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15 Palestinian Civilians, Including 3 Babies and Pregnant Teen, Killed in Israel Gaza Attacks; 3 Israelis Killed by Rocket

Israel threatened to launch a ground invasion of Gaza on Wednesday as at least 15 civilians, including two babies and a mother pregnant with twins, were killed by Israeli bombing carried out in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.

Reuters reports that Israel launched ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ Wednesday with an air strike on a car carrying Ahmed al-Jabari, commander of the Iranian-backed Palestinian resistance group Hamas.

But there was nothing surgical about Israel’s bombing of Gaza. Immediately after the assassination of al-Jabari, huge explosions rocked residential areas of the densely populated enclave, sending panicked civilians running for their lives.

Palestine’s Maan News Agency reported on Thursday that the civilian death toll is at least 15. According to Democracy Now!, a baby and a mother pregnant with twins are among the dead. Italy’s ANSA wire service identified the pregnant woman as 19-year-old Hiba al-Mashrawi and the baby as 11-month-old Omar Mashrawi, who is the son of a BBC journalist. Also identified among the dead are Ranan Arafat, a 7-year-old girl, and Walid al-Abadleh, an 18-month-old boy who succumbed to injuries sustained in an Israeli air strike.

More than 150 people have also been injured.

The Washington Post reports that three Israeli civilians were killed by one of the more than 180 rockets fired by Palestinian resistance militants. The rocket struck an apartment building in Kiryat Malachi around 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, killing two men and a woman and seriously injuring an 11-month-old baby. Yeshiva World News identified the victims as Yitzchak Amsellem, age 24, Aaron Smadja and Mirah Sharf, who was pregnant.

The latest escalation, which began when Israel violated an informal ceasefire brokered by Egypt by assassinating al-Jabari, dashed hopes that a new war between Israel and Palestinian militant groups could be avoided.

The current flare-up began last week after Israeli troops responding to a militant attack on military vehicles crossing into Gaza killed a 12-year-old Palestinian boy playing soccer near Khan Younis. The violence is the worst seen in Gaza since Israel’s 2008-2009 ‘Operation Cast Lead’ invasion, during which more than 1,400 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, and 13 Israelis, including 3 civilians, were killed.

Regional governments condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region,” Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said in a televised address to the nation on Wednesday.

The United States, as it nearly always does, stood by Israel.

“We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence,” a statement from the US State Department read. Washington urged Israel to “take every effort to avoid civilian casualties” while affirming “Israel’s right to defend itself.”

The United States provides Israel with around $3 billion in annual military aid. The Israeli news site Arutz Sheva reports that Israel’s new US-funded Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted at least 80 incoming rockets.

United Nations human rights official Richard Falk, as well as prominent Nobel Peace laureates Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire and others accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing and apartheid in Palestine, which has been nearly entirely conquered by Israel but was, until the middle of the 20th century, populated overwhelmingly by Arabs. British Prime Minister David Cameron has accused Israel of turning Gaza into a “prison camp” for the 1.6 million Palestinians living there. A recent UN report concluded that barring urgent action to improve the lives of its residents, Gaza will not be livable by the year 2020.

Israel, on the other hand, asserts that it has a right to defend itself from the thousands of rockets which have been fired indiscriminately into its territory by Palestinian militants, primarily Hamas, over the last decade. Those militants retort that they are resisting oppression by a vastly superior military force by using whatever means they can, including rockets and other forms of terrorism.

“A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily,” David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, once remarked about the Palestinians.

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