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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Death Toll Rises as Israel Retaliates

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- An Israeli airstrike killed two Palestinian militants and wounded several school children Tuesday, raising the death toll to 15 in one of the worst outbreaks of violence in nearly 17 months of conflict.

The missile attack on an office of the Islamic Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip followed air strikes in Gaza and the West Bank overnight and took the number of Palestinians killed in 24 hours to 11, drawing vows of revenge from the group.

"The answer for the killing of children and civilians can never be silence," said Hamas political leader Mahmoud al-Zahar. "The new crime will never deter us from continuing to fight the enemy until we drive it out of our homeland."

The strikes responded to four Israeli deaths in Palestinian attacks and followed a surge of violence in the past week.

The bloodshed dealt a new blow to U.S.-led international peace efforts and increased pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is under fire from both the political right and left after a sharp rise in the number of Israeli deaths.

Each Palestinian attack also dents international faith in the ability of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- who is confined to Ramallah by Israeli tanks -- to rein in militants.

Palestinian security sources said a helicopter gunship fired at least one missile at a Hamas office in the densely populated Jabalya refugee camp, which is home to 90,000 people, and killed two people in the building.

The missile hit between the morning and afternoon shifts at a nearby school, meaning many pupils were entering or leaving. A nine-year-old girl was critically wounded by shrapnel and five other children were seriously hurt, hospital officials said.

The missile punched a gaping hole in the ground floor of the three-story building, wrecking and blackening the walls.

The Israeli army said the attack responded to the recent wave of "murderous terror attacks." Hamas has been the main group behind deadly suicide bombings against Israelis.

Palestinian security sources said five Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip overnight and two in an Israeli raid on the edge of Nablus in the West Bank, in addition to a suicide bomber who blew himself up Monday near Jerusalem and a militant killed in an attack on an Israeli convoy in Gaza.

The suicide bomber killed an Israeli policeman when he detonated explosives beside his car, and the attack by Palestinian militants on a convoy on the Gaza Strip soon afterwards killed a Jewish settler and two soldiers.

"My intention is to deliver the hardest of blows to the terrorist groups, in the hope that one day, possibly, there will also be people with whom we can talk," Sharon told his Likud party faction in Jerusalem on Monday.

But Palestinian militant groups have pledged to fight on and right-wing politicians increased calls for a tougher Israeli response following the four Israeli deaths on Monday.