Palestinian Death Toll From Israeli Offensive Hits 80

At least 80 Palestinians have been killed since Tuesday in an Israeli offensive aimed at stopping rocket fire from Hamas, which fired rockets deep into Israel last night. And situation shows no sign of letting up: Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't have an exit strategy.

Israel has escalated its aerial offensive on Gaza, hitting 320 targets just last night, including a beachside cafe and a news agency's car. Israeli forces say they've warned civilians before striking the homes of alleged Hamas militants, but at least 14 Palestinian children are among the dead, including four toddlers. (The photo above shows Ramadan Abu Ghazal carrying the body of his four-year-old son, Abdallah today.)

The New York Times explains how some civilians have gotten caught in the crossfire:

When seven people died and 25 were wounded in the Israeli strike on the house of the Kaware family in Khan Younis on Tuesday, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said the warnings had been given [to civilians], and the attack had commenced after the Israelis had seen people vacating the premises. In the short time between the last warning and the airstrike, people went back in ... it was too late to cancel the missile. "It is a tragedy indeed and not what we intended," [Lerner] said.

Israeli President Shimon Peres has blamed Hamas for the civilian deaths: "The Hamas is killing the citizens of Gaza by placing them where rockets are being fired."

The conflict continues to escalate each hour, and Netanyahu hasn't said when Israel's offensive will end. The Times reports that Israel has called up 20,000 reservists and that the military is in the final stages of planning a ground operation. Barak Ravid at Haaretz writes,

When the decision was made to launch [the offensive on] Gaza, the security cabinet did not set any diplomatic objectives for it. Beyond trying to stop the rocket fire by military means, it isn't clear if the Netanyahu government wants to simply restore the status quo and gain a few more months of quiet, or to fashion a new diplomatic reality regarding Gaza ... Every day that goes by without discussing [an exit strategy] is liable to drag Israel into a dangerous ground operation against its will.

There are reports that Israeli forces killed Hamas's commander in charge of rocket launches this morning. According to experts, if this is true, there will be an increase in Hamas's already frequent rocket activity.

[Image via AP]