Israel Widens Offensive in Gaza as Hamas Rocket Attacks Continue

Both sides are defying international pressure for a cease-fire.

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Three days after widening its initial air and sea assault on Gaza with a ground offensive, Israel's military is deepening its efforts against Hamas, reaching toward the city of Khan Yunis in Gaza's south, while the death toll has neared 600.

The move came despite international calls for a cease-fire, most recently from France and Syria. Meanwhile, the militant group Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel, defying international pressure.

Israel launched its military assault on Gaza 11 days ago. Since then, countries worldwide have called for a cease-fire. International calls for a 48-hour truce were rebuffed in the first week of the war. Most recently, French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a cease-fire "as soon as possible" during a news conference Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Sarkozy met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to enlist him in diplomatic efforts.

At the same time, however, Israeli troops moved into Khan Yunis, Gaza's second-largest city, and pledged to press on with their attacks. Israeli officials say that until Hamas ceases firing rockets into their country, the assault will continue. A recent Hamas rocket attack hit Gedera, a town just 20 miles south of Tel Aviv—one of the points farthest north that Palestinian rocket fire has reached.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza has climbed. According to Palestinian medical officials, more than 560 in Gaza were killed by Tuesday; the United Nations says about a quarter of those were civilians. An airstrike at a U.N.-run school Tuesday killed at least 40 people.

Hamas has killed five Israelis, while four Israeli soldiers have been killed in "friendly fire" incidents.

Aid groups have warned of humanitarian disaster in Gaza. The International Committee of the Red Cross called it a "full-blown major crisis in humanitarian terms." At Gaza's largest hospital, for example, generators have had to provide electricity for three days, medicine is running out, many workers can't make it to work because of the fighting, and 11 medical staff members have been killed while retrieving victims.

Hamas assumed control of Gaza in June 2007, after which the Israeli government restricted the borders and shipments of food, medicine, and other goods into Gaza. Now, Israeli military strategy has cut the strip in half, making it difficult for Gazans to move across the region to hospitals.

From Israel's perspective, one of the war's thorniest aspects is who is and who is not a civilian. That's particularly tricky with a group like Hamas, which engages not only in rocket and suicide attacks on Israel but also runs the Gaza Strip's schools, hospitals, power plants, mosques, and police forces. Making any of those installations a target in heavily populated Gaza will, almost inevitably, harm noncombatants.