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Fears that Gaza-Israeli fighting will escalate into all-out war

A Palestinian boy stands next to the rubble of Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV station building which was hit by Israeli airstrikes on Monday, in Gaza City Picture by Khalil Hamra/AP
By Associated Press Reporter

Gaza militants have fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel, killing a man in a strike on a residential building and vowing to further escalate their attacks if Israel keeps bombing the Palestinian territory.

As fighting raged throughout the day, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met his security cabinet to plot a way forward.

The heavy exchange of fire, which was triggered by a botched Israeli undercover raid into Hamas-ruled Gaza late on Sunday, marked the most serious escalation since an Israel-Hamas war in 2014.

International mediators have appealed for restraint, hoping to avert another war.

The Israeli military said some 400 rockets and mortars have been launched from Gaza since Monday afternoon, with about 100 of them intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defence system.

Israel said it has struck more than 100 targets it says are linked to militants in Gaza, including one assault that destroyed Hamas' TV station.

Three other buildings believed to be connected to Hamas were destroyed, it said.

On Tuesday, Gaza's health ministry said two Palestinians in their twenties were killed in separate air strikes, raising the number killed since the Israeli offensive began to six, including four militants. At least 25 people have been injured.

Israeli medical officials said the body of a 48-year-old man was found under the rubble of a building hit by a rocket in the southern city of Ashkelon.

Relatives in the West Bank town of Halhoul identified the man as Mahmoud Abu Asbeh, a Palestinian labourer who had been working in Israel. He left a wife and six children behind.

Nearly 30 people have been wounded in Israel, three critically, according to medical officials.

The military said jets struck several "key strategic" Hamas targets, including military compounds, rocket launching posts and part of its vast underground tunnel network.

Also targeted was a Gaza City building serving Hamas' military and intelligence forces which houses a munitions warehouse.

It is unclear whether Mr Netanyahu is prepared to escalate the offensive. Earlier this week, he said he was trying to avoid an unnecessary war.

Israel has fought three wars with Hamas since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

Thousands of Palestinians and scores of Israelis have been killed, while Hamas has remained firmly in power and Israel has faced international criticism.

It is unclear what either side would gain in another round of sustained fighting. But if the rocket fire persists, Mr Netanyahu's coalition partners, including hard-liners on the security cabinet, are likely to press for tougher action.

Hamas faces a similar dilemma as another war would bring new devastation to Gaza, but the group does not want to be seen as caving to Israeli pressure.

The armed wing of Hamas threatened to step up its attacks and fire rockets further north towards the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Beersheba if Israel continues with its air strikes.

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