Israel strikes hospital, houses; Gaza death toll passes 570

McClatchy Foreign StaffJuly 21, 2014 

Mideast Israel Palestinians

Palestinian hospital workers carry a body of one of the six members of the Gharabli family who were killed in an Israeli strike, at the Shifa hospital, in Gaza City, Monday, July 21, 2014.

KHALIL HAMRA — AP

— The Palestinian death toll in an Israeli offensive against Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip passed 570 on Monday as Israeli shells struck a hospital, residential homes were bombed, and the army said it had killed at least 10 gunmen who’d tunneled into Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo in a renewed effort to arrange a cease-fire, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met in Qatar with Khaled Mashal, the political leader of Hamas, to press him to accept an Egyptian truce proposal.

The Israeli army said it was checking a claim by the armed wing of Hamas that it had seized a soldier in fighting on Sunday. A military official suggested that Hamas might be holding the remains of the serviceman, who had been killed in action.

On the 14th day of the Israeli military campaign, with large Israeli infantry and tank forces inside the Gaza Strip, militants fired fresh volleys of rockets at southern and central Israel, again reaching Tel Aviv.

Several rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, and there were no casualties.

The army said it foiled a Hamas attempt to infiltrate Israel through a tunnel Monday morning. A military spokesman said two squads of Hamas militants disguised as Israeli soldiers emerged from two tunnels near an Israeli kibbutz and exchanged fire with Israeli forces who arrived at the scene. Four Israeli soldiers were killed when their vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile. An airstrike and gunfire from the ground killed at least 10 militants, Israeli officials said.

Two more soldiers were killed Monday by an anti-tank rocket that struck a house they’d commandeered in Gaza, and another was killed by friendly fire in the Shuja’iya neighborhood of Gaza City, according to military accounts reported by Israeli news outlets.

A total of 25 soldiers have been killed and more than 100 wounded in the Gaza campaign, and two Israeli civilians have died in rocket strikes. The military death toll is the highest since a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

Despite the casualties, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Monday that “the operation will gradually expand until the goal is achieved: restoring quiet for the citizens of Israel for an extended period.”

More than 570 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes, most of them civilians, according to Gaza health officials, and more than 3,000 have been injured. Tens of thousands of Gazans have fled the fighting, and the United Nations said more than 100,000 are taking refuge in its shelters, most of them schools. The Israeli army said it has killed 170 militants.

Israeli shells hit the Shuada al Aqsa hospital in the town of Deir al Balah on Monday, killing four people and wounding 70, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Hospital staff said that shells hit the third floor, which houses operating rooms and an intensive care unit. Two patients were killed in their beds.

The army said an initial investigation of the incident “suggests that a cache of anti-tank missiles was stored in the immediate vicinity” of the hospital, and that “this cache was successfully targeted.”

“Civilian casualties are a tragic inevitability of the brutal and systematic exploitation of homes, hospitals and mosques in Gaza,” an army statement said.

In a strike Monday night on a multistory residential building in Gaza City, 11 people, including five children, were killed, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

Another strike near the home of the Siyam family in the southern town of Rafah killed nine people, including four women and three children, the U.N. said.

An airstrike on a house in Khan Yunis Sunday night killed 25 people from the extended Abu Jamea family who had gathered for the traditional evening meal to break the daylong Ramadan fast, residents reported. Rescue crews worked through the night to pull the dead and wounded from the rubble.

An investigation of the incident by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found that a Hamas operative had been visiting the house at the time, but no advance warning was given before the building was struck.

There was no immediate comment on the incidents from the Israeli army, which has targeted hundreds of family homes of suspected militants during the campaign, leading to extensive civilian casualties.

A strike on Sunday in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shuji’iya hit the family home of Khalil al-Haya, a senior Hamas leader, killing his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. In a taped message from his hideout on Monday, al-Haya, his voice breaking, mourned the loss of his relatives.

“If there are tears in my eyes, they are the tears of men that speak glory and power,” he said. “I say to our Arab and Islamic nation, ‘What more are you waiting for?’ I say to all those betting that Hamas’ spine will be broken and that the sword of Qassam will be surrendered that they will be disappointed.”

The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said Sunday that it had seized an Israeli soldier named Shaul Aron, displaying a photo ID card and a military identification number. The announcement set off street celebrations in Gaza and the West Bank.

The name in the announcement is similar to that of Oron Shaul, one of 13 soldiers the army said were killed in fighting Sunday in Shuja’iya and elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.

Seven soldiers from the Golani infantry brigade died when their armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank rocket, and a military official suggested Monday that Shaul’s remains may have been seized by Hamas fighters. The Hamas announcement did not provide evidence that he was alive.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon suggested that there was a fierce battle to extricate the dead and wounded soldiers, saying that Shuja’iya was shelled in an effort to recover the casualties. The heavy artillery and air bombardment caused wide devastation and left bodies of residents strewn on the streets. Rescue workers dug more victims from the rubble on Monday, bringing the death toll there to more than 70.

Funerals were held Monday for some of the 13 soldiers killed in Sunday’s fighting, including Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, a dual American-Israeli national who had moved with his family to Israel from South Padre Island, Texas.

Another Israeli-American soldier killed in action was Max Steinberg, 24, a sniper in the Golani brigade. A native of the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, he moved to Israel in 2012 after college studies and joined the Israeli army.

At a memorial gathering Sunday in the community of West Hills near Los Angeles, his father, Stuart Steinberg, said his son had worked hard to learn Hebrew so he could become a Golani soldier.

“There are those who wouldn’t want to go into combat, but Max did,” said his mother, Evelyn Steinberg. “Max, to the max.”

Greenberg is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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