Israel targets top Hamas leader as ceasefire collapses

United States condemns Hamas for rocket fire.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Israel resumed its air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday a day after holding its fire in deference to an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire deal that failed to get Hamas militants to halt rocket attacks.

Attacks in the Gaza Strip killed at least three Palestinians in the early hours of Wednesday and destroyed the house of Mahmoud Zahar - who is believed to be in hiding elsewhere - in the first apparent targeting of a top Hamas political leader.

The week-old conflict seemed to be at a turning point on Tuesday, with Hamas defying Arab and Western calls to cease fire and Israel threatening to step up an offensive that could include an invasion of the densely populated enclave of 1.8 million.

Under a blueprint announced by Egypt - Gaza's neighbour and whose military-backed government has been at odds with Islamist Hamas - a mutual "de-escalation" was to have begun at 9 a.m. (0600 GMT), with hostilities ceasing within 12 hours.

Hamas' armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the ceasefire deal, a proposal that addressed in only general terms some of its key demands, and said its battle with Israel would "increase in ferocity and intensity".

But Moussa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas political official who was in Cairo, said the movement, which is seeking a deal that would ease the Egyptian and Israeli border restrictions throttling Gaza's economy, had made no final decision on Cairo's proposal.

The Israeli military said that since the cease-fire deal was to have gone into effect, Hamas had fired 123 rockets at Israel, one killing a civilian - the first Israeli fatality in the fighting.

Gaza medical officials say 191 Palestinians, including at least 150 civilians, among them 31 children, have been killed.

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