Israel pursues punishing Gaza offensive for a third day

Hamas says its gunmen engage Israeli troops at sea

A smoke plumes rises over Gaza following an Israel Air Force bombing, as seen from near Sderot on July 9, 2014 in Israel. Due to recent escalation in the region, the Israeli army started new deployments at the border with the Gaza Strip. In the past 3 weeks more than 130 rockets where reportedly fired from Gaza into Israel. (Getty Images)

A smoke plumes rises over Gaza following an Israel Air Force bombing, as seen from near Sderot on July 9, 2014 in Israel. Due to recent escalation in the region, the Israeli army started new deployments at the border with the Gaza Strip. In the past 3 weeks more than 130 rockets where reportedly fired from Gaza into Israel. (Getty Images)

Israel pressed on with a punishing aerial offensive in Gaza for a third day on Thursday, killing eight members of a family including five children in a predawn strike, Palestinian officials said, while militants fired rockets at Israeli cities.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the deadliest single bombing raid since the start of the offensive on Tuesday. The attack destroyed at least two homes in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, killing the eight people, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Sixty-one Palestinians have been killed in the violence, more than 50 of them civilians, Palestinian medical officials said.

Israel says its offensive is intended to halt rocket fire at its cities from the Gaza Strip. More than 200 rockets have been fired during the campaign, striking deep into the country's heartland, it said.

The rockets have caused no serious casualties, but the barrages have paralysed business in southern communities and sent hundreds of thousands of people scrambling for shelter as far north as the Israeli business hub of Tel Aviv and beyond. A rocket struck on the outskirts of Haifa to the north on Wednesday.

Hamas's armed wing said it fired six rockets at Israel early on Thursday. Confrontations were also reported at sea where Palestinian militants in Gaza said they fired mortars and rockets at Israeli gunboats shooting at the coastal territory.

Israeli media reported air raid sirens wailing in several southern cities. The Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted some of the rockets, while others slammed into the ground without causing any damage or casualties, they said.

Palestinians said Israel has targeted more than 70 homes in its offensive. The Israeli military said on Wednesday it had bombed 550 Hamas sites, including 60 rocket launchers and 11 homes of senior Hamas members. It described those dwellings as command centres.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to address the UN Security Council on Thursday over the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since an eight day war fought in 2012. He described the situation as "troubling and volatile."

Washington backed Israel's actions in Gaza, while the European Union and UN urged restraint on both sides.

Israel said Gaza militants fired more than 105 rockets on Wednesday - at least 82 struck inside the country, and an additional 21 were intercepted.

Some were aimed at Israel's Dimona nuclear plant, 80 km (50 miles) from Gaza, but were either shot down or landed in open country.

Dimona, desert site of a nuclear reactor and widely assumed to have a role in atomic weaponry, was targeted by locally made M-75 long-range rockets, militants said. The Israeli army said Iron Dome shot down one, and two others caused no damage.

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