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Israeli airstrikes kill at least 10 in Gaza

Israeli aircraft blasted Hamas government offices and metal shops late Wednesday, killing a baby and wounding more than 30 people in a retaliatory strike after a militant rocket killed an Israeli college student.
Image: A Palestinian man stands next to a burning car in Khan Younis southern Gaza Strip
A Palestinian man stands next to a burning car that militants managed to flee after an Israeli missile strike in Khan Younis southern Gaza Strip, on Wednesday. Eyad Baba / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israeli aircraft blasted Hamas government offices and metal shops late Wednesday, killing a baby and wounding more than 30 people in a retaliatory strike after a militant rocket killed an Israeli college student.

The bloodshed fed worries about a new outbreak of heavy fighting between the Israeli army and militants in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the deadly rocket attack on the college in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which came a few hours after two Israeli airstrikes killed seven people in Gaza, including two senior commanders in the Hamas rocket operation.

After nightfall, a third Israeli strike aimed at a rocket squad in northern Gaza killed two youngsters leaving a mosque, Palestinians said. The Israeli military said it carried out the airstrike but had no knowledge of civilians being hit.

Then Israeli planes attacked the office of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the nearby Interior Ministry, both of which were empty. Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders have been in hiding, fearing Israeli assassination attempts.

Palestinian health officials said a 6-month-old baby was killed by shrapnel in the late-night airstrike in Gaza City and about 30 residents of nearby buildings suffered wounds. A few minutes later, Israeli aircraft hit two metal workshops.

The Israeli military said the targets were command posts at the government building and sites where weapons are made and stored. The military blamed Hamas for setting up such operations in populated areas, and said injuries to Palestinian civilians were unintentional.

In all, militants fired at least 40 rockets at Israel on Wednesday, the military said, many more than the average of daily barrages that have disrupted life in the region. Associated Press pictures showed rockets streaking into the sky from a densely populated area of northern Gaza.

Blast hits campus
One rocket exploded in a parking lot at Sapir College. Israeli officials said a student, a 47-year-old father of four, was killed by shrapnel that struck his heart. Israeli TV stations showed a second man being carried on a stretcher with wounds to his legs.

The student was the first Israeli killed by a rocket since May, when two people died in separate attacks.

At nightfall, four rockets exploded in the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, including one near the city's main hospital, police said. No one was hurt. Ashkelon is 6 miles north of the Gaza Strip.

The fatal attack on Sderot intensified calls in Israel for a large-scale ground offensive in Gaza aimed at clearing the border area of rocket squads, though previous incursions have halted such attacks only briefly.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is visiting Japan, has ruled out such an invasion for now.

But during a visit to Sderot late Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak vowed to "get those responsible" for the rocket attack. In a statement to Associated Press Television News, he dismissed arguments that Israel "cannot or will not (carry out) a wide-ranging operation in Gaza."

'I can't put it into words'
Battered residents were both angry and resigned. "We knew this was coming. It's a shame that it happened. This is a difficult day," Sderot's mayor, Eli Moyal, told Army Radio.

David Barnan, head of the college's students association, said he was shocked by what he saw. "I can't put it into words," he told Army Radio.

Barnan demanded that the government carry out its pledges to reinforce buildings at the college, but he remained defiant.

"This is our country," he said. "We will stay alive, we continue our studies, we will continue to do all the things we need to do, and speaking for myself, I can say we're not afraid of anyone."

Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit called for an intensified campaign to target Gaza militants. "If it were up to me, I would hit everything that moves with weapons and ammunition," he told Army Radio. "I don't think we have to show pity for anyone who wants to kill us."

Early Wednesday, an Israeli aircraft blew up a minivan carrying Hamas gunmen in Gaza, killing five militants, including two key masterminds of rocket attacks on Israel, Hamas said.

Burned bodies in camouflage uniforms were visible in the twisted white minivan. Hamas officials said the dead included a senior engineer who built rockets and a commander who led a rocket squad. Two other Hamas members were wounded by the airstrike, Hamas and health officials said.

Hamas spokesman Taher Nunu called the airstrike "a new Israeli crime."

Israeli security officials said some of the militants killed in the airstrike had trained in Iran and Syria, without elaborating.

Later Wednesday, an Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza, a frequent launching ground of the rocket squads, killed two people. Palestinian officials said one of the dead was a civilian farm worker.

The body of another Palestinian militant killed in central Gaza overnight was brought to the hospital in Gaza on Wednesday morning.

Talks between sides encouraged
A poll published in Israel on Wednesday, before the fatal rocket attack, said a majority of Israelis favor talks with Hamas to stop the barrages and win release of a soldier captured in 2006. Israel's government has ruled out talks with Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction.

In the West Bank on Wednesday, undercover Israeli soldiers killed a militant and wounded a bystander in a daylight raid in Nablus, Palestinians said. The dead man belonged to a militant offshoot of the Fatah movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Israeli military confirmed it carried out an operation but gave no details.

In addition to its military strikes, Israel has imposed tough economic sanctions on Hamas-ruled Gaza, allowing only basic humanitarian goods into the area.

The sanctions have caused widespread shortages. On Wednesday, the area's main water provider urged residents to boil drinking water, citing a shortage of purifying chlorine.

The Coastal Municipality Water Utility said there was a "major concern over a health disaster due to possible contamination of the drinking water" and appealed to the international community for help.

An Israeli military spokesman said Palestinians did not make a request for chlorine until Wednesday.