December 19, 2014
Israel keeps up Gaza assaults as death rate passes 500
Israel kept up its assaults in the Gaza Strip today, killing a Palestinian man in an air strike, as US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the region with a mission to seek a ceasefire in the 14-day-old conflict "as soon as possible."
The death of a man in the town of Khan Younis raised the Palestinian toll to 537 killed, including nearly 100 children and many other civilians, Gaza health officials said.
Israel's losses totalled 25 soldiers in ground battles with militants, plus two civilians killed by rocket fire.
Defying a UN Security Council appeal for an immediate ceasefire, Israeli jets, tanks and artillery continued to pound the Gaza Strip, killing 28 members of a single family near the enclave's southern border with Egypt, medics said.
The Islamist group Hamas and its allies fired multiple missiles across southern and central Israel, and heavy fighting was reported in the north and east of Gaza.
Despite worldwide calls for a cessation of the worst bout of Palestinian-Israeli violence for more than five years, Israeli ministers ruled out any swift truce.
"This is not the time to talk of a ceasefire," said Gilad Erdan, communications minister and a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner security cabinet.
"We must complete the mission, and the mission cannot end until the threat of the tunnels is removed," he told reporters.
For its part, Hamas, weakened by the loss of Egypt and Syria as allies, voiced determination to fight on to break Israel's economic siege of Gaza.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was due to fly to Egypt later in the day as part of a gathering effort to halt the bloodshed, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is touring the Middle East trying to secure a ceasefire.
Past flare-ups between Israel and its foes in Gaza and Lebanon have usually ended when the United States, the Jewish state's guardian ally, calls a halt, sometimes hastened by a strike that inflicts high civilian casualties on the Arab side.
While Washington went along with Sunday's Security Council statement, it has so far defended Israeli actions and refrained from pressuring Netanyahu publicly to stop.
Violence along the Gaza border intensified on Monday and sirens wailed across much of central and southern Israel to warn of rocket attacks. At least nine missiles were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome interceptor, the army said.
Looking to take the fight onto Israeli soil, two groups of Palestinian fighters crossed from Gaza via two tunnels in the early morning, opening fire as they entered.
Black and white surveillance footage supplied by the army, showed one group of five or six men crouching and firing in long grass. Seconds later they were hit by a large explosion, which sent a cloud of smoke and debris flying into the air.
A military spokeswoman said at least 10 militants died. She did not comment on reports of casualties amongst Israeli forces. Hamas said its men had destroyed an army jeep in the assault. Fighters from Hamas, which controls Gaza, and its allies, have repeatedly tried to infiltrate Israel over the past week through a vast network of hidden tunnels, looking to attack villages and army encampments that dot the border area.
Netanyahu sent in Israeli ground forces on Thursday to destroy the tunnels and the militants' missile stock pile.