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Published: Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 12:11:00 PM
Updated: Sunday July 13, 2014 MYT 12:48:07 PM

Israel, Hamas defy truce calls as deadly violence escalates

Smoke billows from buildings following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on July 12, 2014. -AFP

Smoke billows from buildings following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on July 12, 2014. -AFP

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories:  The world has implored Israel and Hamas to end hostilities as the toll from Israeli air strikes rose to 162 and Gaza militants fired more rocket salvos, but both sides have rejected a truce.

Saturday was the bloodiest day since the conflict erupted on Tuesday, claiming 56 Palestinian lives including a two-year-old child and a 73-year-old woman.

Israel continued to build up troops along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground invasion, warning Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate their homes.

With the rising Palestinian death toll, and with no Israelis killed, the UN Security Council unanimously urged Israel and Hamas to respect "international humanitarian laws" and stop the loss of life.

The 15-member council urged a return to "calm, and restitution of the November 2012 ceasefire", referring to Gaza's last deadly full-scale conflict.

The chief diplomats of Britain, France, Germany and the United States are due to discuss how to achieve a truce when they meet in Vienna on Sunday.

Israel's aerial campaign - the largest and deadliest since 2012 - saw strikes start early on Saturday, including one that hit a centre for the disabled, and another that killed two nephews of Gaza's former Hamas premier, Ismail Haniya.

Rockets fired from Gaza targeted Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with several intercepted over Israel's commercial capital and Jerusalem-bound projectiles hitting two southern West Bank cities.

Many have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system. 


Centre for disabled hit

An attack on the northern Gaza Strip hit the centre for the disabled, killing two disabled women and wounding four, the centre's director said.

"They didn't understand what was happening and they were so frightened," Jamila Alaywa said of those inside the care home.

"They fired the rocket and it hit us without any warning."

Later on Saturday night, an Israeli strike hit the Tuffah district in eastern Gaza City, targeting a home and a mosque and killing nearly 20 people, medics said.

Among the wounded was police chief Tayseer al-Batsh, officials said.

In another strike in the evening, three people were killed in Rafah in south Gaza.

And around dawn on Sunday a 14-year-old Palestinian boy died when a Israeli air strike hit his home in Jabaliya.

Meanwhile four Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded during an operation targeting a rocket launch site in northern Gaza, the Israeli army said. 


Rockets fired at Tel Aviv

Hamas Saturday unleashed a barrage of rocket fire after issuing a rare warning that it planned to fire at the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

Three rockets apparently targeting Jerusalem fell short, hitting Hebron and Bethlehem, the army and Palestinian security sources said, with no reports of casualties.

Of four fired at Tel Aviv, three were intercepted above the city and another hit open ground south of it, the army said.

Well over 500 projectiles have struck Israel during the conflict, and on Saturday evening two rockets fired from Lebanon hit uninhabited areas in northern Israel, the army said.

Israel responded with artillery fire.

Amid international efforts to mediate a truce, Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's government was in touch with both sides, his spokesman said.

Sisi met Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the crisis, and later warned any escalation would cause further loss of "innocent lives".

Washington has said it is willing to "leverage" its relationships in the region to bring about a ceasefire.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini plans to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories from July 14-17 and Egypt on July 18, her ministry said. 


Little sign of compromise

However, there has been little sign that either side is interested in an immediate end to the hostilities, which appear to be ramping up.

The Israeli army said it was sending messages to residents of northern Gaza "urging them to leave their homes for their own safety."

"It's unsafe to be near Hamas," it said.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Friday that "no international pressure will prevent us from striking, with all force, against the terrorist organisation which calls for our destruction."

Hamas's Haniya sounded a similar tone, saying: "(Israel) is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are (simply) defending ourselves."

The latest conflict unfolded after last month's kidnap and murder of three young Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the brutal revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

Israel cracked down on Hamas, though the Islamist group declined to confirm or deny involvement in the abductions, and Gaza militants hit back with intensified rocket fire.

On Saturday night three Palestinian protesters were injured in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Hebron and east Jerusalem, Palestinian security sources said.

Israel says preparations are under way for a possible ground incursion, with tanks and artillery massed along the border and some 33,000 reservists mobilised out of 40,000 approved by the cabinet.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said he expected a political decision on a possible ground operation to be taken by Sunday. -AFP


Tags / Keywords: Regional, gaza, palestine, Israeli air strikes

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