Israeli troops battle Hamas, uncover Gaza tunnels as toll crosses 337

  • Agencies, Gaza City, Palestinian Territories,
  • |
  • Updated: Jul 19, 2014 20:52 IST

Israeli air strikes and shelling killed more than 25 people across Gaza on Saturday, among them children, raising the toll in 12 days of violence to 337, medics said.

The latest deaths included a 20-year-old man in southern Gaza's Khan Yunis, and a 16-year-old killed in Rafah, also in southern Gaza, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Another two men were killed east of Deir al-Balah, he added.

Palestinian siblings Maria Abdel Aal and Misk cry as the body of their relative Bashir Abdel Aal, killed in an overnight Israeli missile strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, is carried away from the family house, during his funeral. (AP photo)

Their deaths followed those of five members of the Zuweidi family, including two girls aged two and six years old, in Gaza's northern Beit Hanun.

Four men were also killed in two separate air strikes in northern Gaza's Beit Lahiya, Qudra added, along with one person killed in the Qarara district of southern Khan Yunis.

Another three men were killed in an air strike in central Gaza, he added.

The new deaths raised the toll in Gaza on the 12th day of violence between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas to 337 people.

Earlier, Qudra also reported five bodies had been pulled from a home hit by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis.

Two Israeli civilians and one Israeli soldier have been killed since the campaign started on July 8, and several wounded.

The soldier was killed by friendly fire, the army told Israeli media.

An Israeli soldier sits on top of his tank across the northern Gaza Strip. Israel intensified its land offensive in Gaza with artillery, tanks and gunboats. (Reuters photo)

Some 2,385 Palestinians have been wounded, Qudra said.

Operation Protective Edge is the bloodiest conflict in the besieged coastal enclave since 2009.

Earlier, Qudra reported five bodies had been pulled from a home hit by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis.

Two Israeli civilians and one Israeli soldier have been killed since the campaign started on July 8.

The soldier was killed by friendly fire inside Gaza on Friday, the army told Israeli media.

Some 2,385 Palestinians have been wounded, Qudra said.

Operation Protective Edge is the bloodiest conflict in the besieged coastal enclave since 2009.

Israel launched its ground offensive late Thursday, starting a new phase in the operation which it said was aimed at destroying tunnels used by the territory's dominant power, Islamist movement Hamas.

WATCH: Israeli troops push deeper into Gaza to widen ground offensive

Israeli troops battle Hamas, uncover Gaza tunnels
Israeli troops uncovered more than a dozen cross-border tunnels and battled Gaza militants on the second day of an open-ended ground operation Saturday.

The Israeli military said it had severely diminished the arsenal of Hamas, the Islamic militant group ruling Gaza, but the militants have continued to fire rockets and on Saturday staged another unsuccessful cross-border tunnel raid.

The Israeli military said that during its first 24 hours on the ground in Gaza troops had discovered 13 tunnels into Israel - some as deep as 30 meters (yards) - that could be used to carry out attacks. The military said it thwarted a second infiltration attempt through such a tunnel, killing one militant and forcing the others to return to Gaza.

The military also said that in 12 days of fighting it has hit 2,350 targets in Gaza, including 1,100 rocket launchers.

Militants have fired more than 1,600 rockets since the latest round of fighting began on July 8. Rocket fire continued overnight, including one that landed in a residential neighborhood in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, causing no injuries.

"We have struck hard on the two main strategic assets of Hamas: the rockets and these tunnels," said Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.
Overnight Israeli air attacks. AFP

Israel says it has encountered little resistance on the ground so far, and has killed about 20 militants in sporadic gunbattles. Three soldiers were wounded in overnight fighting, one seriously, the military said.

In one case, it said troops encountered a man who appealed for medical assistance before pulling out grenades and trying to hurl them at soldiers. He was shot dead. Troops also encountered a donkey with explosives strapped to it.

Casualties could mount quickly if the military moves further into urban areas.

Some 50,000 Palestinians are already staying in United Nations shelters, according to UNRWA, the UN refugee agency for Palestinians.

Israel launched the ground operation late Thursday after hundreds of airstrikes on the Hamas-ruled territory failed to halt unrelenting rocket fire that has increasingly targeted major Israeli cities. Al-Kidra said 75 Palestinians have been killed since the ground offensive began.

Donkey bomb
In a separate incident, the army said, militants had strapped explosives on to a donkey in an attempt to attack troops.

"Yesterday (Friday) evening, there was at least one such attempt, in which a donkey suspiciously began to approach forces," it said.

"The forces engaged the donkey and it exploded at a safe distance."

There have been three Israeli deaths so far since the July 8 start of the Operation Protective Edge campaign to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza.

Ban Ki-moon visit
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will leave for the region on Saturday to help end the conflict between Israel and Palestinians that has killed more than 300 people, mostly civilians.

His peace push came as Israel was poised to intensify a ground operation inside the besieged Palestinian territory it says is necessary to stop militants tunnelling into the Jewish state.

Under secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the UN Security Council that the Secretary- General Ban is "prepared to do his part" to help the parties end the violence and find a solution to the crisis.

"The Secretary-General is extremely concerned that this escalation will further increase the already appalling death toll among Gazan civilians," Feltman said, adding that Ban is currently reviewing a request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas which would place.

Read: Key demands, issues in Israel-Gaza cease-fire 

Palestine under an international protection system administered by the UN.

He said while Israel has legitimate security concerns, the United Nations "is alarmed by Israel's heavy response."  

He said while it was "indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel" that ended yesterday's five-hour humanitarian pause, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has so far conducted four ground incursions into Gaza and about 90 airstrikes, firing 91 missiles, as well as over 500 shells.

"We again appeal to the warring parties to respect international humanitarian law obligations towards civilians, humanitarian workers and UN installations. They must exercise maximum restraint at this time of great violence and instability," he added.

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Gaza under attack

(With AFP, REUTERS and AP inputs)


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