Israel pounded Gaza from the air, sea and ground on the second full day of its ground offensive on Monday, with the air force, navy and artillery backing its ground troops and their shelling killing at least 24 Palestinian civilians — 13 of them children of two families.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy was due to arrive in Israel late on Monday as part of a trip to the Middle East that is to include talks in Cairo, Ramallah and Jerusalem, as international efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution continued amid the heavy fighting.
But keeping up the pressure, Israeli fighter jets meanwhile struck some 30 more targets in the coastal enclave overnight, the military said.
Israeli ground troops, which entered the strip late Saturday under the cover of darkness, have taken control of areas from which Palestinian militants have been firing rockets at southern Israel.
While thus far largely avoiding populated areas, the troops have also encircled Gaza City, under heavy fire, and cut off the north from the south of the strip by taking control of a key east-west road leading from the Karni border crossing, east of the city, toward the coast.
The troop’s advance sparked heavy clashes with local Hamas fighters.
Since Israel launched its ‘Operation Cast Lead’ nine days ago — aimed at curbing seven years of rocket and mortar attacks against its southern towns and villages — 537 Palestinians have been killed and at least 2,500 injured.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops detained ‘dozens’ of Hamas members in the Gaza Strip, an army spokesman told AFP on Monday.