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Middle East

Israel strikes house of Hamas Gaza leader, digs in for long fight

In this image taken from video an explosion hits the media complex that houses the offices of Hamas-run Al Aqsa television and radio in central Gaza City early on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. The building also houses offices of a number of Arab satellite television news channels. (AP Photo/APTN)

GAZA/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel's military pounded targets in the Gaza Strip Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country needed to be prepared for a long conflict in the Palestinian enclave, squashing any hopes of a swift end to 22 days of fighting.

Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh before dawn on Tuesday, causing damage but no casualties, Gaza's interior ministry said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman had no information on the report but was checking for details.

Eleven people were killed in a strike on a house in the Bureij refugee camp in Gaza City as Israeli forces hit targets across the territory in the most widespread night of attacks so far in the coastal enclave.

The military said five soldiers had died in a gun battle with militants who crossed into Israel via a tunnel near the community of Nahal Oz, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

The incident on Monday raised to 10 the number of military fatalities for the day. Fifty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed since Israel launched its offensive on Gaza.

Hamas said that its broadcast outlets, Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted. The television station continued to broadcast, but the radio station went silent.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 with the aim of halting rocket attacks by Hamas and its allies. It later ordered a land invasion to find and destroy the warren of Hamas tunnels that criss-crosses the border area.

In a televised address on Monday night, a grim-faced Netanyahu said any solution to the crisis would require the demilitarisation of the Palestinian territory, controlled by Hamas Islamists and their militant allies.

"We will not finish the mission, we will not finish the operation without neutralising the tunnels, which have the sole purpose of destroying our citizens, killing our children," Netanyahu said, adding that it had been a "painful day".

An opinion poll broadcast by Israel's Channel 10 television showed overwhelming public support for continuing the Gaza offensive until Hamas is "disarmed".

As night fell, army flares illuminated the sky and the sound of intense shelling was heard. The military warned thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes around Gaza City - usually the prelude to major army strikes.

"We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign. We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished," Netanyahu said.

A number of rockets fired from Gaza were launched toward southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv area. At least one rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. No casualties or damage were reported.

Some 1,087 Gazans, most of them civilians, have died in the 22-day-old conflagration. As well as the 53 soldiers killed, three civilians have died as a result of Palestinian shelling.

The explosion of violence, after a day of relative calm on Sunday, appeared to wreck international hopes of turning a brief lull into a longer-term ceasefire.

Gaza's dominant Hamas Islamists said they had accepted a U.N. call for a pause in hostilities on Monday to coincide with Eid, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Israel initially baulked, having abandoned its own offer to extend a 12-hour truce from Saturday when Palestinian rockets kept flying. Calm gradually descended through the night with the occasional exchange of fire until a series of blasts shook Gaza in the afternoon.

Foreign pressure has been building on Netanyahu to muzzle his forces. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.N. Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire to allow relief to reach Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable cessation of hostilities.

Israel wants guarantees Hamas will be stripped of its tunnels and rocket stocks. It worries the Palestinian Islamists will parlay the truce talks mediated by their friends in Qatar and Turkey into an easing of an Israeli-Egypt blockade on Gaza.

In his television address, Netanyahu said any solution to the crisis would need to see Hamas stripped of its weapons.

"The process of preventing the armament of the terror organisation and demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip must be part of any solution. And the international community must demand this forcefully," he said.

Hamas said its forces had infiltrated Israel to retaliate for the killing of children in a beach camp.

Tension between Netanyahu's government and Washington has flared over U.S. mediation efforts, adding another chapter to the prickly relations between the Israeli leader and Obama.

U.S.-led negotiations over 20 years have brokered no permanent peace deal. The most recent round collapsed in April, with Palestinians livid over Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank and Israelis furious that Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had signed a unity pact with old foe Hamas.

Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Atteya said Israel had not respected a ceasefire agreement brokered by Cairo that ended the last Gaza war in 2012 and it was time the blockade of the coastal enclave - also enforced by next-door Egypt - was lifted.

Israel has signalled it wants a de-facto halt to fighting rather than an agreement that would preserve Hamas's arsenals and shore up its status by improvingGaza's crippled economy.

The main U.N. agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said more than 167,000 displaced Palestinians had taken shelter in its schools and buildings, following calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighbourhoods ahead of military operations.

"His threats do not frighten either Hamas or the Palestinian people, and the (Israeli) occupation will pay the price for its massacres against children and civilians," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored what he said was a lack of resolve among all parties.

"It's a matter of their political will. They have to show their humanity as leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian," he told reporters. 

 

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Summary

Israel's military pounded targets in the Gaza Strip Tuesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country needed to be prepared for a long conflict in the Palestinian enclave, squashing any hopes of a swift end to 22 days of fighting.

Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh before dawn on Tuesday, causing damage but no casualties, Gaza's interior ministry said.

The military said five soldiers had died in a gun battle with militants who crossed into Israel via a tunnel near the community of Nahal Oz, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

Fifty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed since Israel launched its offensive on Gaza.

No casualties or damage were reported.

Israel initially baulked, having abandoned its own offer to extend a 12-hour truce from Saturday when Palestinian rockets kept flying.

Hamas said its forces had infiltrated Israel to retaliate for the killing of children in a beach camp.


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