Thirty-three Gazans, including at least 16 civilians, died in Israeli strikes that escalated sharply on Saturday, clouding an upcoming peacemaking mission by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Two children were among those killed in what could be the fiercest fighting in the Gaza Strip since Islamic Hamas militants seized control there in June.
The latest round of clashes, which began on Wednesday, has renewed threats of an Israeli invasion of Gaza to crush militant rocket squads that bombard southern Israel daily. In all, 63 people have died since battles between Israel and extremists affiliated with Hamas spiked earlier this week.
At least 33 of the dead were civilians, the youngest a six-month-old boy. One Israeli man was killed by Palestinian rocket fire that grew more ominous earlier this week when it struck closer to Israel’s heartland.
An 13-month-old girl, Malak Karfaneh, died just before midnight on Friday in an Israeli strike on Beit Hanoun, where local residents said one of those rockets fell short and landed in the area of the baby’s house.
The Israeli military, which sent troops, tanks and aircraft after Gaza fighters, said it only attacks rocket-launching operations, but noted that militants sometimes operate within civilian areas.
Pitched battles erupted early on Saturday near the northern town of Jabaliya, pitting Israeli troops backed by tanks and attack aircraft against Palestinian militants launching crude rockets and mortars.
Among those killed were at least 11 militants, but also at least 16 civilians – including an unidentified child, a 17-year-old girl and her 16-year-old brother, a 45-year-old man and his 20-year-old son, and two sisters thought to be in their early 20s. (AP)
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