UN chief Ban Ki-moon pleas for Gaza ceasefire

Yolande Knell reports on the destruction in Khan Younis

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed for a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Mr Ban urged both sides to exercise restraint, saying the Middle East could not afford "another full-blown war".

More than 80 Gazans have been killed since Israel's operation began on Tuesday, Palestinian officials say.

Israel says it has hit more than 100 targets in Gaza since midnight, while Palestinian militants are continuing to fire rockets into Israel.

Israel launched its operation after a surge in rocket-fire amid a crackdown on Hamas members in the West Bank last month, as Israel hunted for the abductors of three Israeli teenagers.

The teenagers were found murdered, and tensions were raised further with the killing of a Palestinian teenager in a suspected revenge attack days later.

James Reynolds reporting from the Kfar Aza kibbutz where the community has been "shaken" by rocket attacks

Israel says its targets in Operation Protective Edge have been militant fighters and facilities, and that "dozens of terrorists" have been killed.

But the Palestinian health ministry says many of those who have died were women and children.

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At the scene: BBC's Yolande Knell in Gaza

On a normal day, the streets of Gaza City are teeming with people and cars honk their horns as they sit in traffic jams. Now they are eerily quiet. Occasionally someone strides past purposefully, or a car or ambulance races by. The shops are all shuttered.

Most people here are staying at home trying to keep safe. Some will also be catching up on sleep after a noisy night when Israeli naval ships bombarded this coastal strip, making buildings shake and babies cry.

Local television stations can hardly keep up with the pace of news from inside busy hospitals and outside demolished homes. They show shocking images of dead children being pulled from the rubble on repeat.

The increasing number of civilians killed is alarming. Some people have moved in with other family members who they deem to live in safer areas. Egypt has opened its border crossing with Gaza for casualties but otherwise there is no way to leave the Palestinian territory because of the Egyptian and Israeli blockade.

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At the scene: BBC's James Reynolds on Israel's Gaza border

Shortly before 0300 ( midnight GMT) in Ashkelon, a rocket siren sounded. I woke and headed to the secure room of our hotel (joined by guests in their pyjamas). There was no all-clear siren so, after a minute or two, we guessed that the threat from the rocket had passed, and headed back to our rooms.

This morning, near the border with Gaza, my colleagues and I saw a column of black smoke in a field - a fire caused by a rocket attack. Farmers drove tractors over the flames to put out the fire.

We drove on and saw Gaza itself, a few miles away, on the horizon. We saw three jet plumes of white smoke shoot up from Gaza - rockets being fired from the Palestinian territory.

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More than 20 people have been killed in the latest air raids on Gaza, Palestinian officials say - most of whom were in a house and a cafe in Khan Younis.

Elsewhere on Thursday:

  • Three people died in an Israeli air strike on a car in the west of Gaza City, Palestinian media reports said. Reuters said the victims were militants from Islamic Jihad
  • Three people were killed in an air strike targeting a Hamas activist in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Palestinian officials said
  • The Palestinian health ministry said that in addition to the dead, some 540 people had been injured overall
  • According to Israel's Channel 2 TV, at least two people have been seriously injured in Israel
  • The armed wing of Hamas said it had fired two M75 rockets at Tel Aviv - Israel said its Iron Dome missile defence system had intercepted one. The Israeli military also said communities in the southern Negev desert were targeted.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: "My paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians"

Israel says militants have fired more than 365 rockets from Gaza since Tuesday - many of which have been intercepted by the Iron Dome system - and that it has attacked about 780 targets over the same time.

Map

Meanwhile, an Israeli military spokesman said an attack on a house in Khan Younis on Tuesday in which eight people were killed was "a tragedy - not what we intended", adding people had returned to the building too soon following a telephone warning.

The home was said to be that of Odeh Kaware, a local Hamas commander.

Israeli sources say a second warning was given when a projectile without a warhead was fired at the building in a tactic known as a "tap on the roof", but people went back.

"They were told to leave, they returned, and the missile was already on the way. It was too late," the Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted an Israeli security source as saying.

The Palestinian Maan news agency said dozens of people had gathered on the roof after the family had been warned by Israel that the building would be targeted.

Palestinian woman, who medics said was wounded in an Israeli air strike, lies on a bed inside an ambulance waiting to cross into Egypt, at Rafah crossing in southern Gaza Strip A Palestinian thought to have been wounded in an Israeli air strike waits to cross into Egypt
Residents of Netivot look at the damage caused by a Palestinian missile strike, 10 July Residents of Netivot in southern Israel look at the damage caused by a Palestinian missile strike
People seen in shock during a "colour red" siren on July 10, 2014 in Sderot, Israel. Israelis seek shelter as a siren goes off in Sderot
The site of an Israeli strike in Gaza City, 10 July The site of an Israeli strike in Gaza City
Palestinians hold their passports as they try to cross into Egypt Some Gazans are hoping to cross into Egypt
Egypt's role

Separately, Egyptian state television said the government had decided to open the Rafah border crossing on Thursday to evacuate some of those wounded in the Israeli attacks.

Hospitals in North Sinai have been placed on standby and 30 ambulances sent to the crossing.

Egypt says it is in contact with both sides. But while it has played a key role in the past as a mediator, it currently appears to be biding its time, says the BBC's Orla Guerin in Cairo.

Analysts say Egypt is in no hurry to broker a ceasefire that might benefit Hamas - as happened under ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in November 2012.

Egypt sees Hamas, an offshoot of Mr Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, as a direct threat.

Having crushed the Brotherhood over the past year, it wants to see Hamas suffer the same fate, our correspondent says. In that sense, it is on the same page with Israel, she adds.

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Israel's Iron Dome missile shield
Iron dome graphic
  1. Enemy fires missile or artillery shell
  2. Projectile tracked by radar. Data relayed to battle management and control unit
  3. Data analysed and target co-ordinates sent to the missile firing unit
  4. Missile is fired at enemy projectile

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