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Israel Steps Up Offensive on Gaza with Artillery Fire


Israel has stepped up its Gaza offensive - with warplanes, gunboats and artillery firing on dozens of targets on Saturday as the military action entered its second week.

The sounds of explosions again rocked Gaza on Saturday as Israeli air strikes and bombardments continued for the eighth consecutive day, hitting over 40 targets, which the military described as "integral parts of the Hamas terror organization."

One raid hit a mosque in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza. Palestinian medical officials said at least 10 people were killed.

Also on Saturday, senior Hamas commander Abu Zakaria al-Jamal was killed in an Israeli air strike, two days after another militant leader, Nizar Rayyan and his family were killed in a bomb attack.

Israel has also begun firing artillery shells into areas along the Gaza border, widely seen as preparing the ground for a possible land offensive.

In a televised address carried by Arab media from the Syrian capital, Damascus, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had his own warning for Israel.

His message was clear - if you enter Gaza, our fighters will be waiting for you.

Meshaal warned of a "dark fate" if Israeli troops move into Gaza and said they would end up killed or captured.

Israel says it had no choice but to strike at Hamas militant targets in Gaza, after truce talks with Hamas broke down and the Islamist group stepped up rocket attacks against southern Israel. Four Israelis have been killed in those attacks.

But televised footage of Gaza houses and mosques being bombed, wounded Palestinian children bloodied and crying, mangled bodies being dug out of the rubble have been shown across the region.

These images have fueled anger across the Muslim world and elsewhere. Thousands have turned out in anti-Israel protests in Arab and other capitals around the world and there are increasing calls for an immediate halt to the violence.

Israel has made it clear it is not yet ready to stop and Hamas says it is not begging for a truce either.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due in the region Monday as part of growing diplomatic efforts to stop the fighting.

Medical officials in Gaza say more than 430 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli offensive and over 2,000 injured.


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