Israeli strikes, Hamas rockets resume after pause

GAZA CITY, Gaza – Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rockets resumed after a brief pause Wednesday to allow food and fuel to reach Palestinian civilians in Gaza, where an Israeli warplane dropped leaflets urging some residents to flee because of imminent attacks.

Even as the Israeli government tentatively welcomed a cease-fire proposal from Egypt and France, its military was instructed to continue its assault on Hamas.

The proposal could mark the first sign of a possible exit from 12 days of bloodshed in Gaza. But Israel says it needs guarantees that any cease-fire will halt rocket fire and prevent Hamas from rearming, while Hamas demands that Gaza’s blockaded border crossings be opened.

Israeli strikes in response to continued Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel have killed at least 688 Palestinians since Dec. 27, including around 350 civilians, among them 130 children, according to Palestinian officials.

Israel says it has killed at least 130 Gaza militants since it launched its ground offensive Saturday. Ten Israelis have been killed since the fighting began, including three civilians.

On Wednesday, 29 Palestinians were killed, including at least 22 civilians and two Islamic Jihad militants, medics said. In one incident, a family of four was killed in an airstrike on their car, medics said.

In the Jebaliya refugee camp, there was a mass funeral for 40 people killed Tuesday by Israeli mortar fire toward a U.N. school. Israel said it was responding to an attack by Hamas militants who fired mortar shells from an area near the school.

The bodies, wrapped in blankets, were laid out in a long row on the ground, with mourners kneeling in prayer before them.

Israel carried out 40 airstrikes Wednesday on targets including smuggling tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border, Israel’s chief army spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benayahu said.

An Israeli combat officer, identified as Lt. Col. Amir, said troops neutralized hundreds of explosives devices, including booby-trapped houses.

Residents said 16 houses on the border were destroyed, with Israel presumably targeting buildings shielding tunnel entrances. Hamas had about 300 smuggling tunnels in the area before the offensive, and Israel has already destroyed dozens in repeated strikes.

Fida Kishta, an area resident, said she could hear sporadic shelling from F-16 planes.

“I feel like the ground is shaking when we hear the shelling. People are terrified,” Kishta said.

In the evening, an Israeli warplane dropped leaflets over the Rafah refugee camp on the Gaza-Egypt border, urging residents to flee because of planned Israel strikes. Hamas has weapons smuggling tunnels in the area, and Israel has already destroyed dozens of them in airstrikes.

“Because Hamas uses your houses to hide and smuggle military weapons, the IDF will attack the area, between the Egyptian border until the beach road,” the leaflet said, according a local U.N. official.

After the leaflets were dropped, about 5,000 fled to two U.N. schools turned into temporary shelters. Despite the army’s push, Gaza militants fired 14 rockets Wednesday, including hits on the cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon.

Rocket fire has fallen off somewhat as Israeli troops tighten their hold on Gaza, taking over open areas used to launch rockets, but Gaza residents say militants are still launching from heavily populated areas.

Israel released footage of suspected Hamas militants captured by Israeli troops. The men were blindfolded and their hands were bound with plastic cuffs. Several were cuffed together, and led away by soldiers. Others were seen kneeling on the sandy ground.

The army spokesman said 120 suspected militants have been captured.

“We uncovered many tunnels for kidnapping soldiers, at least one car bomb, booby trapped dolls, tunnels — an underground city,” Benyahu told Israel TV’s Channel 10.

With the renewed fighting, a truce deal still seemed distant. There are also wide gaps between the demands raised by Israel and Hamas.

Still, Israel was to send an envoy, senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad, to Cairo on Thursday to hear more about the French-Egyptian truce proposal, whose terms still remain unclear.

The plan calls for an immediate cease-fire for a limited period to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. It also calls for an urgent meeting of Israel and the Palestinian side on arrangements to prevent any repetition of military action and to deal with the causes.