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Israel pounds Gaza as campaign widens

Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed 14 people Thursday, medics said, on the third day of a widening military campaign, as the UN Security Council was set for an emergency meeting later in the day.

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed 14 people Thursday, medics said, on the third day of a widening military campaign, as the UN Security Council was set for an emergency meeting later in the day.

The first strike hit a coffee shop in the city of Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP, adding that six men were killed and at least 15 other people wounded.

The second, in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, on the home of Raed Shalat, killed him and wounded several others, Qudra said.

Further strikes on two houses in Khan Yunis killed seven people - three women and four children, he said.

Dozens of strikes were heard slamming into the besieged Palestinian territory in the early hours of Thursday, as Israel's Operation Protective Edge, the largest military campaign against Gaza since 2012, entered day three.

On Wednesday, 29 Palestinians were killed, and Tuesday's toll stood at 21, bringing the total number of dead to 64, but Hamas kept up its rocket fire into Israel and sent thousands running to shelters across the country.

The dead include at least 10 women and 18 children, according to an AFP count based on medical reports.

The overall toll included six militants killed in raids into Israel Wednesday and Tuesday.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas accused Israel of committing "genocide" in Gaza but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of even tougher action to come.

There have been no Israeli deaths so far, but Hamas showed its firepower as it launched waves of rockets across Israel that triggered sirens in cities as far from Gaza as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.

There were no confirmed hits in the northern port city itself but media reports spoke of rockets hitting either open ground or the sea in the surrounding region.

Tanks were seen massed on the Gaza border as Netanyahu came under mounting pressure from hardliners within his governing coalition to put boots back on the ground in the territory from which Israel pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.

"We have decided to further intensify the attacks on Hamas and the terror organisations in Gaza," his office quoted him as saying.

President Shimon Peres warned that, "if the fire continues we do not rule out a ground incursion", his office quoted him as saying in an interview with CNN.

This "may happen quite soon", said Peres, who retires later this month.

Israeli troops on Wednesday killed two Palestinians who came ashore on dunes close to the Gaza border, near the scene of a foiled assault on an army base the night before.

Troops killed four under almost identical circumstances on Tuesday.

The escalation comes with Arab riots inside Israel over the burning to death of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists and the region in flames, with civil war raging in neighbouring Syria and conflict intensifying in Iraq.

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the crisis from 10:00 am (1400 GMT), with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon due to give the latest about the situation on the ground, followed by closed-door consultations between the Council's 15 member states.

The meeting follows a request by Arab envoys.

The European Union and the United States both called for restraint in the confrontation.

Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone on Wednesday.

Kerry plans to speak with Abbas "over the next 24 hours", State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The spike in violence came as the Palestinians moved towards greater unity following a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Abbas that ended seven years of rival administrations.

That deal came after nearly a year of US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians collapsed, to the satisfaction of Netanyahu's hardline coalition partners.

The Palestinian teenager was murdered in apparent revenge for the kidnap on June 12 of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank, who were subsequently killed.

Their abductions sparked a huge Israeli assault on Hamas's infrastructure in the territory and retaliatory rocket fire from the Islamists' Gaza power base.

Three of the six Israelis held over the young Palestinian's abduction and killing last week are to be released on Thursday, Israeli media said, raising the spectre of renewed unrest by outraged Palestinians.

The three expected to be let out of custody deny involvement in the murder, while the remaining three are said by authorities to have confessed.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal demanded world pressure on Israel to end its campaign.

"If the world wants an end to the bloodshed it must put pressure on Netanyahu and his criminal gang to stop aggression against Gaza," Meshaal said in a televised speech from his base in Doha.

The Israeli air offensive failed to staunch the rocket fire by Gaza militants, which sent Israelis scurrying into shelters across more and more of the country.

Three rockets were fired at the southern town of Dimona where Israel has a nuclear reactor, the military said on Twitter.

"Two fell in open areas; Iron Dome intercepted the other," it said, referring to the Israeli missile defence system.

The Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Gaza-based Hamas, said it "launched three M75 rockets at Dimona", referring to the Gaza-produced rockets with a range of about 80 kilometres (50 miles).

Early on Thursday the Israeli military said that during the course of the preceding day, "at least 82 rockets hit Israel" and 21 were intercepted.

So far, neither side has shown any sign of backing down, as Israel stepped up its preparations for a possible ground assault, approving the call up of 40,000 reservists.

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