Palestinian civilian death toll climbs as Israel attacks

10:47 AM, Nov 19, 2012   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: Gaza conflict ongoing - PHOTOS
A Palestinian woman is helped by a paramedic out of her building, damaged during an Israeli air raid on a nearby sporting centre in Gaza City. Israeli air strikes on Sunday killed 31 Palestinians in the bloodiest day so far of its air campaign on the Gaza Strip, as diplomatic efforts to broker a truce intensified. (Photo credit MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

Michele Chabin, Special for USA TODAY

GAZA CITY - Israel intensified its attacks in Gaza on Monday, driving up the Palestinian death toll to more than 90 from the 6-day offensive aimed at halting Hamas rocket fire on Israel.

Israel began attacking homes of activists in Hamas, whose fighters have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel in the current round of fighting. About 75 Hamas rockets were fired Monday, among them one that hit an empty school. Schools in southern Israel have been closed since the start of the Israeli offensive Wednesday.

The Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group closely aligned with Hamas, said a leading figure in its militant wing, Ramez Harb was among those killed in a strike on a Gaza media center.

While Israel and Hamas were far apart in their demands for a cease-fire, both sides said they were open to a diplomatic solution -- and prepared for further escalation if that failed.

At the al Magazi refugee camp in Gaza, convoys of trucks and ambulances carried the bodies of their dead with the green flags of Hamas and a mixture of pride and sorrow. The people of the camp chant "God is great, death to Israel."

The body of Osama Abd Al Jawad, 26, a Hamas fighter with a wife and infant daughter, was draped with the green flag and taken to the local mosque.

"Being apart from him is hard but he will remain alive in my heart," said his father Mohammed Abd Al Jawad.

Many refugees in the camp, known for its support of Hamas, expressed defiance.
"As long as the Israelis keep on occupying our land we must keep on targeting their lands, even harder," said Osama's brother, Amjad.

Any cease-fire deal would draw mixed reviews from the Israeli towns and villages that have been the target of Hamas rockets.

Lior Amar, 24, who works at a sunglasses store in Beersheva, has had to run for cover multiple times a day this past week as megaphones blast warnings of incoming missiles.

"Seven, 10, even 12 sirens a day," she said. "We can't leave our homes," she said. Amar said the Palestinians "use every cease-fire to get themselves re-armed" by Iran, Syria and Egypt.

"We need to get rid of every terror cell in Gaza," she said. "The people of Gaza also want the terror organizations destroyed. The terrorists sacrifice their own people."
Oranit Ben-Gira, 25, is against an immediate cease-fire.

"For the past four years we've suffered through rocket fire that's made it impossible to lead normal lives," Ben-Gira said. "We need to do the job in Gaza so we can live in peace."

In Beersheva, most of the city's 200,000 residents took shelter in secure rooms, if they had them, or bomb shelters. Hundreds of regular soldiers and reservists waited at Beersheva's Central Bus Station for transport to the Gaza border some 25 miles away.
The mostly young men and women in uniform (women are also drafted in Israel) said they were trying to stay upbeat.

"I need to go and help my country any way I can," said Naftali Kassa, 27, a driver in civilian life. His rumpled uniform, taken out of storage, and gray sneakers identified him as a reservist.

Residents here are exhausted not only by the 3 dozen missiles that have landed since Wednesday but also by the dozens more that have landed here in the past four years.
In 2008, a similar barrage of rockets from Gaza prompted Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli invasion of Gaza that hammered Hamas fighters and destroyed many buildings where militants were hiding or using as offensive positions in battles.

Residents back then spent three weeks in shelters.

"During Cast Lead, as bad as it was, two or three missiles landed here every day," Amar said.

The rockets stopped, but only for a while. Soon the 1 million people who live in southern Israel were back on a war-footing as the rockets resumed until a massive barrage of about 150 was launched more than a week ago, making daily life a fear-filled experience, they say.

On Sunday a siren suddenly began wailing. Hanita Shariki sought shelter at a public bomb shelter in the Central Bus Station, an underground concrete room that can accommodate more than 100 people.

"I'm thinking of my 3-year-old son, who's at home with my husband, and how he's reacting," Shariki said. "Cast Lead was bad but this time, it feels like we're living through a real war."

But she was not in favor of a cease-fire unless Hamas agreed to stop its terror attacks.
"The army musn't stop until it's done the job," she said as she climbed the stairs out of the shelter, the rocket having hit a house in Beersheva.

Yitzak Bazal, 57, had a passenger in his taxi cab this week when the sirens began wailing, he said. He stayed with his taxi as his fare disappeared into the station for safety.

"There are times when I'm driving and there's no safe place to stop," Bazal said. "I continue to drive because my taxi rental costs $40 a day whether I drive it or not.
"I wish we could have a cease-fire but not one that's going to land us back in the shelters in a month or two."

Sarah Kashin Klein, who has four kids age 7 to 14, said her children have been out of school like others here for three days and are so far "quite calm and resilient."

Originally from Boston, Klein said she suffers from PTSD and that the missile attacks have "and put me in a state of hyper-alertness."

Eager to get away from the missiles, Klein took her family to Jerusalem for the weekend. Twenty-five minutes after they arrived, Jerusalem experienced its first air-raid siren in 21 years.

"I told my cousins it was a siren but they said, 'No, you're just shell-shocked.' They were in a state of disbelief," she said. "I went into action mode."

There are times, Klein said, "when I feel I can't do this anymore but what choice do I have?"

Her son, Dov Klein, 14, said it was fun to be out of school. But, "we have to stay home and can't go bike riding or do other things. I want this to end already."

The Negev desert area, where Beersheva is located, is home to nearly 200,000 Bedouin Arabs who live in towns, cities and encampments. Some said they don't like the rocket attacks from Gaza but their sympathies lie with the Palestinians.

"I wish the army would stop shelling Gaza," said Aisha al Hawasha, 21, a Bedouin student from a village near Dimona.

Dressed in a traditional Muslim head scarf and robe, al Hawasha acknowledged that "it's difficult to live with the rocket fire" from Gaza, but also that it is "difficult to see what is happening to our brothers in Gaza."

Contributing: Naser Naijar; Associated Press

Associated Press

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