Four children killed by Israeli shelling in Gaza: medical officials

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Smoke and flames are seen during what witnesses said was an explosion caused by an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza City August 23, 2014. Israeli aircraft bombed the Gaza Strip on Saturday and Palestinian militants fired rockets at the Jewish state, the military said, with no end in sight to the deadliest violence between the sides in years. Gaza health officials said five people were killed in an Israeli strike on a house in central Gaza. The Israeli military said it bombed about 20 targets across the Hamas-dominated strip, including rocket launchers and weapon caches. REUTERS/Ezz Zanon (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT)

Smoke and flames are seen during what witnesses said was an explosion caused by an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza City

GAZA (Reuters) - Four Palestinian children were killed and one was critically wounded on a Gaza beach on Wednesday by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat, a Palestinian health official said.

Asked about the incident, an Israeli military spokesman in Tel Aviv said he was checking the report.

"The kids were playing football on the beach. They were all ... under the age of 15," said Ahmed Abu Hassera, 22.

"When the first shell hit the land, they ran away but another shell hit them all," said Abu Hassera, whose shirt was stained with blood.

"It looked as if the shells were chasing them," he told Reuters.

Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said four of the youngsters were killed and a fifth youth was in critical condition. "This is a cowardly crime," he said.

The Gaza beach area has been shelled frequently since Israel began its offensive in the enclave on July 8 following a surge in Palestinian cross-border rocket strikes.

Gaza health officials said 207 Palestinians, most of them civilians, had been killed in air and naval barrages, in the worst flareup of Israeli-Palestinian violence in two years.

One Israeli has been killed by shelling from Gaza that has made a race to shelter a daily routine for hundreds of thousands in Israel.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Andrew Roche)