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Palestinians Flee as Israel Pounds Gaza05/14 06:16

   Palestinians grabbed their children and belongings and fled neighborhoods on 
the outskirts of Gaza City on Friday as Israel unleashed a heavy barrage of 
artillery fire and airstrikes, killing a family of 6 in their home. Israel said 
it was clearing a network of militant tunnels ahead of a possible ground 
invasion.

   GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Palestinians grabbed their children and 
belongings and fled neighborhoods on the outskirts of Gaza City on Friday as 
Israel unleashed a heavy barrage of artillery fire and airstrikes, killing a 
family of 6 in their home. Israel said it was clearing a network of militant 
tunnels ahead of a possible ground invasion.

   Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as 
fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the 
Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets, and the 
Israeli military has launched more than 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three 
high-rise apartment buildings, and has shelled some areas with tanks stationed 
near the frontier.

   As Israel and Hamas plunged closer to all-out war despite international 
efforts at a cease-fire, communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth 
night. Jewish and Arab mobs clashed in the flashpoint town of Lod, even after 
Israel dispatched additional security forces.

   The Gaza Health Ministry says the toll from the fighting has risen to 119 
killed, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 wounded. The Hamas and 
Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though 
Israel says that number is much higher. Seven people have been killed in 
Israel, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.

   Palestinians living outside Gaza City, near the northern and eastern 
frontiers with Israel, fled the intense artillery bombardment Friday. Families 
arrived at the U.N.-run schools in the city in pick-up trucks, on donkeys and 
by foot, hauling pillows and pans, blankets and bread.

   "We were planning to leave our homes at night, but Israeli jets bombarded us 
so we had to wait until the morning," said Hedaia Maarouf, who fled with her 
extended family of 19 people, including 13 children. "We were terrified for our 
children, who were screaming and shaking."

   In the northern Gaza Strip, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four 
children, aged 7 and under, were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced their 
four-story apartment building to rubble, residents said. Four strikes hit the 
building at 11 p.m., just before the family was going to sleep, Rafat's brother 
Fadi said. The building's owner and his wife were also killed.

   "It was a massacre," said Sadallah Tanani, another relative. "My feelings 
are indescribable."

   Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said tanks stationed near 
the border fired 50 rounds. It was part of a large operation that also involved 
airstrikes and was aimed at destroying tunnels beneath Gaza City used by 
militants to evade surveillance and airstrikes that the military refers to as 
"the Metro."

   "As always, the aim is to strike military targets and to minimize collateral 
damage and civilian casualties," he said. "Unlike our very elaborate efforts to 
clear civilian areas before we strike high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza, 
that wasn't feasible this time."

   The strikes came after Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for cease-fire 
talks that showed no signs of progress. Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations 
were leading the truce efforts.

   The fighting broke out late Monday when Hamas fired a long-range rocket at 
Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests there against the policing of a 
flashpoint holy site and efforts by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of 
Palestinian families from their homes.

   Since then, Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza, causing 
earth-shaking explosions in densely populated areas. Of the 1,800 rockets Gaza 
militants have fired, more than 400 fell short or misfired, according to the 
military.

   The rockets have brought life in parts of southern Israel to a standstill, 
and several barrages have targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, some 70 
kilometers (45 miles) from Gaza.

   Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the operation, saying in 
a video statement that Israel would "extract a very heavy price from Hamas."

   In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu about 
calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying "there has 
not been a significant overreaction."

   He said the goal now is to "get to a point where there is a significant 
reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks." He called the effort "a 
work in progress."

   Israel has come under heavy international criticism for civilian casualties 
during three previous wars in Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million 
Palestinians. It says Hamas is responsible for endangering civilians by placing 
military infrastructure in civilian areas and launching rockets from them.

   Hamas showed no signs of backing down. It fired its most powerful rocket, 
the Ayyash, nearly 200 kilometers (120 miles) into southern Israel on Thursday. 
The rocket landed in the open desert but briefly disrupted flight traffic at 
the southern Ramon airport. Hamas has also launched two drones that Israel said 
it quickly shot down.

   Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a 
ground invasion, which would be a chance "to increase our catch" of Israeli 
soldiers.

   The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem. A focal 
point of clashes was Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, on a hilltop compound revered 
by Jews and Muslims. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the 
Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which includes sites sacred to Jews, 
Christians and Muslims, to be the capital of their future state.

   The violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem and other mixed 
cities across Israel has added a new layer of volatility to the conflict not 
seen in more than two decades.

   The violence continued overnight into Friday. A Jewish man was shot and 
seriously wounded in Lod, the epicenter of the troubles, and Israeli media said 
a second Jewish man was shot. In the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Jaffa, an Israeli 
soldier was attacked by a group of Arabs and hospitalized in serious condition.

   Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some 750 suspects have been arrested 
since the communal violence began earlier this week. He said police had clashed 
overnight with individuals in Lod and Tel Aviv who hurled rocks and firebombs 
at them.

   The fighting deepened a political crisis that has sent Israel careening 
through four inconclusive elections in just two years. After March elections, 
Netanyahu failed to form a government coalition. Now his political rivals have 
three weeks to try to do so.

   Those efforts have been greatly complicated by the fighting. His opponents 
include a broad range of parties that have little in common. They would need 
the support of an Arab party, whose leader has said he cannot negotiate while 
Israel is fighting in Gaza.

 
 
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