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Israeli leader signals prolonged campaign in Gaza

Smoke engulfed parts of Gaza City Tuesday, a day after fighting resumed and lives were lost on both sides of the border.

Khalil Hamra/Associated Press

Smoke engulfed parts of Gaza City Tuesday, a day after fighting resumed and lives were lost on both sides of the border.

JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister Monday signaled there would be no quick end to the three-week-old Gaza war, telling Israelis that they must prepare themselves for a prolonged conflict in order to crush what he described as the double threat of rockets and “death tunnels” into Israel dug by Hamas and its associates.

The televised speech by Benjamin Netanyahu came after an informal lull by both sides in deference to a Muslim holiday was shattered by new fighting.

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Explosions hit a children’s play area in a Palestinian refugee camp near Gaza City and killed at least 10, explosions struck Gaza’s main hospital compound, and a mortar attack killed up to four Israelis on that country’s side of the border.

Israel also said Gaza gunmen attempted to infiltrate its territory through one of the military tunnels. The attackers fired at soldiers and several of the gunmen were killed, the military said. Israeli forces say they have located 31 tunnels, are aware of the existence of 10 more, and have demolished close to 20.

There was no indication Monday that either Israel or Hamas, the main militant group in Gaza, were prepared to embrace growing calls for an immediate halt to the conflict.

“Israeli citizens cannot live with the threat from rockets and from death tunnels — death from above and from below,” Netanyahu said in his remarks.

He said Israelis would not “end this operation without neutralizing the tunnels, whose sole purpose is killing our citizens.”

At least 1,072 Palestinians have been killed and 6,450 wounded since July 8, the vast majority civilians, the Associated Press reported, citing Hamas health officials.

The Israeli military says 52 soldiers have been killed, including four killed Monday in the mortar attack on southern Israel.

Two Israeli civilians and a Thai citizen working in Israel also have been killed.

Efforts by the UN Security Council and US Secretary of State John Kerry to achieve even a temporary halt in the fighting have proved ineffective so far.

Netanyahu did not announce an immediate broadening of the ground invasion in Gaza or any change in Israel’s stated goals of destroying Hamas’s rocket and tunnel infrastructure. But he suggested that the military campaign required “perseverance and determination” and said that the demilitarization of Gaza had to be “part of any solution, and the international community must demand that.”

His defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, spoke of a campaign that could last “more long days.”

“If the terrorist organizations in Gaza think they can break Israel and its citizens,” Yaalon said, “they will come to understand in the next few days that this is not the case.”

Israel and Hamas accused each other of responsibility for the explosions at the Shati refugee camp and Shifa Hospital. Hamas and its affiliates said Israeli aerial attacks were responsible.

The Israelis said errant Palestinian rockets that had been aimed at Israel but misfired were the cause.

The missile or rocket explosion hit an outside wall of the hospital compound, about 200 yards from the main entrance, and caused damage but no casualties.

Plainclothes security officers barred reporters from entering the compound to get close to where the rocket or missile fell.

In the explosion at the Shati refugee camp on the western edge of Gaza City, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA reported that at least 10 children were killed as they played in a park.

The Palestinian agency attributed the explosions to Israeli missiles. Gaza’s Health Ministry, offering a slightly different account, said the dead included at least eight children and two adults.

But Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, denied that Israel had carried out any attacks at Shati or near the main Gaza City hospital, Shifa, saying those blasts “have absolutely nothing to do with us.”

The Israeli military said the explosions had been caused by rockets initially aimed at Israel by militants that had gone astray.

Hamas fired barrages of rockets deep into Israel, setting off sirens as far north as the Haifa area.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it had warned Palestinian civilians in several areas of the eastern and northern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes “immediately,” through phone calls and text messages, signaling further escalation.

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