* Civilians main victims in densely populated enclave
* Israel says assaults target Islamist militants
* Family houses repeatedly targeted and destroyed
By Noah Browning
GAZA, July 12 The Israeli military's "pinpoint
strikes" on houses in Gaza have killed whole families and
children but few of the wanted men they are meant to target
because they have long made themselves scarce, Palestinian
After five days of cross-border barrages between Gaza
militants and Israel's air force, at least 81 of the 121
Palestinians killed have been civilians, including 25 children,
according to Palestinian medical officials.
While relatively few militants and even fewer of their
commanders have been killed, according to Hamas sources and
media reports, Israel appears more determined than in previous
wars to bring the fight to their homes in the densely populated
enclave hugging the Mediterranean coast.
Kin, neighbours and others who deny any ties to militants
have been most often in the firing line of Israel's assaults.
"I still can't believe this happened, it's like a bad
dream," said Shadi Hamad, standing in the demolished courtyard
of a family home with tearful relatives.
"It was 11 at night and the family had just sat down in a
circle for coffee in the front porch after breaking the Ramadan
fast. The missile landed in the middle. Everyone was killed."
The air strike was targeting Hafez Hamad, a local commander
in the Islamic Jihad militant group, and killed him, as well as
his parents, two brothers and niece.
"Where were their human rights, which Israel and its backers
say they defend?" said Bassam Qassem, a neighbour. "Even if he
(Hamad) was a resistance fighter, does that allow them to kill
his whole family? This is murder."
For their part, nervous Israeli civilians have for days had
to heed warning sirens to seek shelter from Palestinian rockets,
around 700 of which have lobbed from Gaza since Tuesday. They
have so far caused no Israeli fatalities, but some injuries and
Israel disavows any responsibility for the Gaza deaths,
saying Hamas stows its people and weapons among civilians and
hopes to score a cheap sympathy boost from their deaths.
"We are using all our attacking capabilities, not without
brains, reason - not without taking into consideration that
there are also civilians in Gaza. We remember that there are
civilians. Hamas has turned them into hostages," Israeli
military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz said on Friday.
"We continue to attack as best we can, rockets, command
centres, tunnels, munitions and defence infrastructure and Gaza
is sinking into a tragedy," Gantz said.
Early on Saturday two disabled women were killed and four
other people seriously wounded when an Israeli tank shell struck
a rehabilitation centre in the eastern part of Gaza City,
Palestinian medics said. An Israeli military spokeswoman said
she was checking for details on why the centre was targeted.
Residents also said a mosque in the central Gaza Strip was
bombed to rubble. The military said it had housed a weapons
Israel says it has attacked more than a thousand targets in
the coastal territory since the recent fighting began.
MANY HOMES OF MILITANTS, POLICE TARGETED
The Gaza interior ministry told Reuters that over 200 family
homes have been targeted since the Israeli campaign began, many
belonging to police officers and militants but only around 15
housing high-ranking commanders.
According to the Gaza based Al-Mezan Association for Human
Rights, 537 houses - 122 of them targeted directly - were either
completely or partially damaged by Israeli air strikes since
Palestinians think the attacks are meant to sow panic and
drive a wedge between them and the militants.
"They can't find any targets this war because they're
hidden, so they've just decided to punish innocent people... Do
you see any resistance fighters here? Of course not. They've
gone underground days ago, disappeared," said Aziz Abu Awdeh in
the northern border town of Beit Hanoun.
"This is terrorism in every meaning of the word. Killing
family members and ordinary people just brings us closer
together as a people. Resistance is our right, any people in the
world would defend themselves from this."
Israel's military has published grainy aerial footage it
says shows arms caches nestled among homes, which, they say,
when struck by a missile, detonate "secondary explosions."
Outgoing rockets often appear to scream forth from near
residential districts, though Hamas denies Israeli claims that
it uses people as "human shields."
In Beit Hanoun's main hospital on Wednesday, crumps of
nearby rocket fire and air strikes brought casualties pouring
in. One father, comforting his bruised young son, said an
outgoing rocket launch had sent the boy flying across a room.
Israel says it regularly gives warnings to residents by
phone calls, text messages and dud missiles launched on their
roofs to warn them in advance of attacks, but Gazans say there
is not enough time to evacuate or warnings simply don't come.
The Israeli military described a strike on the home of the
Kaware family in which eight people died as a "tragic mistake",
saying residents had not heeded their warning. The army did not
immediately respond to Reuters' request for comment on their
A rushed voice crackled over the Gaza police radio frequency
on Friday, reporting an air strike on a family house in Beit
The bombing's sole victim was Saher Abu Namous, 4, who lay,
pale and with his head blown open, on a steel gurney in the
local morgue. The medic wrapped his plump limbs in a shroud and
prepared to enclose him in a refrigerator.
Nearby, hundreds of neighbours gathered spontaneously around
a household which had received a phone call from the Israeli
military warning that a strike was imminent.
Hamas's official radio station cautioned residents to stay
away: "Dear listeners, please be warned that surveillance drones
and an Apache helicopter are still in the area, stay well away."
Israel's military says it has aborted planned attacks when
neighbours gather in numbers to defend homes.
The air strike has yet to come.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Raissa