniel Tregerman, mourn during his funeral in a cemetery near the border with the Gaza Strip. Daniel was killed by a mortar attack from Gaza on Friday. Photo: Reuters

The Israeli army delivered on its pledge to escalate its bombardment of Gaza yesterday by destroying an office block and a shopping centre, as prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Palestinian civilians to vacate area where militants operate.

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Huge bombs destroyed the seven-storey Zourab office block in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip and a two-storey mall in the same town, apparently heralding a new tactic aimed at denying Hamas operating space. The Zourab building was understood to house an office used by the Hamas-run interior ministry.

The strike on the shopping centre wounded seven people and set off a fire that gutted the building. The army said both buildings contained facilities linked to militants, but provided no details.

The new assault came as Mr Netanyahu vowed once again to continue the offensive for as long as needed to stem missile fire from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas Islamist group. "We will not complete the mission until this goal is achieved," he told a cabinet meeting. "The more determined and patient we are, the more our enemies will understand that they will not succeed in wearing us down. Against their attrition, they will be struck very hard.

"I call on the inhabitants of Gaza to evacuate immediately from every site from which Hamas is carrying out terrorist activity. Every one of these places is a target for us."

Israel's early morning attacks followed the spectacular destruction on Saturday of a 13-storey block of flats in Gaza City where Hamas ran an "operations centre". The building was home to 44 families who were given prior warning to leave by means of a non-explosive missile fired at the roof. Although most escaped, 22 people were wounded, which produced billowing dust clouds and scattered debris over a wide area.

More than 17,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged irreparably since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8, but until now most have been low-rise buildings. Some 13 people died in further strikes across the Gaza Strip yesterday, the 48th day of hostilities, according to the local health ministry.

The Israeli military claimed to have killed Mohammed al-Ghoul, a former Hamas interior minister now in charge of the group's financial transactions, but there were suggestions that the missile may have killed another man with the same name.

Some Israeli commentators urged the prime minister to redeploy ground troops - withdrawn more than two weeks ago - to eliminate Hamas's stock of mortar shells, the weapon that killed four-year-old Daniel Tragerman in Nahal Oz kibbutz near the Gaza border on Friday.

The dead boy, the first Israeli child to die in the war, was buried in an emotional funeral yesterday attended by hundreds of mourners, including Reuven Rivlin, Israel's president.

"Why was it necessary to wait for a four-year-old to be killed to turn the war against the mortar shells into a main goal?" wrote Alex Fishman in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. (© Daily Telgraph, London)

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