Death toll in Gaza hits 343 on day 12 of Israel campaign

Israeli troops began a ground attack in parts of Gaza, starting a new phase in operation

Gaza City, Palestinian Territories: The Gaza death toll hit 343 on Saturday as Israeli warplanes intensified their bombardment and troops pressed a ground assault on the 12th day of a major confrontation with Hamas. And the overall Israeli death toll rose to five following violence in which two soldiers and a civilian were killed, the army and police said.

The last incident reported before midnight (2100 GMT) was a man killed by tank fire in the southern city of Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said. It brought the number of Palestinians killed on Saturday to 47. Shortly beforehand, one man was killed in an air strike on the northern town of Jabaliya shortly after two were killed in a strike near Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, Qudra said. And another two people were killed in Zeitun, east of Gaza City.

In southern Israel, two soldiers were killed when a group of Gaza militants got under the border fence and fired machineguns and an anti-tank missile at an army patrol. Troops returned fire killing one of the militants in an attack claimed by Hamas. Also in the south, an Israeli Bedouin man was killed and four family members wounded, two of them children, when a rocket hit their desert encampment not far from Israel's nuclear reactor in Dimona, police said. Their deaths raised to five the number of Israelis killed since the conflict began on July 8, including a soldier who was reportedly killed by friendly fire.

Among those killed in Gaza were five members of the same family, including a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old, who died in a strike on a house in the northern town of Beit Hanun, Qudra said. Earlier, Qudra also reported five bodies had been pulled from a home hit by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis.

So far, more than 2,385 Palestinians have been wounded in the biggest confrontation in and around Gaza since Operation Cast Lead, a bloody 22-day offensive which ended in January 2009. Israeli troops began a ground offensive in parts of Gaza late on Thursday, starting a new phase in the operation which it said was aimed at destroying tunnels used by the territory's dominant power, Islamist movement Hamas.

( Source : AFP )
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