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Medics: 2 killed in Israeli airstrike east of Gaza City

March 12, 2012 9:03 P.M. (Updated: March 14, 2012 11:13 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Two Palestinians were killed Monday evening in Israeli shelling east of Gaza City, bringing the death toll in Gaza to 25 since Friday, medics said.

Bassam al-Ajla and Muhammad Thaher were killed in an airstrike on the Shujaiyeh neighborhood, medical officials told Ma'an. They were members of the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, a Ma'an reporter said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said warplanes targeted a "terror squad" that was preparing to fire a rocket at Israel. The squad had fired rockets at Israel in recent days, she added.

Israeli aircraft simultaneously shelled an area near Beit Lahiya wounding two Palestinians and struck an open area north-west of Gaza City, a Ma'an correspondent said. Israel also bombed a tunnel near Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, he added.

In a statement, the Israeli army said its warplanes targeted two rocket launching sites in northern Gaza and a "terror tunnel" in the south.

The shelling comes amid intense efforts by Egyptian mediators and diplomats to broker a ceasefire following four days of heavy Israeli shelling on the Gaza Strip.

The latest escalation began Friday evening when Israel killed the head of the Popular Resistance Committees in an airstrike near Gaza City. Since Friday, 25 Palestinians have been killed and at least 80 injured including militants, civilians and children.

Earlier Monday, two Islamic Jihad militants were killed in strikes on Khan Younis in southern Gaza, and a 65-year-old man and his 30-year-old daughter were killed in Israeli shelling in Beit Lahiya in the north. A 15-year-old boy was also killed in Beit Lahiya on Monday but the Israeli army denied responsibility for his death.

Militants in Gaza have fired a barrage of rockets over the border in response to the shelling, causing no casualties in Israel.

Armed factions affiliated with Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committees, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Fatah said they fired projectiles into southern Israel on Monday.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said 42 rockets landed in Israel on Monday, reaching as far north as Gedera. The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that rockets landed 40 kilometers south of Tel Aviv.

The violence has drawn condemnation from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who called for restraint. The Arab League also urged the United Nations to intervene and stop the conflict.

But Israel signaled that it would not halt what it calls "preventive targeting" operations aimed at stopping rocket fire and cross-border attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of his Likud party in Parliament: "The Israeli army will continue to attack the terrorists in Gaza with strength and determination."

He also said the Israeli military was prepared to widen its operations and continue them for as long as necessary.

A senior Israeli military official told the Israeli news site Ynet on Monday that the army was prepared for any situation, including a ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

"We have everything we need and are ready to step it up if needed. There are many measures that we haven't employed yet," the army official added.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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