Security Council urges Gaza truce
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and deployed ground troops inside Gaza early Sunday to raid a rocket launching site in the Palestinian territory.
More than 156 Palestinians have been killed in five days of bombardment.
Four Israeli soldiers were hurt in clashes during the brief incursion to destroy a rocket launching site in northern Gaza, the military said. It said they had returned to Israeli territory.
It was the first time that Israeli ground troops are known to have entered Gaza in the current offensive. But the operation was carried out by special forces and did not appear to be the beginning of a broad ground offensive.
On Saturday, Israel announced it would hit northern Gaza "with great force" to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel.
One of the Israeli strikes hit a center for the disabled where Palestinians said two patients were killed and four people seriously hurt. In a second attack, on Saturday evening, an Israeli warplane flattened the home of Gaza's police chief and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended, killing at least 18 people, officials said.
In New York, the U.N. Security Council called unanimously for a cease-fire.
So far, neither Israel nor Gaza's Hamas rulers have signaled a willingness to stop.
Israel carried out more than 1,200 air strikes during the week to try to diminish Hamas' ability to fire rockets at Israel, and the chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, said Saturday that there would be more strikes, especially in northern Gaza near the Israeli border.
"We are going to attack there with great force in the next 24 hours due to a very large concentration of Hamas efforts in that area," he said. Late Saturday, the military said it was ordering Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate "for their own safety."
Gaza's Interior Ministry urged residents in the area to ignore Israel's warnings and to stay in their homes, saying the announcement was Israeli "psychological warfare" and an attempt to create confusion.
Shortly after the Israeli announcement, an Israeli warplane struck the home of the Gaza police chief, Taysir al-Batsh, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50, said Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. He said that worshipers were leaving the mosque after evening prayers at the time of the strike and that some people are believed to be trapped under the rubble.
Meanwhile, Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, fired nearly 700 rockets and mortars at Israel during the week and said it wouldn't be the first to cease fire.
In a sign that the conflict might widen, Israel fired into Lebanon late Saturday in response to two rockets fired from there at northern Israel. There were no injuries or damage, but Israel fears militant groups in Lebanon may try to open a second front.
Israel has said it is acting in self-defense against rockets that have disrupted life across much of the country. It also accuses Hamas of using Gaza's civilians as human shields by firing rockets from there.
Critics said Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human-rights group B'Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, "this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well."
The Israeli military said that it has targeted sites with links to Hamas, including command centers, and that it issues early warnings before attacking. But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed family homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough after the warnings.
Before dawn Saturday, an Israeli missile hit the Palestine Charity, a center for the physically and mentally disabled in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, said its director, Jamila Alaiweh.
The center is home to nine patients, including four who were spending the weekend with their families away from the center, said Alaiweh. Of the remaining five, two were killed and three suffered serious burns and other injuries, the director said. A caregiver was also injured, she added. The director said one of the women killed had cerebral palsy and the other had severe mental disabilities.
The missile destroyed the bottom floor of the two-story building. Rescuers sifted through the pile of rubble, pulling out a folded-up wheelchair and a children's workbook.
An Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said he was looking into the incident.
Kidra, the health official, said Israeli strikes raised the death toll there to more than 156, with over 1,060 wounded. Among the dead was a nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas leader, who was killed in an air strike near his home, Hamas officials said.
Though the exact breakdown of casualties remains unclear, dozens of the dead were civilians. Israel has also demolished dozens of homes it says are used by Hamas for military purposes.
"Am I a terrorist? Do I make rockets and artillery?" screamed Umm Omar, a woman in the southern town of Rafah whose home was destroyed in an air strike. It was not immediately known why the building was targeted.