World pushes truce efforts as Gaza toll hits 548
GAZA CITY - Agence France-Presse
Palestinian medics carry a casualty as they run past a burning building in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood, July 20. AP Photo
World efforts to broker a ceasefire in war-torn Gaza gathered pace July 21 as Israel pressed a blistering 14-day assault on the enclave, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 548.
As Washington and the United Nations demanded an "immediate ceasefire" in the battered Palestinian enclave, there was no let up in the Israeli offensive with another 31 Gazans killed in a series of strikes.
And Israel said troops killed 10 Hamas militants after they sneaked over the border through a network of tunnels that the army has been trying to destroy in an intensive four-day ground operation.
With growing concern over the number of civilian deaths, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo for top-level talks on ending the hostilities, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also expected to fly in late July 21.
Following the deadliest day in Gaza since 2009, when at least 140 Palestinians were killed on July 20, medics pulled another 68 bodies from the rubble early July 21, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said. 31 others were killed in a series of fresh strikes across the Gaza Strip.
In the latest bloodshed, tank-shelling on a hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza killed four people, and a family of nine was killed in the southern city of Rafah, seven of them children, Qudra said.
As the diplomatic efforts gathered steam, hundreds of people could be seen flooding out of the northern town of Beit Hanun, a day after many thousands fled an intensive Israeli bombardment of the eastern Gaza City district of Shejaiya.
On July 20, at least 72 people were killed in Shejaiya during a
punishing Israeli operation which reduced much of the district to rubble
and left charred bodies lying in the streets. An Israeli tank shell killed three more in the district on July 21.
And a family of nine was killed in the southern city of Rafah, seven of them children, he said.
As the diplomatic efforts gathered steam, hundreds of people could be seen flooding out of the northern town of Beit Hanun, a day after many thousands fled an intensive Israeli bombardment of the eastern district of Shejaiya.
On July 20, at least 72 people were killed in Shejaiya during a punishing Israeli operation which reduced much of the district to rubble and left charred bodies lying in the streets.
Since the Israeli operation began on July 8, huge numbers of Gazans have fled their homes, with more than 85,000 people taking shelter in 67 schools run by UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, a spokesman said.
By Monday morning, a U.N. school on the outskirts of Shejaiya was packed to overflowing with people seeking shelter, many sleeping in the corridors, an AFP correspondent said.
And in Gaza City's Shifa hospital, several families could be seen sleeping in gardens in the hope they would be safe from the bombing.
Meanwhile, in southern Israel, the military said troops had killed "more than 10" Hamas militants who managed to cross the border through tunnels. It said there were "two terrorist squads," one of which was hit by an air strike
Military radio said the second squad engaged in a fierce gun battle with troops in which several soldiers were wounded, without giving further details.
On July 20, 13 Israeli soldiers were killed inside Gaza, raising to 18 the total number of soldiers killed since a ground operation began late on July 18. That represented the army's heaviest losses in eight years and left Israel in mourning.
The attack was claimed by Hamas militants from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which said it had carried out "an operation behind enemy lines in response to the massacre in Shejaiya."
Late on Sunday, the Qassam Brigades claimed it had captured an Israeli soldier it named as Shaul Aaron in a report that the army said it was checking, but which Israel's U.N. ambassador said was untrue.
Ban's truce tour
As the U.N. chief sought to advance regional plans for a ceasefire, Kuwait's top diplomat pushed him to rally world support to end Israel's "dangerous aggression" in Gaza at talks in Kuwait City.
Ban was expected in Cairo later on July 21, ahead of the arrival of Kerry.
Elsewhere in the region, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was to meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the Qatari capital for talks on a ceasefire, officials said.
So far, ceasefire proposals have been rejected by Hamas, which has laid out a long list of demands it wants Israel to agree to, including an end to its blockade of Gaza and the release of scores of prisoners.
Despite rising concern over the number of civilian casualties, Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for using innocent civilians "as human shields" and insisted the military operation had "very strong support" from the international community.
Although Israel said July 20 it was expanding its ground operation to destroy cross-border tunnels, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon suggested the mission could be accomplished within days.
There was no let-up in rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants on July 21 with 40 hitting Israel, one striking the greater Tel Aviv area, and another 11 shot down, the army said.