Fresh Israeli air strikes on Gaza leave more Palestinians dead

Palestinians carry the body of Islamic Jihad militant Hamed Abu Metlak during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (Reuters)

Three Palestinians, including a child, were killed in Israeli air strikes near the Gaza town of Khan Yunis on Monday morning, bringing the toll in three days of violence to 21, medics told AFP.

A first man, named as 24-year-old Suleiman Abu Mutlaq, was killed in a raid east of Khan Yunis, while the second, who was not immediately named, was killed when a strike hit his motorbike south of Khan Yunis, medical sources said.

The child was on his way to school when he was killed by the Israeli shelling, Al Arabiya correspondent said.

Israeli war planes carried out new air strikes on Gaza overnight on Monday, wounding 35, after Israel’s premier vowed no let-up against rocket-firing Palestinians.

Hamas emergency services spokesman Adham Abu Selmiya reported at least six air strikes across the Gaza Strip, including two in Jabalia refugee camp that left 33 people injured, “mostly children.”

Two strikes hit east of Gaza City, injuring two, and two more raids hit open fields, one in Beit Lahiya in the north, and a second in central Khan Yunis.

An Israeli spokeswoman confirmed the strikes saying they “targeted a weapons storage facility and four rocket launching sites in the northern Gaza Strip, as well as a rocket launching site in the southern Gaza Strip.”

The renewed strikes came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned raids would continue “as long as necessary” and Hamas officials said efforts to broker a ceasefire through Egypt were not bearing fruit, according to AFP.

A report carried out by Israel’s Haaretz daily said that some 200,000 pupils will remain at home again on Monday, as schools remain closed in Beersheva, Ofakim, Ashdod, Yavneh, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malakhi and Netivot, and in all the other smaller communities that are between seven and 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip.

Violence has spiked since Friday when Israeli jets raided the Gaza Strip, killing the head of an armed group and prompting barrages of rocket fire into the Jewish state.

Committed to a ceasefire

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has spoken by telephone with Hamas Chief Khaled Meshaal and Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ramadan Salah about the recent escalation in the Gaza Strip, and both leaders said that they were committed to a ceasefire, the Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported on Sunday.

Egyptian Ambassador to the Palestinian Authority Yasser Othman told Ma’an on Sunday that Egypt is in “a race against time in order to halt hostilities” in Gaza.

On Sunday, the death toll in Gaza hit 18 and Israel said more than 120 rockets had landed in its territory, wounding four.

And Netanyahu warned that operations “will continue as long as necessary.”

“I have given orders to strike all those who plan on attacking us,” he said during a tour of southern Israel, public radio reported.

“The Israeli army has already dealt heavy blows to the terrorist organizations,” he added.

Islamic Jihad, which has claimed responsibility for most of the rocket fire into Israel since Friday, quickly issued a statement in response, vowing that “operations will continue whatever the price.”

“Escalation will be met with escalation, and what is coming is even greater,” the group said.

Israel’s top military officer said there would be no end in sight while rocket fire continued.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Force) has been responding, and will continue to do so with strength and determination against any firing of rockets at Israel,” said Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.

Both side called for action from the U.N. Security Council on Sunday, as the international peacemaking Quartet was to hold its first top-level meeting in six months on Monday.

Israel criticized international “silence” over rocket fire from Gaza, while the Palestinians accused the Jewish state of “crimes of aggression against the Palestinian people.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned on Sunday that “the current escalation is liable to be lengthy.” He said that he plans to have the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system declared a “national emergency project,” so as to expedite the manufacture and deployment of additional batteries, Haaretz reported. A fourth Iron Dome battery is being prepared for deployment and is expected to be operational within weeks.

Iron Dome systems

Earlier on Sunday, security officials said the Iron Dome systems performed extraordinarily over the weekend. The systems use a missile called “Tamir” to intercept incoming rockets, according to the report published by Haaretz.

On Sunday, Israel carried out four air strikes killing three Palestinians, including 12-year-old Ayub Asaliya, killed on his way to school in Jabaliya refugee camp.

And Israel’s Defense Ministry said Gaza armed groups had fired at least 124 rockets at the Jewish state since Friday, including 68 Qassams and 44 longer-range Grads, with Israel carrying out 26 air strikes on Gaza.

In Israel, four people were injured on Saturday, and several others were treated for shock after two Grads hit Beersheva on Sunday afternoon, medics said.

The violence erupted on Friday afternoon when an Israeli strike killed Zuhair al-Qaisi, the head of the armed Popular Resistance Committees group.

Additional strikes brought the death toll in Gaza to 15, including five PRC militants and 10 from Islamic Jihad, in the deadliest 24-hour period in and around Gaza in more than three years.

In response, armed groups lobbed a barrage of rockets into Israel, most of them claimed by Islamic Jihad’s armed wing.

The Israeli army said Qaisi was involved in planning a deadly August 2011 attack in which militants sneaked across the border from Egypt’s Sinai and killed eight in Israel's southern Negev desert.

And it said he was planning a similar attack “in the coming days.”

The violence prompted concern from the United States and the European Union but there was no sign that a truce was on the horizon.

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