GAZA CITY – At least 100 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed on Sunday, July 20, with Hamas claiming it had captured another, as Israel ramped up a major military offensive in Gaza.
The Palestinian president, meanwhile, called for an immediate meeting of the UN Security Council as regional leaders met in Doha for urgent talks on a ceasefire.
As the Palestinian death toll soared to 438 in the bloodiest single day in Gaza in five years, a spokesman for the enclave’s emergency services said more than a third of the victims were women and children.
The Israeli army said 13 soldiers had been killed inside Gaza on the third day of a major ground operation.
“Over the course of the day, 13 soldiers from the IDF’s Golani Brigade were killed in combat in the Gaza Strip,” a statement said.
Their deaths raised to 18 the number of soldiers killed since the ground operation began late on Thursday, July 17. It was the largest number of soldiers killed in combat since the 2006 Lebanon war.
Late Sunday, the armed wing of Hamas claimed it had kidnapped an Israeli soldier, prompting celebrations in the streets of Gaza City and West Bank cities.
“The Israeli soldier Shaul Aaron is in the hands of the Qassam Brigades,” a spokesman using the nom-de-guerre Abu Obeida said in a televised address.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli military said they were aware of the claim and were investigating.
More than half of Sunday’s Palestinian victims were killed in a blistering hours-long Israeli assault on Shejaiya, near Gaza City, which began before dawn and has so far claimed 62 Palestinian lives, with another 250 wounded.
With ambulances unable to reach the area, the International Committee of the Red Cross arranged a brief ceasefire that allowed paramedics to evacuate some of the dead and wounded before hostilities resumed.
Inside Shejaiya, there were hellish scenes of carnage and chaos as a convoy of ambulances moved in, an Agence France-Presse correspondent said.
Entire buildings were collapsed on themselves or strewn into the streets, while others were ablaze, sending pillars of dark smoke skywards.
There were also bodies, blackened and charred almost beyond recognition, some with whole limbs missing.
Ban in peace push
As the violence raged, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas arrived in Qatar to discuss a ceasefire with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, and UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrived later to push truce efforts.
“I am calling for an urgent session tonight of the UN Security Council,” Abbas said in a speech broadcast on Palestinian TV.
“What the occupation forces did today in Shejaiya is a crime against humanity,” he said. “Those who committed it will not go unpunished.”
Ban also condemned the “atrocious action” in Shejaiya and urged Israel to “exercise maximum restraint”.
“Too many innocent people are dying…(and) living in constant fear,” he told a news conference in Doha.
So far, truce efforts have been rejected by Hamas which has pressed on with its own attacks, undaunted by the Israeli bombardment by land, sea and air.
Following a night of terror in Shejaiya, thousands fled for their lives at first light after heavy shelling, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported.
Others fled during the brief ceasefire, among them gunmen, some with their faces covered by scarves.
Women and children were among the dead, as were a Palestinian cameraman, and medic Fuad Jaber, killed when an ambulance was hit.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has opened 61 of its schools to shelter more than 81,000 people who have fled their homes.
Netanyahu blames Hamas
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed the civilian casualties on Hamas using innocents as “as human shields.”
He insisted on Sunday that the military campaign had strong international backing.
“We are carrying out a complex, deep, intensive activity inside the Gaza Strip and there is world support for this… very strong support,” he said before a security cabinet meeting.
Although Israel said earlier Sunday it was expanding its ground operation to destroy the network of tunnels used by militants to stage cross-border attacks, Netanyahu said troops could end their mission “fairly quickly”.
His Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon also suggested it could end within days.
“My assessment is that in another two or three days, the lion’s share of the tunnels, from our perspective, will be destroyed,” Yaalon said.
But he demanded international action to “demilitarize Gaza”, the tiny coastal enclave which is home to 1.7 million Palestinians and is one of the most densely-populated areas on the planet.
Israel’s right to self-defense in the face of rocket fire from Gaza has won repeated US support, but President Barack Obama has expressed concern over the loss of life in a call to Netanyahu.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who is to travel to Cairo to seek an end to the fighting, meanwhile, blamed Hamas for perpetuating the conflict by “stubbornly” refusing all ceasefire efforts.
By its behavior, Hamas had “invited further actions” by Israel, he said, in remarks which drew an angry response from Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who accused Israel of killing Palestinians “mercilessly”. – Rappler.com