Israel strikes targets in Gaza Strip, 3 killed

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It was a show of force and defiance by Palestinian militants ahead of a meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, where terms for a possible truce were likely to be on the agenda.

Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations special envoy who is involved in Egyptian efforts to broker a truce, said in a statement on Thursday that he's "deeply alarmed" by "multiple rockets fired toward communities in southern Israel" the day before. According to the Hamas-run health ministry, three people were killed including a pregnant woman and her toddler, and a Hamas fighter who is the son of a senior commander of Hamas' armed wing.

The escalation of the conflict in the last 24 hours comes as Egypt attempts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. But shortly before the meeting, Netanyahu and his defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, met with top military officials to discuss their options. Despite the animosity, the bitter enemies appear to be working through Egyptian mediators to avoid another war. Hamas militants responded with a cross-border fusillade that sent Israelis scrambling for air raid shelters. It was the first time a rocket had hit the city since the 2014 war.

Palestinians gather around a building after it was bombed by an Israeli aircraft, in Gaza City, Aug. 9, 2018.

The building is home to a popular theatre and exhibits plays and other shows on a daily basis. Israeli jets hit Gaza, again, flattening what Palestinians called a cultural center in the al-Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza City.

"The deliberate targeting of a cultural centre with airstrikes and destruction.is a barbaric act", said Hazem Qassem, a Hamas spokesman.

But the continued outbursts of fire have jeopardized those cease-fire efforts.

The Israeli military said the building served as a Palestinian military installation.

"Hamas must go back to the understandings after the [2014 Gaza war], and if it doesn't, it will understand the hard way", Haaretz quoted the officer as saying.

The Israeli military said it struck some 200 targets throughout Gaza, including Hamas command posts and weapons production and storage facilities.

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"We've seen reports that 180 or so rocket attacks have taken place, shot from Gaza into Israel, and we fully support Israel's right to defend itself and to take actions to prevent provocations of that nature", State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. That's according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

"We only slept an hour", said Naomi Zolberg, 34, a resident of the Israeli city of Sderot who said four projectiles hit very close to her home on Wednesday evening as she was inside with two of her children. The mother and daughter died immediately and the father is in critical condition, Kamal told the AP.

"As we approach a potential agreement, it's extremely important for Hamas to deliver the message that we are not going there because we are weak", said Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired brigadier general and the former director general of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs. The military said it intercepted some 30 rockets, while most of the others landed in open areas.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nikolay Mladenov, said in a statement issued on early Thursday that he was "deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of violence".

He added that "if the current escalation however is not contained immediately, the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people". The protests have been aimed in part at trying to break the blockade.

Israel and Hamas have engaged in several bouts of fighting this month. The latest round erupted Tuesday, when the Israeli military struck a Hamas military post in Gaza after it said militants fired on Israeli troops on the border.

In response, the Israeli Air Force targeted over 150 Hamas "terror sites" in the coastal enclave.

The incident occurred while a group of senior Hamas leaders from overseas were visiting Gaza to discuss the ceases-fire efforts with local leaders.

Israeli aircraft bombed a multi-story building in Gaza City on August 9, local residents said, a few hours after Palestinian militants fired a long-range rocket at Israel's largest southern city.

The global media will highlight the fact that Israelis can flee while the Palestinians in Gaza remained under fire.

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