Israeli airstrikes kill 11 children in Gaza being treated for trauma, aid agency says

By Hadas Gold, Celine Alkhaldi, Ofri Eshel, Abeer Salman, Kareem Khadder and Mohammed Tawfeeq, CNN

    (CNN) -- Concerns continued to mount Wednesday over the humanitarian toll from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it emerged that Israeli airstrikes killed 11 Gazan children being treated for trauma.

More than 60 children in Gaza and two in Israel have been killed since the latest flareup of violence began more than a week ago.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said Tuesday that 11 of the young victims in Gaza -- between the ages of 5 and 15 -- were participating in its trauma program before Israeli airstrikes killed them in their homes.

NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland expressed outrage at what he called a "maddening, crazy exchange of rockets and missiles," and said both Israeli politicians and generals, as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza, should be held accountable.

"What they're doing is killing children," he told CNN's Zain Asher.

Calls for a ceasefire continued to grow Wednesday, but Israel's military said its operation against Hamas in Gaza could go on for days yet, and rockets fired from Gaza once again set sirens wailing in Israel.

In another development, four rockets were launched from Lebanon into Israeli territory on Wednesday afternoon, the Israel Defense Forces said. Israel responded with artillery fire.

In a dramatic increase in pressure in its public messaging Wednesday, the White House said US President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire" in their fourth phone call over the past week.

A total of 12 people have died in Israel as a result of Palestinian militant fire, including two children, according to the IDF and Israel's emergency service.

The Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health said Israeli airstrikes had killed 219 people, including 63 children, and injured more than 1,500 others in the current round of violence.

Karl Schembri, NRC's regional media adviser, told CNN Wednesday that the organization has dealt with children "who had absolutely terrifying, violent nightmares, that make them unable to function."

"The violence, there's no escape from it. This is not like going to some frontline, which you can avoid. This is the frontline coming to your bedroom," Schembri said.

In Gaza, more than 72,000 people are considered internally displaced, many of them finding shelter in dozens of schools, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Four Palestinians, including a local journalist, were killed and 10 others wounded in overnight Israeli raids on Gaza Wednesday, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The journalist, Yusef Abu Hussein, was a broadcaster with Gaza radio station Al Aqsa Radio. He was killed in an Israeli strike targeting a house near the Sheikh Radwan cemetery, north of Gaza City, the WAFA report said.

On Wednesday, dozens of Israeli warplanes launched a series of airstrikes on several Hamas targets, including "a weapons depot" located in offices belonging to Hamas' internal security headquarters in Khan Yunis, and "a command and control center" in Rafah, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) said.

The 25-minute-long attack destroyed "about 40 underground targets," the IAF said in a tweet, adding that about 3,750 rockets had been fired from Gaza as of Wednesday morning, of which 550 had failed and fallen within Gaza. It's unclear how many of those rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system. The IDF has said previously that the system intercepts more than 90% of the rockets targeted.

The IDF has also twice tried to target the leader of Hamas' military wing, Mohammed Deif, over the past 10 days, a military source in Israel confirmed to CNN on Wednesday. On each occasion, he escaped, the source said. No details about the dates or location of the attempts to kill Deif were provided.

Deif leads the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and has been an influential planner of attacks for more than 20 years. He has long been an IDF target, suffering multiple injuries during previous attempts on his life, including the loss of both legs in 2006, according to Israeli media reports.

At a news briefing on Wednesday an IDF official said it was "preparing for more days" of conflict, in response to a question on whether a ceasefire was imminent.

The official also gave the most detailed Israeli explanation yet of why it destroyed a building housing international media outlets Al Jazeera and the Associated Press, among others, over the weekend.

The official said the Al-Jala'a building contained the electronic department of the military wing of Hamas, which was researching and developing high-end capabilities for attacks on Israel. The Israeli military has not provided evidence of Hamas's presence in the building, and CNN has not been able to verify the claim.

Demolishing the building, rather than a more targeted strike, has drawn intense criticism.

Reporters Without Borders, an NGO that works to protect journalists around the world, said it was calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate whether deliberately targeting media outlets constitutes a war crime.

But Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of "deliberately" operating near buildings like hospitals and schools, thereby endangering civilians who risk becoming human shields.

Now into its second week, this is the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian confrontation since the two sides fought a war in 2014.

Speaking Tuesday following a visit to the Israeli air force base at Hatzerim, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said operations would continue "as necessary to restore peace to the citizens of Israel."

Referring to Israel's attacks on Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Netanyahu said: "I have no doubt that we took them back many years."

Calls for ceasefire

Successful attempts to negotiate a truce between Israel and militants in Gaza have so far remained elusive.

France has circulated a motion for a resolution for the UN Security Council to approve, providing momentum to spur an end to the turmoil.

However, the Council has been unable to approve a legally non-binding statement on the issue, blocked by the United States which told the Council any UN action is not timely and won't help de-escalate fighting.

"We are calling for a ceasefire, which is what we sent to the UN Security Council. There are very active discussions with the Americans on this subject in particular," French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said at a news conference in Paris.

Egypt and Qatar's efforts to broker a truce have stalled over two main points, a senior Hamas leader with direct knowledge of mediation efforts told CNN on Sunday.

One stumbling block is Israel's insistence that Hamas must initiate the ceasefire, at least three hours before Israel, at which point Israel would follow. Hamas flatly rejected this proposal, the Hamas leader said.

The Hamas source said the other hurdle is Hamas' insistence that any ceasefire must include the ending of Israel's "provocations" at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem -- the third holiest site in Islam -- and a resolution of the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where several Palestinian families face eviction.

A pro-Jewish settler organization called Nahalat Shimon is using a 1970 law to argue the owners of the land in question before 1948 were Jewish families, and so the current Palestinian landowners should be evicted and their properties given to Israeli Jews.

Palestinians say restitution laws in Israel are unfair because they have no legal means to reclaim property they lost to Jewish families in the late 1940s in what became the state of Israel.

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