Gaza toll passes 300 as UN’s Ban heads to region

Agence France-Presse
(2nd UPDATE) Israel's ground incursion, launched on the 10th day of an operation to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, has killed dozens and forced thousands of people to flee

DEATH TOLL RISES. Palestinian women mourn during the funeral of the Abu Muamar family in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, July 14, 2014. File photo by Oliver Weiken/EPA

GAZA CITY, Palestine (2nd UPDATE) – Fresh Israeli air strikes killed 10 people in Gaza on Saturday, July 19, hiking the death toll above 300 as UN chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to bolster truce efforts.

The new peace push came as Israel’s campaign against the besieged Palestinian territory entered day 12 in the bloodiest conflict for several years, and the Jewish state stood poised to intensify a ground operation inside the Strip.

US President Barack Obama has supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Gaza rocket fire, but urged it to work harder to avoid innocent deaths in an operation with a high civilian toll, including many women and children. (READ: Horror as Gaza handicapped care facility bombed)

In the face of Israel’s land, sea and air offensive, Islamist movement Hamas, which is the main power in Gaza, has remained defiant as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas travelled to Egypt and Turkey for truce talks.

Gaza toll hits 333 on day 12 of war

Israeli air strikes and shelling killed more than 25 people across Gaza on Saturday, among them children, raising the toll in 12 days of violence to 333, medics said.

The latest deaths included 5 members of the Zuweidi family, including two girls aged two and 6, in northern Gaza’s Beit Hanun, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Four men were also killed in two separate air strikes in Beit Lahiya in the north, he added, along with one person killed in the Qarara district of southern Khan Yunis.

Another 3 men were killed in an air strike in central Gaza, he added.

Five bodies were also pulled from a home hit by an Israeli air strike on southern Gaza on Saturday.

The bodies were retrieved from Khan Yunis, where a sixth body was also found, and a seventh person died of wounds sustained on Friday, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

The discoveries came after the deaths of seven people outside a mosque in the southern city of Khan Yunis, Qudra said, adding that three of the dead were from the same family.

The UN said Friday, July 18, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would fly to the region Saturday in a bid to end the violence.

Ban would help Israelis and Palestinians “in coordination with regional and international actors, end the violence and find a way forward,” under secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman told emergency talks at the Security Council.

But the two sides’ UN ambassadors traded blame for the violence, with Israel’s Ron Prosor insisting no other country would “tolerate… terrorist” rocket fire at its citizens. (READ: Gaza toll hits 248 on day 11 of Israeli campaign)

Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour read aloud the names of Palestinian dead, including women and children to the Security Council, and at one point appeared close to tears.

Israel’s ground incursion, launched on the tenth day of an operation to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, has killed dozens and forced thousands of people to flee. (READ: Israel begins Gaza ground assault, UN warns on civilians)

Sanctuary, supplies sought

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has opened 34 of its schools to shelter those fleeing.

It said Friday there were 47,000 Gazans seeking sanctuary with the agency.

In Gaza, the World Food Programme said it had already distributed emergency food rations and food vouchers to more than 20,000 displaced people.

But with the ground operation, it was gearing up for a huge increase in the coming days and hoping to reach 85,000 people with food distributions, a spokeswoman said.

Gaza was also struggling with a 70% power outage after electricity lines from Israel were damaged, officials said.

Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to be ready for “a significant broadening of the ground activity.”

He then convened his security cabinet to discuss a possible expansion of the campaign, which began on July 8 with the aim of stamping out cross-border rocket fire.

In Gaza, after a relative lull Friday, violence picked up again in the evening, with intensifying tank shelling and air strikes killing more than a dozen people.

Among them were eight members of a single family killed by tank fire on their home in northern Gaza, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Four children from the family were among the dead, joining another four children killed in several separate incidents of tank fire east of Gaza City, the youngest of them just two years old.

Tunnel operation

Israel has said the aim of the ground operation is to destroy Hamas’s network of tunnels which are used for cross-border attacks on southern Israel.

Netanyahu said the ground operation was necessary to deal with the tunnels, but admitted there was “no guarantee of 100% success.”

Obama told reporters the US supports Israel’s right to defend itself, but said Washington was “deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life.”

He added that Washington was “hopeful” that Israel would operate “in a way that minimizes civilian casualties”.

The EU called for an immediate ceasefire, reserving particular concern for “too many civilian deaths, including many children,” and urged efforts towards a “lasting peace” between Israel and Palestinians.

Israel pulled out all of its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but within a year it became the de facto seat of Hamas after it won a landslide victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, Abbas was in Turkey where he urged support for an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire proposal.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Abbas had urged Paris to ask Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey to pressure the group into accepting a ceasefire. –

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