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Wednesday 13 December 2017

16 dead following Gaza airstrike

Smoke from the explosion of an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. (AP)
Smoke from the explosion of an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City. (AP)
Palestinians gather outside a classroom at the Abu Hussein UN school in Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, hit by tank shells (AP)
Palestinians comfort each other amid rubble of a building in which more than a dozen family members were killed by an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip (AP)

At least 16 people have been killed and more than 150 injured by an Israeli airstrike in a crowded shopping area.

The strike came hours after Israeli tank shells slammed into a UN school sheltering displaced Palestinians, killing 15 people, Gaza health officials said.

The latest deadly strikes came on the heels of an escalation in the embattled coastal territory, with Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers stepping up attacks after more than three weeks of fighting that has killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and more than 50 Israelis.

Witnesses said the shopping area was busy because residents, and many who had taken shelter in the area from fighting elsewhere, thought a ceasefire was in place.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the strike on the shopping area and said it was investigating the report.

Israel had earlier announced a "humanitarian window" in certain parts of the territory. But it said it would not halt fire in other areas, including in Shijaiyah, where the strike took place. Hamas dismissed the ceasefire, and Gaza militants fired 27 rockets at Israel after it began.

Eyewitnesses said an airstrike hit a warehouse on the edge of Shijaiyah, causing a fire and sending a large cloud of black smoke billowing into the sky.

The second airstrike struck an area about 500 meters away, according to witnesses, immediately killing at least 16 people, among them local Palestinian photographer Rami Rayan, who was wearing a press vest at the time.

"People were in the street and in the market, mostly women and kids. Suddenly more than 10 shells landed in the area, the market, in the Turkman area, and next to the gas station," said Salim Qadoum, 26, who witnessed the strike.

"The area now is like a blood bath, everyone is wounded or killed. People lost their limbs and were screaming for help. It's a massacre. I vomited when I saw what happened."

Israeli airstrikes and shelling killed more than 108 Palestinians across the coastal territory throughout Wednesday.

The military had declared a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire in parts of Gaza beginning at 3pm, but Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said it lacked any "value" because it excluded border areas from where Hamas wanted to evacuate the injured.

Gaza militants fired 84 rockets at Israel on Wednesday, including more than 26 after the ceasefire was announced, the military said. Gaza health officials said seven Palestinians were killed by an Israeli airstrike in the same period.

Israel escalated its campaign on Tuesday, with airstrikes destroying key symbols of Hamas power, including the home of the top Hamas leader. Gaza's only power plant was shut down after shells set its fuel tank on fire.

In all, 108 Palestinians were killed by airstrikes and tank shelling in different areas of Gaza on Wednesday. The total number of Palestinians killed since the July 8 start of fighting rose to 1,347. More than 7,100 Palestinians have been injured.

Israel has lost 56 soldiers since launching a ground operation earlier this month aimed at destroying rocket launchers and tunnels used for attacks inside Israel. Three civilians have been killed on the Israeli side since the fighting began on July 8.

Israel says its Gaza operation is meant to stop Hamas rocket and mortar fire that has reached increasingly deeper into its territory and to destroy a sophisticated network of tunnels used for attacks inside Israel.

Gaza militants have fired more than 2,600 rockets toward Israel over the past three weeks, according to the Israeli army. Over the past 23 days, Israeli forces have hit 4,100 targets in Gaza, about one-third connected to rocket launching, a statement said.

The military has not provided details on strikes in which multiple members of one family were killed. There have been several dozen such strikes, according to the Palestinian human rights group Al-Mezan.

Press Association

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