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Israeli forces pound Rafah overnight, killing dozens

Aug. 2, 2014 10:25 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 3, 2014 1:04 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces continued its assault on Gaza for a 26th day on Saturday, killing over 60 Palestinians as airstrikes and artillery shelling targeted houses and mosques across the Strip.

At least 35 of the Palestinians killed overnight were slain in Rafah, a day after an incident in the southern city led to the collapse of an agreed-upon 72-hour ceasefire.

Medical sources said Israeli raids on UN-funded public housing buildings in the Saudi neighborhood west of Rafah killed at least 23 people after midnight. About 15 dead bodies from the attack on the neighborhood were taken to the Emirati Hospital in the city and eight others were evacuated to the Kuwaiti Hospital.

Additionally, five people including three children were killed by a Israeli airstrike on the home of al-Nayrub family in the Sabra neighborhood of Rafah.

The death toll since the beginning of the Israeli offensive has surpassed 1,660, according to the ministry of health. Over 8,700 Palestinians ave been injured.

Israeli forces had also targeted Rafah on Friday after Palestinian militants carried out an operation in the city which left two soldiers dead and one missing.

Hamas' militant wing says the operation took place at 7:00 a.m., an hour before the ceasefire was to start.

"What happened east of Rafah Friday morning was that occupation forces took advantage of the alleged humanitarian ceasefire to penetrate our land for more than two kilometers," a statement from the al-Qassam Brigades said early Saturday.

"We estimate that our fighters who were in the area clashed with the Israeli troops around 7:00 a.m before the alleged ceasefire went into effect. Then, Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling targeted Palestinian civilians after 10:00 a.m breaching the ceasefire under the pretext of searching for a missing soldier."

"We lost contact with a group of fighters ... when Israeli occupation forces penetrated east of Rafah. We suspect that they were all killed by Israeli shelling, including the Israeli soldier who, supposedly, was abducted by the group."

The Israeli army said that "an attack ... executed against (Israeli) forces operating to decommission a tunnel" occurred at 9:30 a.m.

"Initial indication suggests that an (army) soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident," the army said in a statement.

US condemns capture of soldier

Though Hamas spokespeople challenged the chronology of events put forward by the Israeli army, the United States took Israel's version of Friday's incident at face value, and a White House spokesman called the Hamas attack a "barbaric violation of the ceasefire."

President Barack Obama said the US "unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers, and abducting a third almost minutes after a ceasefire had been announced."

"If they are serious about trying to trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released, as soon as possible."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, for its part, accused Hamas and other Gaza militants of "flagrantly violating" the ceasefire.

But Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum responded that "it is the (Israeli) occupation which violated the ceasefire. The Palestinian resistance acted based on ... the right to self defense."

US Secretary of State John Kerry had said that once the ceasefire was under way, Israeli and Palestinian representatives, including from Hamas, would begin talks in Cairo on a more durable truce.

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad later said Egypt was postponing the talks after news of the Israeli soldier's capture, but Cairo said the invitation to talk was "still in place."

And president Mahmoud Abbas said a joint delegation, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, would travel to Cairo Saturday for talks despite the renewed fighting.

Death toll continues to rise

The morning after one of the bloodiest days of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, the death toll soared as Israeli forces continued attacks.

Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra identified some of the victims of heavy Israeli bombardment on Rafah early Saturday as Asil Shaban Gheith, 3, Sufyan Farouq Gheith, 35, his father Farouq Gheith, 65, Ahlam Numan Zurub, 30, Amir Raafat Zurub, 18, Subhiyya Zurub, 55, Rawan Nashat Siyam, 12, Udayy Raafat Zurub, 7, Suad Numan Zurub, 34, Shah Raafat Zurub, 10 and Khalid Raafat Zurub, 8.

Additionally, Israeli forces shelled the al-Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City on Saturday, killing Hamdi Muhammad Abd al-Aziz Ayyad and his son Shadi.

An Israeli airstrike also hit the home of the Qandil family in al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, killing Wael al-Sayyid, Muhammad Qandil, and Omar Qandil.

Earlier, an Israeli strike targeted the al-Arjani family home in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, leaving two members of the family dead.

Israeli strikes on the northern town of Jabaliya before that killed Fuad Muhammad Addada, 28, and Dawood Zakariyya Suleiman, 54.

Addada was killed by an airstrike on his home, while Suleiman was killed by raids on al-Omari mosque in the town.

Seven members of al-Shaer family in Bashit refugee camp south of Rafah were also killed by Israeli attacks.

Israeli warplanes also hit Imam al-Shafee Mosque in the al-Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

AFP contributed to this report
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