Israel slams missiles into Haniyeh’s office; death toll surpasses 70

  

Israeli aircraft sent missiles slamming into the office of the prime minister of Hamas-ruled Gaza before dawn on Sunday, pressing forward with an offensive that has killed more than 70 Palestinians in two days of strikes and air raids. A 21-month-old baby was among the dead in new fighting.

 

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s office was empty at the time of Sunday’s airstrike, but the raid was seen as a message to the Hamas leadership.

 

A total of 54 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, were killed in fighting on Saturday, the highest single-day death toll in more than seven years of conflict. Five Israeli soldiers were also killed.

 

Responding to the bloodletting, the moderate Palestinian leadership based in the West Bank suspended US-sponsored peace talks with Israel. The bloodshed also drew condemnations from the international community, including EU president Slovenia and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, both of whom accused Israel of the “disproportionate and excessive use of force.”

 

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday rejected the international criticism and vowed to continue the Gaza offensive. “With all due respect, nothing will prevent us from continuing operations to protect our citizens,” he told his Cabinet.

 

Olmert’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said an even broader Gaza operation was in the cards, aimed at crushing militant rocket squads but also to “weaken the Hamas rule, in the right circumstances, even to bring it down.”

 

Haniyeh’s office was just one of about a dozen targets Israeli aircraft and ground troops struck before dawn.

 

Overnight, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl and five militants died of their wounds, and four Palestinians were killed in Israeli raids, including the 21-month-old baby girl, who died from shrapnel wounds. The bodies of two women were unearthed from the rubble of an earlier Israeli airstrike, bringing the total death toll from the operation to 71 since late Friday.

 

About half were militants. Gaza health officials said about 200 people were wounded, 14 critically. (AP)

 
 
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