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Israel expands strikes into northern Gaza

156 Palestinians have died in air raids in five days strikes in 5 days

Israeli soldiers watched smoke plumes rise from Gaza after an Israel Air Force bombing Saturday. One Israeli airstrike hit a home for the disabled, killing two and injuring four.

Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Israeli soldiers watched smoke plumes rise from Gaza after an Israel Air Force bombing Saturday. One Israeli airstrike hit a home for the disabled, killing two and injuring four.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel on Saturday widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and announced it would hit northern Gaza ‘‘with great force’’ to prevent rocket attacks from there on Israel.

In five days of bombardment, 156 Palestinians have been killed.

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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 UN Security Council called unanimously for a cease-fire, while Britain’s foreign minister said he will discuss cease-fire efforts with his American, French, and German counterparts Sunday.

So far, neither Israel nor Gaza’s Hamas rulers have signaled a willingness to stop.

Israel has carried out more than 1,200 airstrikes since last week to try to diminish Hamas’ ability to fire rockets at Israel, and the chief military spokesman, Brigadier General Motti Almoz, said Saturday 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, Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra said. He said worshippers 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, has fired nearly 700 rockets and mortars at Israel this 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’s 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 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 Israeli 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, its director, Jamila Alaiweh, said.

The center is home to nine patients, including four who were spending the weekend with their families away from the center, Alaiweh said. Of the remaining five, two were killed in the strike 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 handicaps. Among the three wounded patients were a quadriplegic, one with cerebral palsy, and one with mental disabilities, she said.

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, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, said he was looking into the incident.

At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, 4-year-old Shayma al-Masri was in stable condition Saturday with shrapnel injuries to her upper body.

Her mother, a 17-year-old brother, and a 14-year-old sister were killed earlier this week when two missiles struck as the family walked in their neighborhood, Shayma’s aunt Samah said. The girl is left with her father and three older brothers.

The aunt, addressing Israeli mothers, said children are precious on both sides of the conflict.

‘‘You can hide your children in the bomb shelters when you need them, but where do I hide her (Shayma)?’’ she said. ‘‘When the child comes to hide in my arms and I find the entire house falling on top of us, what do I do then? Just like you fear for yourselves, we fear for ourselves, too. Just like you fear for your children, we fear for our children, too.’’

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