Israeli military releases photos of Gaza rocket launchings

Israeli military releases photos of Gaza rocket launchings

JERUSALEM, July 21 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli military on Monday published aerial photographs that it said attest to Islamist group Hamas' use of civilian sites in the Gaza Strip to fire rockets into Israel.

The images, taken from a surveillance drone and posted on the army's Facebook page, show launchings from the neighborhood of Shuja'iya, a Hamas stronghold in eastern Gaza City, including the firing of a Grad rocket from the Abu Ayn Mosque on July 8, a projectile fired from the Tufah cemetery on July 13 and the firing of M75 rockets from the Wafa Hospital and a children's playground the following day.

A military spokeswoman in Tel Aviv said the photos were proof of how Hamas "exploits" Palestinians in Gaza as human shields.

"We see again and again that they are exploiting civilian sites in order to carry out terrorist activities and using civilians as human shields," she told Xinhua.

Israeli media said the timing of the publication aimed to deflect international criticism of the growing number of Palestinian civilians killed in Israel's military offensive against Hamas.

Gaza medical authorities put the Palestinian death toll at 548, among them nearly 120 children, since fighting began on July 8. Two Israeli civilians have been killed in rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza and 18 soldiers have been killed since the launching of the ground offensive in the coastal enclave last Wednesday.

Shortly after the photos were published, Palestinians reported four fatalities and 15 wounded in an Israeli strike on the Shuhada Al-Aksa Hospital in Deir al-Balah, claiming that the emergency room and children's ward sustained damage.

Meanwhile, exchanges of fire continued in Shuja'iya, where Israeli troops killed 10 militants overnight Sunday. Israel alleged the neighborhood had been used to fire rockets and accommodate Hamas tunnels and command and control centers.

Fighting also took place in the Zeitoun neighborhood and Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, where residents were forced to flee heavy shelling.

Despite the massive presence of Israeli ground forces in Gaza, rocket attacks from the seaside enclave continue unabated. Some 104 projectiles had been fired at southern and central Israel since midnight, 14 of which were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system, including two over Tel Aviv, the army said.

In a statement on Monday, it said that 150 Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants had been killed and more than 587 targets were attacked since the launching of the ground offensive. As well, forces have uncovered 16 "terror tunnels" and 45 tunnel shafts.

Earlier in the day, Israeli forces shot dead 10 militants that infiltrated into Israeli territory through two tunnels near the northern Gaza security fence.

A helicopter gunship and infantry soldiers were scrambled after the militants were spotted hiding in bushes between two communities in the area.

There were no immediate reports of casualties among the Israeli forces.

The incident was the latest in a string of failed attempts by militants to infiltrate Israeli communities through tunnels that run along the border fence.

Amid efforts involving Egypt and the United States to broker a truce, Israel's leadership on Monday dismissed the possibility of a swift cease-fire.

"The operation will continue and expand until it achieves its objective -- restoring calm to Israelis for a prolonged period," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a visit to military positions on the Gaza border, where he held consultations with top military brass.

Netanyahu said the offensive was progressing "according to plan, " including operations to destroy militants' tunnels, which he said had been successful "beyond expectation."

He said the campaign will have "difficult moments," in reference to additional troop casualties until it is concluded.

Members of Netanyahu's political-security cabinet had also expressed rejection of international calls to end the fighting.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said he believed the fighting will continue and escalate.

He said Israel was prepared to reoccupy "all of Gaza" in order to meet the operation's objectives, including the demilitarization of Gaza.