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September 21, 2017

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Israel steps up raids, Gaza buries dead

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories--Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza Wednesday as furious mourners buried the wife and child of Hamas' top military commander, braying for revenge as eight days of calm exploded into bloodshed.

Mohammed Deif himself, who has topped Israel's most wanted list for more than a decade, escaped the strike, which pulverized a building in Gaza City late on Tuesday and remained in command, Hamas said.

At least 18 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since militants launched a barrage of rockets on southern Israel and F16 fighter jets launched retaliatory air strikes, Palestinian medics say.

The bloodshed pushed the Palestinian death toll to more than 2,030 since July 8 when Israel and Hamas militants started their bloodiest confrontation since the second intifada or uprising (2000-2005).

Another 67 people have died on the Israeli side.

The U.N. says around three-quarters of the victims in Gaza have been civilians. Sixty-four of the Israeli dead were soldiers.

Egyptian mediators scrambled for weeks to push the warring sides to agree a decisive end to the bloodshed, but their latest attempts collapsed on Tuesday when the fighting resumed.

Several thousand angry mourners joined the funeral procession for Deif's 27-year-old wife and seven-month-old son in the Jabaliya refugee camp, shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) and demanding revenge.

Deif heads Hamas' armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which vowed to open the "gates of hell" on Israel in retaliation for the killings.

Hamas said Deif was alive and still calling the shots in the conflict with Israel.

"Those living around the Gaza border will not return home until Mohammed Deif decides," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

'Martyr in waiting'

Firing Kalashnikovs into the air, they carried the bodies of Widad and her son Ali, who were among at least four people killed in the first deadly strike since August 10.

Their bodies were wrapped in green Hamas flags and they were carried to the cemetery with the bodies of two men killed in a strike on a motorcycle, both presumed Hamas militants.

"I'm like all the other people in the Gaza Strip. I am no different from the others who have lost children," said Widad's angry father, Mustafa Harb Asfura, 56.

"My daughter knew she would die a martyr when she decided to marry Mohammed Deif. Every moment since then I've been expecting to hear that she has died," he said.

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