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Israel hits key Hamas targets in Gaza offensive early Wednesday

JERUSALEM (AP) -- The Israeli army on Wednesday intensified its offensive on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, striking Hamas sites and killing at least 14 people on the second day of a military operation it says is aimed at quelling rocket fire against Israel.

The offensive has set off the heaviest fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas since an eight-day battle in November 2012. Militants have unleashed rocket salvos deeper into Israeli territory than before, and Israel mobilized thousands of forces along the Gaza border for a possible ground invasion into the Palestinian territory.

Israel's defense minister warned the offensive would be long-term.

"The operation against Hamas will expand in the coming days, and the price the organization will pay will be very high," Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said.

Since the offensive began Tuesday, Israel has attacked more than 400 sites in Gaza, killing at least 41 people. The strikes came after militants fired more than 160 rockets at Israel, including one that reached the northern Israeli city of Hadera for the first time. The city is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Gaza.

The army said it attacked more than 160 sites in Gaza early Wednesday, including 118 concealed rockets launching sites, six Hamas compounds - including naval police and national security compounds - 10 militant command centers, weapons storage facilities and 10 tunnels used for militant activity and to ferry supplies in from Egypt. The border between Gaza and Egypt has effectively been closed for months.

Gaza health official Ashraf Al-Kedra said Wednesday's airstrikes killed one militant in south Gaza, an 80-year-old woman, the son, wife and neighbor of a Hamas militant, and three others whose affiliation was not immediately known.

Israel's army said it targeted a militant with the Islamic Jihad militant group who had launched rockets toward Israel. Separately, Islamic Jihad claimed that one of its militants was killed with his mother and four siblings, but Al-Kedra said they were all civilians.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought numerous times over the years. But until recently they had been observing a truce that ended the previous hostilities in 2012.

Tensions have been rising since the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on June 12. Israel accused Hamas of being behind the abductions, although it provided no proof.

Israel then launched a crackdown on the group's members in the West Bank and arrested hundreds of people. Hamas, which controls Gaza, responded by stepping up rocket fire.

The situation deteriorated last week after the bodies of the three were found, followed a day later by the abduction of Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem - who was later found burned to death in what Palestinians believe was a revenge attack. Six Jewish Israelis were arrested in the killing.

It was a sharp contrast to the large number that hit Israeli cities the night before, setting off air raid sirens in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other areas of the country.

In amateur video obtained by The Associated Press, guests at an outdoor wedding in the city of Holon, near Tel Aviv, ran screaming for cover as a rocket was intercepted in the sky, blowing up. The bride and groom rushed down the aisle as a second rocket whizzed above.

By early Wednesday, air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv and Israel's south, and the army said two rockets were apparently intercepted above the central Israeli city by an anti-missile battery. In total, at least seven rockets were fired toward Israel on Wednesday, and the "Iron Dome" anti-missile system intercepted about half of them mid-air, the army said. There were no reported injuries.

Lerner, the army spokesman, told reporters that the military's aim was to take a "substantial toll" on Hamas and to deplete its rocket capabilities. He said the army would gradually ramp up its strikes on Gaza.

"The organization is going to pay for its aggression. It is literally holding us hostage with its rockets," Lerner said. "The country is not willing for this situation to continue."

About 2,000 people attended a funeral for eight Palestinians, including at least one militant, four adults and two children, who were killed Tuesday.

In the attack, an airstrike flattened the home of a Hamas militant in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis. Israel's military said it had called the home shortly before the airstrike to warn civilians to leave.

A security official said the army has been telephoning homes, or firing small projectiles dubbed "knock on the roof," to warn civilians to leave buildings before demolishing homes. The official said the army also warns militants about such attacks if civilians are with them.

Hamas is far weaker than the last round of fighting with Israel in 2012.

At the time, Egypt was governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas' close ally. Following its ouster in 2013, Egypt's new government became hostile to Hamas and closed a network of smuggling tunnels used by the group as an economic lifeline, and as a way to smuggle in rockets.

An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing Israeli tactical strategy, said Israel could make more significant achievements against Hamas now than in previous rounds of fighting.

"Things are different now," the official said. "Their ability to rebuild their arsenal is far more limited."

Israel's Arab Neighbors Condemn Gaza Offensive

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© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
ha6ai July 09 2014 at 3:09 AM

The word is "TERRORISTS".

Israel should stop holding back and fight the war which is being waged on its people by "palestinian" TERRORISTS.

