Israel steps up raids, Gaza buries dead

Among the 18 killed since the truce collapsed were a heavily-pregnant woman and three children in the central town of Deir al-Balah, said emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra. 

Jerusalem: Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza Wednesday as furious mourners buried the wife and child of Hamas`s top military commander, braying for revenge as eight days of calm exploded into bloodshed.

Mohammed Deif himself, who has topped Israel`s most wanted list for more than a decade, escaped the strike, which pulverised a building in Gaza City late on Tuesday and remained in command, Hamas said. 

At least 18 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since militants launched a barrage of rockets on southern Israel and F16 fighter jets launched retaliatory air strikes, Palestinian medics say.

The bloodshed pushed the Palestinian death toll to more than 2,030 since July 8 when Israel and Hamas militants started their bloodiest confrontation since the second intifada or uprising (2000-2005).

Another 67 people have died on the Israeli side. 

The UN says around three-quarters of the victims in Gaza have been civilians. Sixty-four of the Israeli dead were soldiers.

Egyptian mediators scrambled for weeks to push the warring sides to agree a decisive end to the bloodshed, but their latest attempts collapsed on Tuesday when the fighting resumed.

Several thousand angry mourners joined the funeral procession for Deif`s 27-year-old wife and seven-month-old son in the Jabaliya refugee camp, shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) and demanding revenge.

Deif heads Hamas`s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which vowed to open the "gates of hell" on Israel in retaliation for the killings. 

Hamas said Deif was alive and still calling the shots in the conflict with Israel.

"Those living around the Gaza border will not return home until Mohammed Deif decides," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.Firing Kalashnikovs into the air, they carried the bodies of Widad and her son Ali, who were among at least four people killed in the first deadly strike since August 10. 

Their bodies were wrapped in green Hamas flags and they were carried to the cemetery with the bodies of two men killed in a strike on a motorcycle, both presumed Hamas militants.

"I`m like all the other people in the Gaza Strip. I am no different from the others who have lost children," said Widad`s angry father, Mustafa Harb Asfura, 56.

"My daughter knew she would die a martyr when she decided to marry Mohammed Deif. Every moment since then I`ve been expecting to hear that she has died," he said.

Grief-stricken, Asfura carried his tiny grandson from the family`s small home for prayers at the mosque, his body wrapped in a white sheet exposing his white face with bruising around the eyes.

In Israel, Interior Minister Gideon Saar justified the attack, calling Deif -- who has escaped five previous assassination attempts -- a legitimate target.

"Mohammed Deif deserves to die just like (the late Al-Qaeda leader Osama) bin Laden. He is an arch murderer and as long as we have an opportunity we will try to kill him," Saar told army radio.

Among the 18 killed since the truce collapsed were a heavily-pregnant woman and three children in the central town of Deir al-Balah, said emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra. 

That number includes the woman`s unborn baby, whom medics tried but ultimately failed to save, he said.

An army spokeswoman said Gaza militants fired 137 rockets, of which 94 hit southern and central Israel while 24 were shot down. There have been no reports of casualties or damage.

The army had hit 92 targets across Gaza, she added.The violence left Egyptian truce efforts in tatters, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately ordering the delegation back from Cairo. 

Israel has repeatedly refused to negotiate under fire. 

"The rocket fire which broke the ceasefire also destroyed the foundation on which the talks in Cairo were based," Netanyahu`s spokesman Mark Regev told AFP on Wednesday.

"The Egyptian initiative is based on a total and unconditional cessation of hostilities, which was clearly broken when rockets were fired into Israel."

Most of the Palestinian negotiators, including delegation head Azzam al-Ahmed, also left Cairo. 

"We are leaving... but we have not pulled out of negotiations," Ahmed told AFP, saying the Palestinians had handed a truce proposal to Israel and were waiting for the answer. 

"We will not come back (to Cairo) until Israel responds."

The Egyptian foreign ministry expressed "profound regret at the breach of the ceasefire" and said it was working to bring both sides back to the negotiating table. 

Following Israel`s deadly air strike, Hamas militants fired 50 rockets over the border targeting Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion airport, the group said,

The army confirmed a rocket hit an open area of metropolitan Tel Aviv and another struck empty ground in the occupied West Bank, just outside Jerusalem.

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