Israeli tank shells slammed into a Gaza Strip hospital, killing a patient and three relatives and wounding 50 other people, Gaza health officials said, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry headed to the Middle East on a mission to halt two weeks of violence.
The Israeli military, which has been fighting to quell rocket fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza and destroy tunnels dug for cross-border raids, said it was looking into the report.
The attack on the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah and other fighting today brought the Palestinian death toll in the two-week conflict to 537. Israeli assaults claimed dozens of lives, including 17 children and adults killed in air strikes on two houses, Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qedra said. Hamas’s armed wing said gun battles with Israeli troops took place across the enclave.
Twenty Israelis, including two civilians, have also been killed since Israel escalated its campaign against Gaza militants. With death tolls mounting, efforts to find a formula to stanch the bloodshed grew more urgent.
Kerry is to travel to Cairo today to confer with Egyptian leaders on the situation in Gaza, the State Department said yesterday. President Barack Obama said at the White House today that he has “serious concerns” about mounting civilian casualties on both sides and that Kerry’s “work will not be easy.” He repeated the U.S. view that Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks, while adding it has “already done significant damage” to Hamas’s capabilities.
Egypt, historically a mediator of Gaza-Israel truces, proposed a plan last week that Israel accepted and Hamas rejected.
While diplomats were pushing to end fighting, on the ground, clashes showed no signs of subsiding. The director of Al-Aqsa hospital, Dr. Kamal Khatab, said Israeli tank shells hit the intensive care unit building and damaged several wards.
“One of the patients in the admissions section of the internal diseases ward was killed as were three of his relatives who were with him in the room,” Khatab said. “Fifty people were injured, including nurses and paramedics.”
Israeli troops killed 10 Gaza militants who infiltrated Israel through underground tunnels, the military said. Dozens of rockets were fired at Israel today, with more than 2,000 launched since Israel embarked on its campaign against Gaza militants on July 8, the military said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the offensive in Gaza “will continue until it achieves its aim: restoring quiet to the citizens of Israel for an extended time,” according to an e-mailed statement. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said his group wouldn’t back down until all its demands, including lifting an Israeli blockade on Gaza, are met.
Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group. Israel has accused it of using civilians as human shields.
The number of Gazans seeking shelter from the fighting with the UN Relief and Works Agency may soon reach 100,000, the agency said in an e-mailed statement. Dubai began airlifting emergency supplies to Gaza on Sunday, including 45,000 mattresses and 10,000 blankets, according to the statement.
Wael Mussabeh said he was forced to leave his house to stay with his sister as bombing intensified on Saturday night in Gaza City’s Shuja’iya neighborhood. He said bodies littered the sides of the street.
Killed While Fleeing
“I lived in the Gulf before and witnessed two wars there, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mussabeh, a 51-year-old father of four, said by phone. “You don’t know which direction the shells are coming from. People were killed as they were fleeing, including a woman who was killed while holding her son’s hand as she ran.”
Seham Ashour, 46, came to Gaza from Corpus Christi, Texas, to spend the summer holiday with relatives. She said she’s been trying to leave Gaza for the past nine days.
“We came her to have fun, spend time with the kids, go to the beach, visit the family, but it turned into a nightmare now,” said the middle school math teacher and mother of two. “They’re destroying homes, most of my cousins and family are in shelters. I can’t believe what’s happening to them.”
Eighty-seven Palestinians were killed yesterday, including 60 who died in Israeli artillery and tank fire in the Shuja’iya neighborhood of Gaza City, according to Health Ministry officials. The Israeli military lost 13 soldiers yesterday, more than it did in its entire three-week war in Gaza in 2009. Two of them were U.S. citizens, the State Department said.
Kerry will seek a return to a 2012 truce Egypt brokered, Obama told Netanyahu in a phone call yesterday, the White House said. That accord held out the possibility of easing Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza.
Hamas has demanded an end to all restrictions in any future truce. “We will never give up and will go for this war to the end until our demands are met,” Haniyeh, the group’s political leader, said in a speech broadcast today on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television. Other demands include the release of hundreds of Palestinians Israel recently arrested in the West Bank.
The leader of Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, weighed in on the conflict today for the first time, supporting Hamas’s “rightful demands to end the current battle,” according to an e-mailed account of his conversation with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.
Israel has called for the demilitarization of Gaza. It has claimed good progress in diminishing the militants’ rocket capabilities and crippling a network of tunnels they built to carry out cross-border raids.
Destroying those passages is Israel’s stated objective of the ground war it opened on July 17 after nine days of air strikes. Two militant squads infiltrated Israel today through tunnels; one group was hit by air and ground troops killed 10 gunmen from the second, the army said.
“I hope people don’t turn on the government,” said Joshua Baskin, 37, a U.S. army veteran living in Israel. “I don’t want people to change their minds on the ground invasion because the army has to do its job to keep citizens safe.”
The “lion’s share” of the tunnels will be destroyed within two to three days, Ya’alon said yesterday at a news conference with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. It was the first time such a timetable has been given.
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