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Israel presses blistering attack on Gaza, toll rises to 524

Monday, 21 July 2014 - 8:00pm IST | Place: Gaza/Jerusalem | Agency: PTI

  • AFP photo

Israel on Monday pressed ahead with its heavy bombardment of Gaza and foiled major infiltration attempts by Hamas on the 14th day of the conflict that has killed 524 Palestinians and 20 Israelis, even as the UN and the US called for an "immediate ceasefire".

A day after Israel's deadliest attack on Gaza in recent years killed about 150 people, more than 10 Hamas militants were shot dead today after infiltrating southern Israel. Two Hamas cells tried to infiltrate Israel to carry out an attack through tunnels from northern Gaza but they were identified by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and an aircraft was dispatched to intercept them, the army said.

"The first cell was struck from the air, and ten of its members were killed", it said. The second squad tried to approach Niram kibbutz close to Gaza's northeastern tip, where they were engaged in a fierce gun battle with soldiers in which they also fired anti-tank weapons. Several soldiers were wounded, the army said, without giving further details.

In the latest incident, tank-shelling on a hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza killed five people. The deaths across Gaza on Monday pushed the Palestinian toll to at least 524 in 14 days of fighting.

At least 20 bodies were found near the city of Khan Younis after an Israeli airstrike and two people were pulled alive from the rubble, a health official said, adding that over 3,100 Palestinians have been injured so far. Twenty Israelis, including 18 soldiers, have died so far in the Operation Protective Edge launched on July 8.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council held urgent talks on the conflict late last night, expressing "serious concern" about the rising death toll and demanding "an immediate cessation of hostilities." UN chief Ban Ki-moon met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Qatar to end the escalating conflict that has also displaced thousands.

US President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called for an immediate end to hostilities. Netanyahu has vowed to continue offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip despite the death of his 18 soldiers and two civilians.

Netanyahu told reporters last night that the death of the soldiers is "painful and difficult", but Israel will continue its Operation Protective Edge with full speed ahead. Four Indian tailors working in Gaza for the last two years were evacuated on Monday unharmed with the help of the Representative Office of India (ROI) in Ramallah, West Bank.

Pushkar Sharma, an Indian-American representative of the UN Access coordination office in Gaza, said the Indians, along with a few other foreign nationals, crossed over through the Erez crossing around noon before the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire brokered by the Red Cross began.

Some more Indians, married to Palestinians or working at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charities, have decided not to leave the coastal strip because of personal or moral reasons. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed yesterday alone, which is higher than that sustained during the entire three- week duration of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, the last time Israel sent its troops into Gaza.

"We bow our heads to our fallen sons, who died so we could continue living in our country," Netanyahu said at a press conference with Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon. "I would like to express, on behalf of the government of Israel and the people of Israel, the deep pain we feel. We send our condolences to the parents, children, partners and families of the IDF soldiers who fell in battle. I want to tell you, there isn't a war more just than that in which your sons bravely died in," he said accusing Hamas of dragging his country into the war.

He promised "to complete the task to restore calm to the south, central Israel and the rest of the country" in an indication that the operation would continue. Ya'alon re-iterated Netanyahu's message cautioning that there were still long days of fighting ahead.

"We won't break and we won't back away. The IDF's best commanders and fighters are operating in the Gaza Strip today in order to remove the threat of rockets, terror and tunnels," the Israeli Defence Minister emphasised. "The price we pay, unfortunately, is heavy. This is the painful cost of war," Ya'alon added.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) brokered a temporary ceasefire yesterday to allow evacuation of the dead and wounded in a deal accepted by both Israel and Hamas. However, the humanitarian ceasefire was short-lived as the Israeli army accused Hamas militants of violating it and said it had "responded accordingly". Palestinians have released gruesome images of the dead and wounded, including children.

"The massacre of civilians in Saja'iyya is a war crime that will not break the will of our people. The resistance will not allow the enemy to trample over the soil of Gaza," Hamas' armed wing said in a statement.

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