Fired up: Gaza conflict intensifies

Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed 10 Palestinians on Saturday, five of them militants, as nine Israelis were hurt by rocket fire, four of them soldiers, medics said.

The bloodshed raised to 40 the total number of Palestinians killed in just over 72 hours of Israeli air strikes, while another 393 were injured, Gaza's emergency services said.

In the same period, three Israelis have been killed by rockets and another 18 injured, 10 of them soldiers, police and the army said.

In the latest strike, warplanes hit the southern Gaza city of Rafah, killing Osama Qadi (25) and injuring another two people, emergency services spokesperson Adham Abu Selmiya said.

Earlier attacks on Rafah killed five people, including a Hamas militant called Mukhlis Adwan. Ambulance worker Awad Nahal and three others believed to be civilians also died.

Another three people – all Hamas militants – were killed in a strike on Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, with security sources naming them as Ali Manameh, Hossam Abdel Jawad and Assaf Gharwish.

Palestinian medics said another man, an Islamic Jihad militant wounded in a strike on Zeitun in Gaza City earlier in the day, died of his injuries. They named him as 24-year-old Mohammed Yassin.

Meanwhile in Israel, nine people were injured by rocket fire on Saturday.

Four were soldiers who sustained light injuries, the army said, with military sources saying they were "inside a building" at the time.

The military said the incident occurred in the Eshkol regional council area, and Hamas militants claimed the attack, saying they had fired five mortar rounds at a "position" in Reim some eight kilometres from central Gaza.

During the afternoon, another five Israelis were lightly injured when four rockets hit the southern coastal town of Ashdod, scoring a direct hit on a block of flats and a vehicle, the police and army said.

Right to defend itself
Rocket attacks fired by Palestinian militants on Israel from Gaza were a "precipitating factor" for the conflict that has engulfed the two sworn enemies, a White House official said Saturday.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said both President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree that de-escalation is preferable, provided that Hamas ceases firing on Israel.

The two leaders have spoken by telephone every day since the situation unfolded, he said.

"We believe that the precipitating factor for the conflict was the rocket fire coming out of Gaza," Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed to Asia.

"We believe that Israel has a right to defend itself, and they'll make their own decisions about the tactics that they use in that regard."

Obama has also spoken by telephone with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Washington has urged both leaders to press Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel.

"They have the ability to play a constructive role in engaging Hamas and encouraging a process of de-escalation," Rhodes said.

As he spoke, the Turkish leader was in Egypt for a visit overshadowed by Israel's aerial assault on neighboring Gaza.

"The Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and operations," Rhodes said. "What we want is same thing the Israelis want, which is an end to the rocket fire coming out of Gaza."

The senior aide disputed that an Israeli airstrike that killed Ahmed Jaabari, the top military commander of Hamas, on Wednesday had triggered the fresh outbreak of violence. – AFP.

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