Obama and Europe continue to attack Israel, and it is time to tell them to stop supporting TERRORISTS.

Flag Reply +99 rate up
19 replies
Mark July 09 2014 at 3:27 AM

THE ISRAELI'S SHOULD HAVE DONE THIS LONG AGO, AND A GROUND ATTACK AGAINST THE HAMAS TERRORIST SHOULD BE obama's DECISION AS SOON AS IT STARTED, BUT OF COURSE HE IS ANTI ISRAEL !! OUR PRESIDENT HAS DONE NOTHING TO HELP THE ISRAELI'S STOP THE ROCKETS FROM HITTING IN AND AROUND CITIES IN ISRAEL !!
OUR TROOPS SHOULD BE TAKEN FROM AFGHANISTAN AND PLACED IN ISRAEL TO HELP THEM TO STOP HAMAS NOW !!!
THEN THE TROOPS IN IRAQ SHOULD BE BROUGHT HOME AND PLACED ON OUR BORDER WITH MEXICO !!! 2 BIRDS WITH ONE STONE !! ISRAEL IS OUR ALLY AND WE SHOULD HELP THEM IF NEEDED AND I BELIEVE WE ARE NEEDED !! WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PATRIOT MISSLES TO STOP THEIR ROCKETS ?? WHY AREN'T THEY BEING USED NOW !! THE PALESTINIANS ARE LIARS AND TERRORIST AND SHOULD BE TREATED AS SUCH !!! THE ONLY REASON THEY ARE NOT ATTACKING TURKEY, AND IRAN WHERE THE PALESTINIANS ARE ORIGINALLY FROM IS THAT THEY ARE NOT JEWISH !!! THE PALESTINIANS HAVE NO CLAIM TO ISRAEL AND NEVER HAVE !!!

Flag Reply +91 rate up
28 replies
ctmale6385 July 09 2014 at 4:31 AM

Good for Israel. They have a prime minister who iIS a leader, protecvtes his country from terrorists and will fight back --- unlike the whimp we have who draws meaningless lines in the sand and lets disease--ridden people flood our borders, many arte known gang members. We need a prime minister like Israel, not a whimp who got elected because of the color of his suitless skin!

Flag Reply +79 rate up
7 replies
traderdad July 09 2014 at 3:14 AM

Israel must make these people understand that they too are willing to fight and die if necessary to preserve the state of Israel. Never Again, Never!

Flag Reply +78 rate up
11 replies
cwlanders July 09 2014 at 4:15 AM

when I see people getting mad at Israel I then wonder how they would take Canada sending rockets dayly into the U.S.

Flag Reply +67 rate up
7 replies
kent_hern July 09 2014 at 4:05 AM

Israel will justifiably destroy Hamas in Gaza. Just as Hamas is breathing it's last gasps, the Muslim world will unite against Israel. The US and it's allies will then be forced into the fray to aid Israel. Russia will enter in to support the united Muslims. Who knows which way China will jump in.

Millions will die, why? All because Palestinians have chosen not to live in peace, kidnapped three school children and murdered them.

Flag Reply +66 rate up
6 replies
jfusco316 July 09 2014 at 7:47 AM

If your going to put rockets around women and children then HAMAS must not care about them. They use the excuse that civilians were killed and it's because of HAMAS ignorance. Blame HAMAS for all the recent deaths over there. They are the true TERRORISTS and deserve what they get.

Flag Reply +55 rate up
4 replies
Mo July 09 2014 at 4:03 AM

take no prisioners

Flag Reply +40 rate up
4 replies
bocavert July 09 2014 at 3:45 AM

Like Vietnam this is a conflict played out in another land aimed at our American values and way of life. As a Veteran I understand The right to defend oneself is a primary Right and an Obligation. This might answer those opposed to the US support of Israel. Wars must be supported. Most Palestinians are poor people. Whoever is paying for those Gaza rockets, they are the enemy and must be identified,and neutralized or eliminated to achieve a lasting peace.

Flag Reply +38 rate up
4 replies
fitzbeerman July 09 2014 at 7:44 AM

Maybe when the Gaza strip becomes a smoking hole, the terrorists will learn not to start wars.

Flag Reply +29 rate up
2 replies
duddly42 fitzbeerman July 09 2014 at 11:28 AM

Yeah right! they are to ignorant and filled with hatred to ever change.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
donpantanella fitzbeerman July 09 2014 at 12:37 PM

old dogs never learn

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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