The top leader of Hamas dared Israel on Monday to launch a ground invasion of Gaza and dismissed diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire in the six-day-old conflict, as the Israeli military conducted a new wave of deadly airstrikes on the besieged Palestinian enclave, including a second hit on a 15-story building that houses media outlets. A volley of rockets fired from Gaza into southern Israel included one that hit a vacant school.
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Speaking at a news conference in Cairo, where the diplomatic efforts were under way, the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, suggested that the Israeli infantry mobilization on the border with Gaza was a bluff on the part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
"If you wanted to launch it, you would have done it," Mr. Meshal told reporters. He accused Israel of using the invasion threat as an attempt to "dictate its own terms and force us into silence."
Rejecting Israel's contention that Hamas had precipitated the conflict, Mr. Meshal said the burden was on the Israelis. "The demand of the people of Gaza is meeting their legimitate demands -- for Israel to be restrained from its aggression, assassinations and invasions, and for the siege over Gaza to be ended," he said.
Mr. Netanyahu met with top ministers Monday evening and Israeli media said they discussed the next steps in the Gaza conflict, including the possibility of a truce. Israeli officials declined to comment on those reports.
The Hamas Health Ministry said Monday evening that a total of 107 people had been killed since Wednesday morning, when Israeli airstrikes began, following months of Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said she believed that a majority of these were militants, though it is difficult to know because Hamas's own fighting brigade and the other factional groups are secretive.
The Hamas ministry said that the dead included at least 26 children, 10 women and 12 men over 50, who were presumably not involved in combat. Of the remainder, at least 36 are known militants. Hamas officials said more than 860 have been wounded, 260 of them children, 140 of them women and 55 men over 50.
Three people have been killed so far in Israel, all civilians, in a rocket strike that hit an apartment house in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi on Thursday morning. The Israelis have said that at least 79 Israelis have been wounded and that Gaza rockets have reached as far north as Tel Aviv.
The latest Gaza casualties -- 22 people reported killed since midnight local time -- included Palestinians killed in strikes by warplanes, a drone attack on two men on a motorcycle, and a father and two toddler sons in their bombed northern Gaza home, witnesses and medical sources said. Another Israeli drone attack killed the driver of a taxi hired by journalists and displaying "Press" signs, although it was not clear which journalists had hired it, Palestinian officials said.
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SOURCE: The New York Times