Israel on Sunday pressed on with its lethal ground offensive and intensive airstrikes across Gaza, killing 46 Palestinians including children in one of the bloodiest days of fighting as the death toll rose to 342 with the United Nations chief set to visit the region.
Israeli tanks plunged deeper into Gaza and the fighting against Hamas led to a high toll of casualties and a doubling of displaced Palestinians to 40,000, as Gaza’s bloodiest conflict since 2009 showed no signs of let-up on its 12th day.
The latest deaths include two girls aged two and six years old in Gaza’s northern Beit Hanun and a 16-year-old in southern Gaza’s Rafah. A 20-year-old man died in Khan Yunis also in southern Gaza.
The death toll in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group ruling Gaza, on Sunday increased to 342 -- nearly a fourth of them being under the age of 18.
Israel’s ground operation followed 10 days of air strikes on Gaza, which failed to stop Hamas’s rockets from reaching across the border. Three Israelis, including a soldier, have also died since the Operation Protective Edge campaign began on July 8.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was to arrive in the region soon to revive a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Ban’s visit would aim to help Israelis and Palestinians “end the violence and find a way forward”, UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said.
“Israel has legitimate security concerns, and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. But we are alarmed by Israel’s heavy response,” Feltman said.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri on Friday repeated a call for the two sides to adopt its cease-fire initiative, saying it is the only offer on the table.
However, Netanyahu has warned of a “significant expansion” of the offensive and Hamas said Israel would “pay a high price” for the invasion.
Hamas terrorists on Sunday attempted to infiltrate Israel via an underground tunnel and kill civilians in an Israeli community, a few kilometres from Gaza. Troops killed a Palestinian militant who tunnelled into southern Israel, but others managed to withdraw into Gaza, an army statement said.
“Several terrorists infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from the central Gaza Strip,” it said, adding that they fired a machine gun and anti-tank missile at an army patrol.
According to UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, about 50,000 Palestinians are staying in UN shelters.
Image: Smoke rises after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip. Photograph: Baz Ratner/Reuters