Israel strikes Gaza for the 7th day as death toll hits 172
Israel kept up air strikes and artillery fire on the Gaza Strip Monday despite diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed, as its offensive entered the seventh day, AFP reported.
Aircraft struck three training facilities of Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, around the coastal territory, but caused no casualties, medics and eyewitnesses said.
They also hit buildings in Gaza City, Deir el-Balah in the southern part of the strip, and in the northern town of Jabaliya, injuring an unspecified number of people.
There was shelling reported in Beit Lahiya, in the far north of the strip, where Israel had earlier warned residents of an impending assault.Israel also moved against Hamas in the occupied West Bank, arresting at least five of the movement’s lawmakers in Nablus and Jenin, Palestinian security officials told AFP.
Israeli media reported that a security cabinet meeting ended late Sunday with no orders for a ground assault.
Israeli army radio quoted security sources “at the most senior level” as saying that there were “four channels for attempts to reach a ceasefire — Qatar, the Palestinian Authority, the Americans and the Egyptians.”
“According to those sources the Egyptian channel is the strongest, the most significant and the one that draws together all those channels of mediation,” the station’s military affairs reporter said.
As the death toll rose, the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said most of the victims were civilians, putting their number at more than 130, among them 35 children and 26 women.
So far, no Israelis have been killed, although militants in Gaza have pounded the south and centre of the country with about 715 rockets since the fighting began on 8 July, an army spokeswoman told late Sunday. Around 160 had been intercepted, she said. Fearing for their lives, about 17,000 people have taken shelter in installations of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, the agency said in a statement.
Despite increasing calls for a ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military was hitting Hamas “with growing force”, warning there was no end in sight.
“We do not know when this operation will end,” he told ministers.”Too many” Palestinian civilians have been killed, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Sunday as he urged Israel to scrap plans for a potentially devastating ground offensive.
Repeating his call for a ceasefire, the secretary-general said he “feels a sense of responsibility for the Palestinians who, especially in the Gaza Strip, have long been denied the sense of freedom and dignity that they deserve,” according to a statement released by his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
The situation in Gaza, with at least 170 Palestinians killed and no Israeli casualties, “appears to be worsening,” Ban said, noting that the UN Security Council’s call for a ceasefire had not been respected.
Reiterating his condemnation of the firing of rockets into Israel by the Islamist movement Hamas that rules Gaza, Ban demanded an “immediate cessation of these indecent attacks.”
But a “deeply worried” UN chief also stressed that “too many Palestinian civilians have been killed, and any Israeli ground offensive will undoubtedly increase the death toll and exacerbate civilian suffering in the Gaza Strip.”
“It is in the interest of both sides that steps toward dangerous escalation be replaced with immediate measures to end the fighting, thus preventing further casualties and greater risks to regional peace and security,” the statement added.
“(Ban) demands both sides move in this direction now.”
A rocket fired from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights on Sunday, falling on open ground and causing no casualties, an army spokeswoman told AFP.
“The assumption is that it was not a stray,” she said, although there was no immediate report of Israeli retaliation.
An Israeli Arab teenager was killed on the border last month by what may have been a rocket, mortar fire or an explosive device, prompting Israel to carry out retaliatory air raids on Syrian army positions.
Sunday’s incident was the first of its kind from Syrian territory since Israel on Tuesday launched a fierce air campaign on Gaza with the stated aim of stemming a rising tide of rocket fire by Palestinian militants.
Military officials said they believed the attacks were carried out by a small Palestinian group in an act of solidarity with Gazan militants.