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Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Sunday, 11 January 2009

Gaza hit by new Israeli strikes

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The scene in Gaza after more Israeli raids

Israel says it carried out more than 60 air strikes overnight on the Gaza Strip, as its cabinet meets to discuss stepping up the offensive.

The home of the head of Hamas' military wing was among the targets, Israel said. There are now reports of heavy clashes on Gaza City's outskirts.

Gaza militants fired several rockets into Israel overnight, reports said.

Israel's security cabinet is meeting to decide whether to push forces further into Gaza's densely populated areas.

The BBC's Mike Sergeant in Jerusalem says Israeli commanders are said to be getting impatient as the government ponders its next move.

On Saturday night, Palestinian medics accused Israeli forces of firing white phosphorus shells at a village, a claim Israel strongly denied.

Leaflets dropped

Israel unleashed its Operation Cast Lead on 27 December as a six-month truce between it and Hamas unravelled. It comes weeks before a parliamentary election in Israel.

Smoke and fire over Jabaliya, Gaza, on 9 January 2009

Israel hopes the onslaught will greatly reduce the number of missiles fired from Gaza onto Israeli towns, and also erode support for Hamas.

The Islamist movement won elections in Gaza in 2006 before seizing control of the coastal strip a year later, ousting its secular Palestinian rival Fatah, which now holds sway in parts of the West Bank.

On Sunday the home of Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas's military wing, was destroyed in an air strike at Shujaia, a suburb of densely-populated Gaza City, according to the Israeli military.

Israel said its warplanes had also bombed sites on the Egypt-Gaza frontier near the town of Rafah, including a mosque allegedly used as a weapons storage depot and militant training camp.

Its ground forces were involved in a "number of incidents", the Israeli military said.

The strikes came hours after Israel dropped leaflets and left phone messages warning Gazans to stay away from areas used by Hamas and saying its operation would soon enter "phase three".

Hamas launched a barrage of rockets on Sunday, two of which struck 42 km (26 miles) inside southern Israel at the city of Beersheba, the military said. There were no reported casualties or damage.

Some 820 Gazans and 13 Israelis have reportedly died in 14 days of fighting. Medical staff said 235 children were among the Palestinians dead.

GAZA CRISIS BACKGROUND

Israel is preventing international journalists from entering the coastal strip, and none of the figures can be independently confirmed.

At least three deaths were reported on Sunday, including a woman killed by Israeli artillery fire in the southern Gaza Strip, according to Reuters news agency.

Two militants were also killed by an air strike while in a car on a coastal road, medical workers said.

And dozens of Palestinians were reportedly injured in southern Gaza, near the village of Khouza to the east of Khan Younis.

Palestinian medics said many of the casualties were suffering from burns and gas inhalations - symptoms they said indicate exposure to white phosphorus.

But Israel's military categorically denied the claims, saying all weapons used by Israel were legal.

A Palestinian boy inspects the damage to a United Nations school in Rafah

Our correspondent says the diplomacy appears to be moving slowly as well.

Diplomats have suggested an international force to police Gaza's border with Egypt, and stop weapons being smuggled, but Cairo rejected this on Saturday.

A senior Israeli official raised doubts about the proposal, saying Egypt's security forces might be better able to secure its boundary with Gaza and stop Hamas rearming.

And speaking from exile in the Syrian capital Damascus, Hamas' leader said "any foreign troops would be considered as occupiers".

Khaled Meshaal also condemned the Israeli offensive as a "holocaust".

On Saturday, Hamas militants reportedly fired more than 30 rockets across the border, while Israel launched more than 70 attacks by air, land and sea.

Israel and Hamas have both ignored a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Aid agencies say Gaza's 1.5 million residents are in urgent need of food and medical aid.

Tens of thousands of people attended rallies held across the US, Europe and the Middle East against the Israeli offensive on Saturday.

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