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Day 5: Israel 'Significantly Expands' War on Gaza; Civilian Death Toll Climbs

Israeli minister quoted as saying goal of the operation was "to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."

- Common Dreams staff

Palestinians search through the debris of the destroyed home of the al-Dallu family following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. (Photograph: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)UPDATE:  (3:39 PM EST)

Media coverage on Sunday afternoon reported an escalation of Israeli air strikes, including one devastating missile attack that claimed the lives of many civilians.

As Mondoweiss reports:

Sunday marked the deadliest day yet for Palestinians in Gaza, as Israel's heavy bombardment of the coastal strip killed yet more civilians. The death toll has risen to 72 people in Gaza; according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, at least 27 civilians have been killed so far. Additionally, according to the centre, "535 Palestinians, including 520 civilians, have been wounded – this number includes 140 children and 83 women."

Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian's Jerusalem correspondent, filed the following report on the deaths of at least 11 members of one family, ­including five women and four children, who were killed when Israel bombed a house in Gaza City:

The air strike flattened the home of the Dalou family in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City, causing the biggest death toll in a single incident since the offensive began last Wednesday.

The bodies of the children were pulled from the rubble and taken to the morgue at the Shifa hospital. The dead also included an 80-year-old woman.

Ismael Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, described the deaths as an “ugly massacre” and its military wing, al-Qassam Brigades, said: “The massacre of the Dalou family will not pass without punishment.”

Diggers at the scene of the explosion were scooping rubble from flattened buildings as rescuers tried to locate survivors.

Witnesses said there were chaotic scenes as the dead and injured were brought to the Shifa hospital, which has been on emergency footing since the start of Operation Pillar of Defence.

The bodies of four young children lay on two metal trays in the morgue, covered in dust and blood. A crowd of onlookers outside became increasingly distressed as the body of the children’s mother was wheeled in, covered in blankets.

The strike was believed to be aimed at a Hamas official, Mohamed Dalou.

And Reuters reports: Latest Israeli Missile Attack in Gaza Kills Eleven Civilians:

An Israeli missile killed at least 11 Palestinian civilians including four children in Gaza on Sunday, medical officials said, in an apparent attack on a top militant that brought a three-storey home crashing down.

International pressure for a ceasefire seemed certain to mount in response to the deadliest single incident in five days of Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Israel gave off signs of a possible ground invasion of the Hamas-run enclave as the next stage in its offensive, billed as a bid to stop Palestinian rocket fire into the Jewish state. It also spelt out its conditions for a truce.

U.S. President Barack Obama said that while Israel had a right to defend itself against the salvoes, it would be "preferable" to avoid a military thrust into the Gaza Strip, a narrow, densely populated coastal territory. Such an assault would risk high casualties and an international outcry.

A spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry said 11 people, all of them civilians, were killed when an Israeli missile flattened the home of the Dalu family. Medics said four women and four children were among the dead.

Israel's chief military spokesman said Yihia Abayah, a senior commander of rocket operations in the Gaza Strip, had been the target.

The spokesman, Yoav Mordechai, told Israel's Channel 2 television he did not know whether Abayah was killed, "but the outcome was that there were civilian casualties". He made no direct mention of the destroyed dwelling.

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Earlier:

More civilian deaths, including five children were reported overnight in the Gaza Strip as the war on Gaza entered its fifth day with missile strikes from the air and shellings from Israel warships battering the Palestinian territory. Arab media outlets were among those hit by airstrikes with many journalists wounded.

Early Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his military forces were prepared to "significantly" expand their offensive against Gaza.

"The operation in the Gaza Strip is continuing, and we are preparing to expand it," he told his cabinet, reports Agence France-Presse. Netanyahu said the IDF was "extracting a heavy price" from Hamas and other militant factions. "The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation," he said.

On Saturday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai was quoted by Israel's Haaretz newspaper as saying that the goal of the operation was "to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years".

The Guardian, which has been covering events in Gaza with live updates all week, reports:

The Palestinian death toll since the conflict began on Wednesday topped 50 after a night of sustained bombing that killed seven civilians, including five children, according to a Gaza health official. Two children died and 12 people were injured when two houses were hit in northern Gaza.

Shells fired from Israeli gunboats off the coast pummelled Gaza for an hour in the middle of the night, causing massive explosions, and six people were injured when two Israeli war planes hit a media building in Gaza City.

Al-Jazeera adds:

An air raid before dawn in Gaza City targeted a building housing the offices of local Arab media, wounding several journalists from al-Quds television, a station Israel sees as a mouthpiece of the Hamas movement which rules the Gaza Strip.

"At least six journalists were wounded, with minor and moderate injuries, when Israeli warplanes hit the al-Quds TV office in the Showa and Housari building in the Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City," health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told the AFP news agency, adding that one journalist lost his leg.

Witnesses reported extensive damage to the building, and said journalists had evacuated after an initial strike, which was followed by at least two more on the site.

A second media centre was targeted later on Sunday morning. Sky News, al-Arabiya, and the official Hamas-run channel al-Aqsa TV have offices in the building. Qudra said two journalists were injured in the attack.

Russian television station RT said its office was destroyed, adding that none of its staff were injured.

Despite the ongoing threat of a bloody ground invasion by the IDF, the US continues to give Israel its full backing and blessing.

"We are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself," said President Barack Obama from Thailand, where he is beginning a Pacific-Asia visit this week. Though he cautioned against an Israeli ground invasion, he made no objection to one if the Israeli's move forward with one.

Obama said his message to regional heads of state in neighboring countries like Egypt and Turkey was that "Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory," Obama said in his first public comments on the Gaza crisis.

"If this can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that is preferable, that's not just preferable for the people of Gaza, it's also preferable for Israelis because if Israeli troops are in Gaza they're much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded," he said.

Many critics of US policy, however, point out that Israel's abililty to operate with impunity when it comes to the Gaza Strip is because of the support it is given -- both militarily and politically -- by the world's only remaining super power.

As Glenn Greenwald argued on Saturday:

In reflexive defense of Israel, the US government thus once against put itself squarely at odds with key nations such as Turkey (whose prime minister accused Israel of being motivated by elections and demanded that Israel be "held to account" for mounting civilians deaths), Egypt (which denounced Israeli attacks as "aggression against humanity"), and Tunisia (which called on the world to "stop the blatant aggression" of Israel).

By rather stark contrast, Obama continues to defend Israel's free hand in Gaza, causing commentators like Jeffrey Goldberg to gloat, not inaccurately: "Barack Obama hasn't turned against Israel. This is a big surprise to everyone who has not paid attention for the last four years" (indeed, there are few more compelling signs of how dumb and misleading US elections are than the fact that the only criticism of Obama on Israel heard over the last year in the two-party debate was the grievance that Obama evinces insufficient fealty - rather than excessive fealty - to the Israeli government). That the Netanyahu government knows that any attempt to condemn Israel at the UN would be instantly blocked by the US is a major factor enabling them to continue however they wish. And, of course, the bombs, planes and tanks they are using are subsidized, in substantial part, by the US taxpayer.

Other western nations in Europe, however, are less inclined to give Israel the benefit of the doubt, with British Foreign Secretary William Hague warning Sunday that an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel much international sympathy and support,

Hague told Sky News television a ground assault would bring even more civilian casualties and would likely prolong the conflict.

"A ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation," Hague said.

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