By DANIEL ESTRIN and IBRAHIM BARZAK
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli aircraft struck 30 houses in the Gaza Strip early Friday, killing a leader of the militant Islamic Jihad group and two of his sons, as Israel’s Security Cabinet was to meet later in the day to decide whether to expand its operation or consider ideas for a cease-fire.
Israeli ground troops and Hamas gunmen fought intense battles in the north and center of the territory, Palestinian officials said.
The Israeli military said it hit 45 sites in Gaza, including what it said was a Hamas military command post, while Gaza militants continued to fire rockets at Israel, with one hitting an empty house.
On the 18th day of fighting, Israel’s Security Cabinet was to convene later Friday to consider international cease-fire proposals, an Israeli defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the deliberations were taking place behind closed doors.
One plan calls for a five-day humanitarian truce during which Israel and Hamas would negotiate new border arrangements for blockaded Gaza, said Hana Amireh, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official in the West Bank, who is involved in cease-fire efforts.
Hamas has said it will not halt fire without international guarantees that Egypt and Israel will open Gaza’s border crossings and end their seven-year-old blockade. Israel and Egypt are reluctant to ease the blockade, fearing this will enable Hamas to tighten its grip on Gaza.
Israeli media reported that the military also wants more time to continue destroying rocket sites and tunnels from Gaza into Israel that Hamas has used to launch attacks. The military says it has found 31 tunnels but only destroyed about one-third of them so far. Israel has mobilized over 65,000 reserve forces during the fighting.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, thousands of Israeli security forces were deployed for possible Palestinian protests after Friday prayers at a key Muslim holy site, said police spokeswoman Luba Samri.
The night before, thousands of Palestinians protesting the Gaza fighting clashed with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem in one of the biggest protests in the territory in years. One Palestinian was killed and dozens were wounded, according to Palestinian medical officials.
In Gaza, the Palestinian death toll reached 817, after 115 were killed on Thursday in one of the deadliest days of fighting, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Palestinian health official. More than 5,000 Palestinians have been wounded since July 8, he said.
During the same period, 34 Israelis, among them 32 soldiers, and a Thai worker were killed.
Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck 30 houses throughout the Gaza Strip, including the home of Salah Hassanein, a leader of the military wing of Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza after Hamas.
Hassanein and two of his sons were killed in the strike, said Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji and al-Kidra. The Israeli army confirmed the strike.
Over the past two weeks, Israeli aircraft have repeatedly hit homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders. Most had gone into hiding, but the strikes killed a leader of an Islamic Jihad rocket squad, a Hamas commander and a son of senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya, according to the Israeli military.
Such strikes have also claimed the lives of a large number of civilians. A Gaza human rights group said earlier this week that close to 500 homes have been damaged or destroyed in direct hits from the air, and that more than 320 people have been killed in their homes as a result of military strikes.
Germany’s two largest airlines said they are not yet resuming flights to Israel even though the European Aviation Safety Agency has lifted a recommendation that airlines refrain from flying to Tel Aviv airport.
Air Berlin says flights to Tel Aviv remain suspended at least through midday Friday, while Lufthansa says all Friday flights to the airport have been canceled because of ongoing security concerns after a Gaza rocket landed about a mile away from Israel’s international airport.
Lufthansa’s cancellations apply to subsidiaries Germanwings, Austrian Airlines, Swiss and Brussels Airlines as well.
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