At least eight Palestinians were killed Sunday night and 13 more were wounded after an IDF strike against a cell of gunmen in the Gaza neighborhood of Sajaiya, the deadliest incident since Israel last week began responding to incessant rocket barrages against its south.
Palestinians however said that the target of the strike was the home of Hamas lawmaker Khalil al-Haya. Al-Haya was not home at the time of the attack. Gaza witnesses said that at least six of the dead were members of the al-Haya family.
The IDF denied the claim and said that the strike targeted five Hamas gunmen who were moving through the neighborhood. Troops identified killing all five gunmen said the army, adding that three bystanders were also apparently killed. Al-Haya was one of the Hamas representatives in ceasefire talks with Hamas and was in the midst of an Egyptian-sponsored truce meeting just before the air strike.
Israel rejected the claims that six of the dead were members of the same family, saying that Hamas' reports were false.
Since the beginning of the army's operations in Gaza last week, "we have been exposed to many lies, including attempts to downplay the numbers of Hamas casualties. Every report needs to be looked into very carefully," a military official stated.
The army identified one of the Palestinians killed in the strike as 28-year-old Sameh Parawana, who military sources said was involved in carrying out Qassam rocket attacks, singling out the attack on Sderot during Israel's Independence Day. The sources also said he was linked to the shooting of an Israeli electrical technician near Gaza's border some two months ago.
Youth injured in Gaza attack (Photo: AFP)
Later Sunday night Israeli aircraft carried out two additional attacks in northern Gaza, injuring several Palestinians. In Beit Lahiya Palestinians said that a father and four of his children were hurt. In the second strike against a metal workshop in Gaza City one man was reported killed.
Since the government ordered the army to intensify its response to the rocket attacks the IDF has attacked more than 20 targets, including a number of cells as they were launching the rockets or immediately after. The army declined to go into detail about the future of the operation but said its troops could maintain this level of combat for an extended period of time. Officials also noted the limited scope of civilian casualties and pledged to continue exuding precaution.
At Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, there was pandemonium as cars brought in the victims, some of them dismembered by the blast. Al-Haya went to the hospital to visit his wounded relatives.
"We will go ahead despite the challenges, despite the martyrs, despite the pain that I am suffering and my people are suffering," he told reporters at the hospital, in remarks carried by local radio stations.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said the killed were civilian members of the al-Haya family, and the attack was a sign that Israel is targeting "everyone - civilians and leaders".
"This escalation is very serious," he said. "All options are open" for responding to this. The Israeli military confirmed it carried out an air strike but gave no details.
The air strike followed an Israeli decision to step up strikes against militants from Islamic Jihad and Hamas because of repeated rocket attacks at Israel. It was the deadliest air strike since Israel started hitting back for the rocket barrages last Tuesday.
Ali Waked and Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report