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Israeli strike kills 18, stirs debate over targets

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A Palestinian mourner chants slogans on the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday’s Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

A Palestinian mourner chants slogans on the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday’s Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Palestinian mourners gather around the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday’s Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Palestinian mourners chant slogans during a funeral procession of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday’s Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Palestinians walk past one of the houses of the al-Batsh family, demolished by an Israeli strike earlier last week, as they rush to the funeral procession of several members of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday’s Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City on Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Palestinians use their hands to move soil and shape the grave of a member of the al-Batsh family who were killed in Saturday’s Israeli airstrike, during a funeral procession in Gaza City, Sunday, July 13, 2014. The strike hit the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended Saturday, killing at least 18 people, wounding 50 and leaving some people believed to be trapped under the rubble, said Palestinian Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The target was the Gaza police chief. He survived the Israeli airstrike on a cousin’s home with critical injuries, but 18 family members were killed, including five children and teens.

The weekend attack highlighted Israel’s broad definition of military targets in its current offensive against the Islamic militant group Hamas. The army says those targets include senior Hamas activists and their homes, even as it insists it is doing the utmost to spare bystanders by warning them to clear out.

However, the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday that civilians made up the majority of Palestinian casualties over the past six days — 133 of 168 killed and nearly half of more than 1,100 wounded. And a human-rights researcher said some of Israel’s strikes appear to have violated rules of war.

The issue of Israel’s targets cuts to the core of conflicting narratives.

Palestinians — and not just those loyal to Hamas — say Israel is punishing all of Gaza’s 1.7 million people and is killing civilians with impunity. The situation in Gaza “has become unbearable,” Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a longtime rival of Hamas, said Sunday.

Israel has portrayed its offensive against Hamas as self-defense, saying it is trying to halt the group’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli communities. Gaza militants have fired more than 800 rockets over the past week, disrupting life in large parts of the country but so far causing no deaths, according to the Israeli military.

A senior army commander said Sunday that Israel is trying to cause maximum damage to Hamas, which seized Gaza in 2007 and seeks Israel’s destruction. The military sometimes holds back because of concern for civilians, said the officer who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, citing military regulations.

“I could kill a lot more Hamas commanders, but the way I’m operating now is consistent with my values and my conscience,” he said.

Trying to highlight its attempts to warn civilians, the military released a recording of a phone call to a resident in an area about to be targeted. The caller is heard saying he is speaking on behalf of the Israeli army.

“You speak Hebrew? Excellent,” he says to the Palestinian on the other line — in Hebrew. He then urges residents to clear out because a house is about to be targeted. “In five minutes, we are bombing,” the Israeli says.

Members of the extended family of Taysir al-Batsh, the police chief in Gaza, said they did not receive any call before Israel flattened the two-story home of one of the chief’s cousins late Saturday, just as worshippers streamed out of a nearby mosque after evening prayers.

Al-Batsh was in stable condition Sunday at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital. Eighteen of his relatives were killed, said Dr. Ayman Sahabani

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