Gaza death toll climbs to 220 after Hamas rejects truce
GAZA CITY // Israeli war planes and naval vessels intensified attacks across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, targeting senior Hamas leaders and bombarding a coastal area, where four Palestinian boys were killed.
The renewed violence came as Hamas formally rejected a ceasefire proposal that had been accepted by Israel to end the nine-day-old conflict that has left at least 220 Palestinians and one Israeli dead.
However, a senior Israeli official said later that, in reponse to a United Nations appeal, Israel would suspend hostilities for several hours on Thursday to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.
Hamas fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Wednesday and vowed not to agree to a ceasefire until its demands were met. These include the easing of border closures and the release of former Hamas prisoners released by Israel in a 2011 prisoner exchange and rearrested by Israel last month in the West Bank.
A Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, said on Wednesday that Hamas felt “alone in the field” with little support from the Arab world.
He called on the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the rival Fatah faction in the West Bank, to support Hamas’s refusal of an Egyptian ceasefire deal.
The Gaza interior ministry said Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of airstrikes on Wednesday, targeting 30 houses, including those of senior Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar, Jamila Shanti, Fathi Hamas and Ismail Ashkar.
Zahar was a key figure in Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, while the other three were members of the Palestinian parliament elected in 2006. Many Hamas leaders have gone into hiding since the beginning of the Israeli offensive.
The Israeli army said 43 rockets struck Israel on Wednesday and 24 were intercepted.
Seven people were killed in three strikes in Gaza on Wednesday evening, raising the toll in nine days of violence to 220, emergency services said.
The deaths followed those of the Palestinian boys, all from the same family, who were hit while while playing on the beach in Gaza City.
Emergency services spokesman Ashraf Al Qedra said the seven Palestinians killed on Wednesday evening included four members of a family in Khan Yunis, among them two children, aged six and four.
Another strike in southern Khan Yunis killed two men, and a third strike in Gaza City killed a six-year-old boy.
Earlier, a man was killed in an airstrike on the Zeitun neighbourhood, east of Gaza City, which took place several hours after the army warned 100,000 residents to leave the area and the neighbouring district of Shejaiya, as well the northern town of Beit Lahiya, all near the border with Israel, by 8am on Wednesday.
The Israeli military said in its message that large numbers of rockets were launched from these areas and that Israel planned to bomb these locations.
However, most of Wednesday’s deaths came in the south, with six people earlier killed in strikes on Khan Yunis and five killed in Rafah, which straddles the Egyptian border.
In Khan Yunis, four people from the Al Daqqa family were killed in two separate strikes, one of which killed a 65-year-old woman and a 10-year-old boy.
One of the victims in Khan Yunis was killed by tank fire.
In Rafah, five men were killed in four separate strikes, one of which hit a house in the city, Mr Al Qedra said.
More than 1,570 Palestinians have been wounded since Israel launched its assault on the Gaza Strip on July 8.
Egypt’s truce proposal, announced on Monday night, had called for a halt in hostilities by Tuesday night to be followed by talks on the terms of a longer-term ceasefire, including easing Gaza’s seven-year-old border blockade by Israel and Egypt.
Hamas views a significant easing of the Israeli blockade as key to its survival, but does not believe Egypt’s current rulers – who deposed a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo last year – can be fair brokers.
After the truce effort collapsed, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hamas would pay a high price.
* Associated Press, Reuters and Agence-France-Presse
Updated: July 17, 2014 04:00 AM