Israel-Gaza conflict: Palestinian death toll now exceeds 500 – but Israel fights on

As Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Cairo, end of violence may rest on America’s ability to rein in Netanyahu

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The Independent Online

The Palestinian death toll in Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip rose above 500 today, as the army said it killed 10 militants who tunnelled into Israel, while Gazan officials said an Israeli tank shelled a hospital, killing civilians.

A day after he was caught by a live microphone saying sarcastically that the Israeli assault was “a hell of a pinpoint operation”, the US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cairo to try to secure an end to the two-week conflict.

Despite a UN Security Council appeal on Sunday for an immediate ceasefire in the worst bout of Israeli-Palestinian violence for more than five years, neither the Hamas nor Israel appeared ready to stop fighting. Hamas, which killed 13 Israeli soldiers in Gaza on Sunday – the biggest one-day toll for eight years – continued to fire rockets deep into Israel and to send infiltrators. Another seven soldiers were killed today, the Israeli military reported, raising the total Israeli death toll in the two-week conflict to 27, including two civilians.

Israeli jets, tanks and artillery pounded the densely populated coastal strip, killing 28 members of a single family at the southern end.


At al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza, four people were killed and 70 wounded when an Israeli tank shell slammed into the third floor, the health ministry said.

The Israeli military, which has accused Hamas militants of firing rockets from the grounds of Gaza hospitals and seeking refuge there, had no immediate comment.

Non-stop attacks lifted the Palestinian death toll to 518, including almost 100 children, since fighting started on 8 July, Gaza health officials said. Israel says 18 of its soldiers have also died along with two civilians.

Video: The conflict in Gaza

Hamas announced late on Sunday it had captured an Israeli soldier in Gaza, displaying a photo ID card and serial number, but there was no confirmation from the Israeli side. The announcement set off rejoicing in the embattled Gaza Strip.

“This is not the time to talk of a ceasefire,” Gilad Erdan, a communications minister and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet, said.

“We must complete the mission and the mission cannot end until the threat of the tunnels is removed.”

For its part, Hamas, weakened by the loss of Egypt and Syria as allies, voiced determination to fight on to break a blockade on Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Past conflicts between Israel and its foes in Gaza and Lebanon have usually ended when the United States, the Jewish state’s guardian ally, calls a halt, sometimes hastened by a strike that inflicts high civilian casualties on the Arab side.

While Washington went along with Sunday’s UN Security Council statement, it has so far defended Israel.

Violence along the Gaza border intensified today and sirens wailed across much of central and southern Israel to warn of rocket attacks. At least nine missiles were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome missile system, the army said. Looking to take the fight on to Israeli soil, two groups of Palestinian fighters crossed from Gaza via two tunnels in the early morning, opening fire as they entered.

Black-and-white surveillance footage, supplied by the army, showed one group of five or six men crouching and firing in long grass. Seconds later they were hit by a large explosion, which sent a cloud of smoke and debris flying into the air. A military spokeswoman said at least 10 militants died.

Fighters from Hamas have tried to infiltrate Israel over the past week through hidden tunnels. Mr Netanyahu sent in ground forces on Thursday to destroy the subterranean construction.