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Decapitated child among five civilians killed in the Gaza Strip

Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza

The civilian death toll climbed in Israel's air offensive against the Gaza Strip yesterday and Palestinian Islamists vowed revenge for the killing of a Hamas leader and his family.

There was no sign of a ceasefire on the seventh day of the conflict, in which at least 425 Palestinians have been killed and 2,000 wounded.

Four Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza, which strike southern cities and towns at random and cause property damage and panic among the local population.

A UN agency said the civilian death toll in Gaza was over 25pc of the total killed in the violence. A leading Palestinian human rights group put it at 40pc.

Of six Palestinians reported killed yesterday in more than 30 Israeli air strikes, five were civilians, local medics said.

One missile killed three Palestinian children aged between eight and 12 as they played on a street near the town of Khan Yunis. One was decapitated.

Madth Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor at Gaza's Shifa hospital who could not save a boy who had both feet blown off said: "This is a murder. This is a child."

Hamas leader Fathi Hammad said at the funeral of Nizar Rayyan, the senior Hamas leader who was killed on Thursday, "We will not rest until we destroy the Zionist entity."

Hamas spokesman Ismail Rudwan said that "following this crime, all options are now open including martyrdom operations to deter the aggression and to strike Zionist interests everywhere . . . killing begets killing and destruction begets destruction".

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Israel's armoured forces remained massed on the Gaza frontier in preparation for a possible ground invasion, despite international calls for a halt to the conflict.

Israeli leaders were in conference yesterday evening and media reports said they were discussing an "imminent" incursion.

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