Israel troops briefly raid Gaza as offensive rages
Israel says it has struck more than 1,200 targets
Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and deployed ground troops inside Gaza for the first time early Sunday to raid a rocket launching site in the Palestinian territory. More than 156 Palestinians have been killed.
Four Israeli soldiers were hurt in clashes during the brief incursion to destroy a rocket launching site in northern Gaza, the military said. It said the troops later returned to Israeli territory.
It was the first time that Israeli ground troops are known to have entered Gaza in the current offensive. But the operation was carried out by special forces and did not appear to be the beginning of a broad ground offensive.
Israeli airstrikes pounded targets in Gaza, with one hitting a centre for the disabled and killing two patients and wounding four people, Palestinians. In a second attack Saturday night, an Israeli warplane flattened the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50, officials said.
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In New York, the UN Security Council called unanimously for a ceasefire, while Britain's foreign minister said he will discuss cease-fire efforts with his American, French and German counterparts on Sunday.
So far, neither Israel nor Gaza's Hamas rulers have signalled willingness to stop.
Israel has carried out more than 1,200 airstrikes this week to try to diminish Hamas' ability to fire rockets at Israel, and the chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, said Saturday there would be more strikes, especially in northern Gaza near the Israeli border.
"We are going to attack there with great force in the next 24 hours due to a very large concentration of Hamas efforts in that area," he said. Late Saturday, the military said it was ordering Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate "for their own safety."
Gaza's Interior Ministry urged residents in the area to ignore Israel's warnings and to stay in their homes, saying the announcement was Israeli "psychological warfare" and an attempt to create confusion.
We are going to attack there with great force in the next 24 hours due to a very large concentration of Hamas efforts in that area.- Israeli military Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, speaking about northern Gaza
Shortly after the Israeli announcement, an Israeli warplane struck the home of the Gaza police chief, Taysir al-Batsh, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50, said Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. He said worshippers were leaving the mosque after evening prayers at the time of the strike and that some people are believed to be trapped under the rubble.
Meanwhile, Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, has fired nearly 700 rockets and mortars at Israel this week and said it wouldn't be the first to cease fire.
The CBC's Derek Stoffel reported from Gaza City that Hamas launched 10 rockets aimed at Tel Aviv but that most of those rockets have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defence system.
Israel has said it's acting in self-defence against rockets that have disrupted life across much of the country. It also accuses Hamas of using Gaza's civilians as human shields by firing rockets from there.
Critics said Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, "this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well."
Israel claims targets linked to Hamas
The Israeli military said it has targeted sites with links to Hamas, including command centers, and that it issues early warnings before attacking. But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed family homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following the Israeli warnings.
Before dawn Saturday, an Israeli missile hit the Palestine Charity, a centre for people with physical and mental disabilities in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, said its director, Jamila Alaiweh.
The director said one of the women killed had cerebral palsy and the other suffered had severe mental handicaps. Among the three wounded patients were a quadriplegic, one with cerebral palsy and one with mental disabilities, she said.
The missile destroyed the bottom floor of the two-story building. Rescuers sifted through the pile of rubble, pulling out a folded-up wheelchair and a children's workbook.
An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said he was looking into the incident.
An army statement said that from Friday morning to Saturday morning, Israel targeted 158 targets "affiliated with Hamas terrorism" in Gaza, including dozens of rocket launchers and a mosque where Hamas stored rockets and weapons.
Israel also targeted several civilian institutions with presumed ties to Hamas, widening its range of targets. Palestinian officials said this included a technical college, a media office, a small Kuwait-funded charity and a branch of an Islamic bank.
Al-Kidra, the health official, said Israeli strikes raised the death toll there to more than 156, with over 1,060 wounded. Among the dead was a nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas leader, who was killed in an airstrike near his home, Hamas officials said.
Though the exact breakdown of casualties remains unclear, dozens of the dead also have been civilians. Israel has also demolished dozens of homes it says are used by Hamas for military purposes.
"Am I a terrorist? Do I make rockets and artillery?" screamed Umm Omar, a woman in the southern town of Rafah whose home was destroyed in an airstrike. It was not immediately known why the building was targeted.
At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, 4-year-old Shayma al-Masri was in stable condition Saturday with shrapnel injuries to her upper body.
Her mother, a 17-year-old brother and a 14-year-old sister were killed earlier this week when two missiles struck as the family walked in their neighbourhood, said Shayma's aunt Samah. The girl is left with her father and three older brothers.
The aunt, addressing Israeli mothers, said children are precious on both sides of the conflict.
'Just like you fear for your children we fear for our children'
"You can hide your children in the bomb shelters when you need them, but where do I hide her (Shayma)?" she said. "When the child comes to hide in my arms and I find the entire house falling on top of us what do I do then? Just like you fear for yourselves we fear for ourselves too. Just like you fear for your children we fear for our children too."
The "Iron Dome," a U.S.-funded, Israel-developed rocket defense system, has intercepted more than 130 incoming rockets, preventing any Israeli fatalities so far. A handful of Israelis have been wounded by rockets that slipped through.
On Saturday, air raid sirens went off in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel's two largest cities, both located nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Gaza. Most of the rockets were intercepted or fell in open areas, though one landed near the Palestinian city of Hebron in the West Bank. A house was damaged but there were no injuries.
The frequent airstrikes have turned bustling Gaza City into a virtual ghost town during the normally festive monthlong Ramadan holiday, emptying streets, closing shops and keeping hundreds of thousands of people close to home where they feel safest from the bombs.
The offensive marks the heaviest fighting since a similar eight-day campaign in November 2012 to stop Gaza rocket fire. The outbreak of violence follows the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack.
Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion, with soldiers atop vehicles mobilized and ready to move if the order arrives.
The statement calls for "the reinstitution of the November 2012 cease-fire," which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.
The press statement, which is not legally binding but reflects international opinion, is the first response by the UN's most powerful body, which has been deeply divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In London, Foreign Minister William Hague of Britain, a close Israeli ally, said he had spoken to his Israeli counterpart and called for an "immediate de-escalation" and expressed his "deep concern" about civilian casualties.
The Arab League said foreign ministers from member states will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Monday.
With files from CBC News