Khalil Hamra/AP

Netanyahu: All Hamas members legitimate targets for Israeli attacks

At least 22 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes, including the wife and daughter of a Hamas military chief

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday in a press conference in Tel Aviv that commanders of Palestinian armed groups are legitimate targets for Israeli attacks after an alleged assassination attempt on a Hamas chief killed his wife and daughter instead.

"No Hamas member is immune," Netanyahu said during questions. The prime minister said the conflict was not over, and that if armed groups in Gaza fire at Israel, "they will be hit back seven-fold."

At least 22 Palestinians have been killed since the breakdown of the latest cease-fire between Israel and the Gaza Strip, a health ministry spokesman said. Four children were also among those killed, Palestinian news website Maan News quoted Ashraf al-Qidra as saying. Meanwhile, thousands of Gazans who had returned to their homes in areas devastated by more than five weeks of fighting left as Israeli airstrikes resumed, with many seeking shelter in United Nations schools, witnesses told Maan News.

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In response to Wednesday's deadly attacks, Hamas threatened to target Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv and warned international airlines to divert flights. In July, during the height of Israel's bombardment of Gaza, Hamas effectively shut down Ben-Gurion Airport by firing rockets at its runway — leading several air carriers to temporarily halt flights.

Before the threat was issued, Israel had already ordered that public bomb shelters within 50 miles of Gaza, including those in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, be opened and ready for use after rockets targeted the area. Two thousand Israeli reservists have been called up in the wake of the failed truce talks.

More than 2,029 Palestinians have died in Israel’s latest offensive in the occupied territory, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Nearly half a million Gazans have been driven from their homes by the fighting in the enclave of 1.8 million. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed in the most deadly war since Israel began blockading the territory in 2007, when Hamas took power.

Israel said rockets were fired from Gaza before the end of the last temporary cease-fire, a statement Hamas denied. But when Israel began airstrikes on the coastal enclave late Tuesday, armed groups in Gaza claimed rocket attacks on Israel as far north as Tel Aviv.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said on Wednesday: “The rocket fire which broke the cease-fire also destroyed the foundation on which the talks in Cairo were based.”

“The Egyptian initiative is based on a total and unconditional cessation of hostilities, which was clearly broken when rockets were fired into Israel.”

The Hamas-affiliated Al-Rasallah website quoted Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouq accusing Israel of fabricating reports of rockets that it said broke the cease-fire in order to try to assassinate the group’s military commander, Mohamed Deif, Israeli news website Haaretz reported.

Marzouq said instead of killing the chief, the air strikes in Gaza City killed his wife and daughter.

“The wife of the great leader was martyred with his daughter,” Marzouq said in comments on Facebook. The Israeli military did not specify any of the 60 strikes it carried out across Gaza since the end of the truce, but has tried to assassinate Deif in air strikes at least four times before – calling him responsible for bombings inside Israel.

An Israeli cabinet minister said on Wednesday that Deif was a legitimate target.

"Mohamed Deif deserves to die just like [Osama] bin Laden. He is an arch murderer and as long as we have an opportunity we will try to kill him," Interior Minister Gideon Saar told army radio according to news agency Agence France-Presse.

The head of the Palestinian delegation to Cairo, Azzam al-Ahmad, said his team would leave Egypt on Wednesday.

“We are leaving … but we have not pulled out of negotiations,” he said, adding that the Palestinian truce proposal had been given to Israel and they were still waiting for a response, according to Maan News.

The indirect talks were meant to lead to a lasting truce, but Palestinians accused Israel of being reluctant to present a serious proposal, according to Maan. Kais Abdel Karim, a member of the Palestinian delegation to Cairo, said the two sides failed to reach agreement on any of the points in the Egyptian proposal but had exchanged drafts.

Hamas is asking for an end to the seven-year blockade on Gaza, the reopening of seaports and airports, the release of dozens of prisoners rearrested by Israel after being released in an earlier deal, and the creation of safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. A sticking point for Israel has been the request about sea and airports, which it wants to discuss at a later time.

Israel has requested the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, and more Palestinian Authority control over the territory and its borders. Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian lands. Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in 1967.

Palestinians said they had presented Egypt with a final proposal, but were still waiting on Israel to reciprocate. The renewed fighting shattered 10 days of relative calm, the longest period of calm since fighting began on July 8.

The Israeli army said more than 100 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce collapsed on Tuesday, Maan News reported. Hamas’ military wing Al-Qassam Brigades said it had fired 34 rockets into Israel on Tuesday, hitting Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

The Israeli military said a rocket had hit an “open area” in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, according to Maan. Air raid sirens were also heard in Jerusalem, with Hamas claiming an attack on the city which Israeli police said fell in an open area in the West Bank.

Four rockets reportedly hit an illegal Israeli settlement near the West Bank de facto capital of Ramallah. Witnesses told Maan the rockets hit Modit Illit, but Israel has yet to comment.

Also in the West Bank, Israeli forces demolished four Palestinian homes near Nablus, in the village of Aqraba, Maan reported. Aqraba has been the target of demolitions in the past by Israeli authorities on the pretext that they were built without the proper Israeli permit, which are rarely given out.

With wire services

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