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Ban Ki-moon: Israel, Gaza can't 'afford another full-blown war'

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(Read caption) Palestinians inspect a house belonging to a senior Hamas official that was damaged in a strike in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, on July 10, 2014. Israel dramatically escalated its aerial assault in Gaza Thursday hitting hundreds of Hamas targets, as Palestinians reported more than a dozen of people killed in strikes that hit a home and a beachside cafe and Israel's missile defense system once again intercepted rockets fired by militants at the country's heartland.

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As the Palestinian death toll reached 74 in the three-day aerial conflict between Israel and Hamas, international observers intensified their calls for deescalation. 

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The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it attacked 108 targets between midnight and morning – killing an estimated 20 Palestinians – and that militants fired 12 rockets on Israel in that time period, a sharp decline from earlier in the week. More than half of those were halted by its Iron Dome defense system, the BBC reports. 

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of the dangers of the current situation, saying this region can’t “afford another full-blown war.” The Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting today to discuss the fighting.

"The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get out of control," Mr. Ban said. "The risk of violence expanding further still is real."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Israel has hit at least 750 militant targets in Gaza in the three days since the offensive began, including underground rocket launchers and homes of top Hamas and Islamic Jihad – more than half the number targeted during [Israel’s] last eight-day-long military campaign against rocket launchers in Gaza in November 2012.”

Israel says militants have fired more than 365 rockets from Gaza since Tuesday, reports the BBC.

"This war is not against Hamas or any faction but is against the Palestinian people," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday. Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party reached a power-sharing agreement in April.

The US State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and plans to speak with President Abbas, urging both parties to scale back the crisis.

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According to Fox News, Mr. Netanyahu has spoken with a number of world leaders, including Mr. Kerry, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Ban. However, Netanyahu hasn’t signaled plans to draw down the Israeli offensive.

Although Hamas's arsenal has grown in size only slightly since the last conflict in 2012, “its mid-range rockets are much more accurate, and it has acquired long-range missiles that reach beyond Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, putting as many as 5 million of Israel’s 8 million citizens at risk," The Christian Science Monitor reports.

An estimated 20,000 Israeli reservists have been called up and are preparing for a possible ground incursion, reports The New York Times. The IDF is authorized to deploy up to 40,000 troops. At present, these troops are largely focused on identifying tunnels into Gaza, which are used by militants to execute attacks, according to the Times.

A separate Monitor report notes that the 2012 Israel-Hamas conflict only ended with a ceasefire after Israel put 75,000 troops on the border with Gaza and threatened to invade. However, Netanyahu doesn’t appear to favor a ground invasion this time around.

“We know what a ground offensive entails and we would resort to that only if we believed that there was no other way to achieve peace and quiet for our citizens,” a top Israeli official told the Monitor on condition of anonymity.