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Death Toll Climbs As Israel Bombards Gaza

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Death Toll Climbs As Israel Bombards Gaza

Middle East

Death Toll Climbs As Israel Bombards Gaza

Death Toll Climbs As Israel Bombards Gaza

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Tzipi Livni i

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Sunday. Sderot has been hit hard by Hamas rocket fire. David Gilkey/NPR hide caption

toggle caption David Gilkey/NPR
Tzipi Livni

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Sunday. Sderot has been hit hard by Hamas rocket fire.

David Gilkey/NPR

Israeli jets continued to hammer multiple Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip on Sunday. Israel destroyed Hamas' main Gaza security complex, among other buildings. Also struck were smuggling tunnels in southern Gaza as Israel prepared for a possible ground attack into the coastal territory. Palestinian medical officials say the death toll in Gaza is approaching 300, with another 500 wounded.

Israel bombed the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt that Hamas had allowed to flourish along the southern border in recent months. Smugglers had used them to bring in vital goods denied under the Israeli blockade. Hamas needed the tunnels to try keep Gaza's economy from completely collapsing, and for their own smuggling needs. The Israeli army says the tunnels were primarily used to transport explosives and weapons, and Sunday they destroyed many of them.

Other targets were hit across the territory. Gaza medical officials say many of the dead were Hamas policemen. But some women, children and civilians were caught in the airstrikes.

Dr. Hassan Halif at Al Shifa, Gaza City's largest hospital, says the medical facility was already struggling under sanctions and is now struggling even more to keep up with the casualties. He says he feels like the international community has abandoned Gaza.

Meantime, Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday paid a visit to the southern Israeli city of Sderot, which has been hit hardest by Hamas rocket fire. Livni said the operation would continue until people in Israel's south no longer have to live in fear. Israel has no plans to reoccupy Gaza, she said, but would continue to hammer Hamas.

"We need to change realities on the ground, and we need to change the equation. And in order to do so, we need to use some power," Livni said.

Israeli leaders made similar pledges to the Israeli public at the start of the 2006 Lebanon war. The prime minister then vowed to dismantle Hezbollah and retrieve kidnapped soldiers. Neither goal was met in a 34-day war that many say only strengthened the Lebanese militant group. Livni, like Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak, hopes to become prime minister after upcoming elections in February. Their political fortunes may rest on the outcome of this military operation.

The strategic risks for Israel of pressing ahead with a punishing military campaign against Hamas are huge. Casualties are increasing, and the Muslim world is seething. The U.N. secretary general has warned Israel that it is using "excessive force." Palestinians in the occupied West Bank are enraged. The Gaza attacks could further undermine the already waning popularity of Mahmoud Abbas, the anti-Hamas Palestinian president in the West Bank engaged in fledgling peace talks with Israel.

"We know that there are dangers involved, but the dangers of not acting were much greater," said Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. "And our hope is that a weakened Hamas, a Hamas that has had its military machine neutralized, will pose a lesser threat to the peace process and therefore allow more moderate Palestinians to stand up more independently."

Israel's Cabinet on Sunday approved a limited call-up of reservists and moved armored units closer to the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground offensive. Any large scale ground attack into densely populated Gaza would most certainly be a bloody and tough grind for Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

NPR assistant Ahmed Abu Hamda contributed to this report.

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