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Israel’s airtrikes on Gaza increase in intensity

The intensity of Israel’s aerial attacks against Gaza has been double that of the eight-day round of fighting in 2012.

Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

The intensity of Israel’s aerial attacks against Gaza has been double that of the eight-day round of fighting in 2012.

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that his forces were fighting Hamas with “increasing intensity” to quell its rocket barrages from Gaza, ignoring outside criticism and calls for restraint in the increasingly deadly Israeli aerial assaults. Even as he spoke, Palestinian militants fired salvos into central and southern Israel and said their arsenal had barely been dented.

Palestinian deaths from four days of Israeli aerial assaults surpassed 100, with hundreds wounded. As of Friday, no Israelis had been killed by Gaza rockets, although one caused the first serious instance of multiple injuries on the Israeli side since the hostilities intensified.

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“No international pressure will prevent us from operating with full force against a terrorist organization that calls for our destruction,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast from a news conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

With the government considering a ground invasion of Gaza, Netanyahu did not lay out his battle plans, but he said, “We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities.”

No outside mediator has stepped in yet to broker a renewal of the cease-fire that went into effect after the last round of fierce cross-border fighting, in November 2012, and neither side seemed inclined to de-escalate.

Netanyahu said he had held “good talks” in the last few days with the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, among others, and said he had told them, “No country would accept its civilians being fired at without a harsh response.”

But in a Middle East unnerved by the turmoil in Syria and Iraq, regional leaders began to protest loudly.

Outrage was expressed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, whose government had been slowly reconciling with Israel after the deadly Israeli commando seizure of a Turkish vessel trying to breach the blockade of Gaza four years ago.

“We cannot be positive about a normalization process while bombs are raining on our brothers in Palestine, Gaza,” Erdogan said. He accused Israel of lying about the rockets because of the conspicuous lack of Israeli fatalities.

In an interview with the NBC program “Meet the Press” to be broadcast Sunday, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, called for “an immediate end” to Israel’s aerial attacks on Gaza, declaring “the United States and the rest of the members of the Security Council have a moral and legal responsibility to put an end to this.”

In Geneva, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, urged Israel “to take all possible measures to ensure full respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precautions” in avoiding harm to civilians.

In an emergency appeal for funds, the World Health Organization said the hostilities had exacerbated an already stressed Palestinian health system, particularly in isolated Gaza.

The organization cited shortages of medicines, other medical supplies, and hospital fuel. The organization’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean added in a statement that a hospital, three clinics, and a water desalination facility in a refugee camp had been damaged in Gaza.

The Health Ministry in Gaza said 103 Palestinians had been killed in the Israeli air campaign by Friday evening, many of them civilians including women and children. One of the latest victims, Saher Abu Namous, 3, was killed in a strike in the Tal al-Zatar neighborhood.

The Israeli military says it has struck more than 1,100 locations in Gaza such as rocket launchers, weapons stores, and, more controversially, what it describes as command and control centers run by Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives in private homes. Israel says it first advises the occupants to vacate, using telephone alerts and unarmed missiles that strike the premises in a warning of the destruction to come. But five members of a family were killed in a strike on their home in the southern city of Rafah at dawn Friday.

Israel blames the militant groups, saying they hide behind Gaza’s civilians. “The difference between us is simple,” Netanyahu said. “We develop defensive systems against missiles in order to protect our civilians and they use their civilians to protect their missiles.”

The intensity of the aerial attacks has been double that of the eight-day round of fighting in 2012.

At the same time, the barrages of rockets launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad have reached much deeper into Israel than in the past and hit new targets spread across a wide area. More than 140 rockets were fired into Israel on Friday.

Several were intercepted above the Tel Aviv area by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. One rocket hit a gasoline station in the Israeli Mediterranean port city of Ashdod, setting it ablaze. Israel’s ambulance service said eight people were hurt, including a 61-year-man who suffered severe wounds.

Israeli officials say Hamas has been frustrated by the lack of Israeli fatalities so far. On its website, Hamas’s military wing said it was ready for a long fight.

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