An Israeli missile killed at least 11 Palestinian civilians including four children in Gaza, medical officials said, apparently an attack on a top militant that brought a three-storey home crashing down.
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller, Gaza, Reuters
International pressure for a ceasefire seemed certain to mount in response to the deadliest single incident in five days of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.
Egypt has taken the lead in trying to broker a ceasefire and Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had been to Cairo for talks on ending the fighting.
Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi met Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal and Islamic Jihad’s head Ramadan Shallah as part of the mediation efforts, but a statement did not say if they were conclusive.
Izzat Risheq, a close aide to Meshaal, wrote in a Facebook message that Hamas would agree to a ceasefire only after Israel “stops its aggression, ends its policy of targeted assassinations and lifts the blockade of Gaza”.
Listing Israel’s terms for ceasing fire, Moshe Yaalon, a deputy to the prime minister, wrote on Twitter: “If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel’s citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack.”
Gaza health officials said 72 Palestinians, 21 of them children and several women have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s offensive began. Hundreds have been wounded.
Israel gave off signs of a possible ground invasion of the Hamas-run enclave as the next stage in its offensive, billed as a bid to stop Palestinian rocket fire into the Jewish state. It also spelt out its conditions for a truce.
A spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry said 11 civilians were killed when an Israeli missile flattened the home of the Dalu family. Medics said four women and four children were among the dead.
Israel’s chief military spokesman said Yihia Abayah, a senior commander of rocket operations in the Gaza Strip, was the target. The spokesman, Yoav Mordechai, told Israel’s Channel 2 television he did not know whether Abayah was killed.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier that he had assured world leaders that Israel was doing its utmost to avoid causing civilian casualties in the military showdown with Hamas.
“The massacre of the Dalu family will not pass without punishment,” Hamas’s armed wing said in a statement.
In other air raids yesterday, two Gaza City media buildings were hit, witnesses said. Eight journalists were wounded and facilities belonging to Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV as well as Sky News were damaged.
An employee of the Beirut-based al Quds television station lost his leg in the attack, local medics said.
The Israeli military said the strike targeted a rooftop “transmission antenna used by Hamas to carry out terror activity”, and that journalists in the building had effectively been used as human shields by Gaza’s rulers.
For their part, Gaza militants launched dozens of rockets into Israel and targeted its commercial capital, Tel Aviv, for a fourth day, once in the morning and another after dark.
Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile shield shot down all three rockets, but falling debris from the daytime interception hit a car, which caught fire. Its driver was not hurt.
In scenes recalling Israel’s 2008-2009 winter invasion of Gaza, tanks, artillery and infantry massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border. Military convoys moved on roads in the area newly closed to civilian traffic.
Netanyahu said Israel was ready to widen its offensive.
“We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organisations and the Israel Defence Forces are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation,” he said at a cabinet meeting, giving no further details.
The Israeli military said 544 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel since Wednesday, killing three civilians and wounding dozens. Some 302 were intercepted and 99 failed to reach Israel and landed inside the Gaza Strip.
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