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More than 100 Gazans killed in Israeli assault in less than 48 hours

July 19, 2014 3:45 P.M. (Updated: July 20, 2014 8:35 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- 110 Palestinians have been killed in less than 48 hours since Israel launched a ground invasion of the besieged Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of dead in the 12-day assault to 339.

47 Palestinians were killed across the tiny coastal territory on Saturday amid intense Israeli airstrikes and shelling from both sea and land after more than 60 died the day before, while the number of injured since the beginning of hostilities reached 2,500, according to Gaza medical authorities.

The latest casualties of the Israeli assault were Muhammad and Hatem al-Zaabout, killed in an Israeli airstrike in al-Zaytoun neighborhood of southern Gaza City.

Earlier on Saturday afternoon, Abdulaziz Abu Zeitir and Mumen Taysir Abu Dan were killed in Israeli shelling of the Deir al-Balah refugee camp.

Amid the ongoing carnage, UN chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to join truce efforts in the hopes of preventing Israel from further widening its bloodiest attack since the it killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians in 2008-9.

The UN said Ban would leave for the region Saturday to help Israelis and Palestinians "end the violence and find a way forward," under secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the Security Council.

Hamas offered a 10-year truce to Israel earlier in the week on the condition that a seven-year old economic blockade of the Gaza Strip that has caused major economic and humanitarian destruction -- while failing to achieve its stated aim, the removal of Hamas -- be lifted, but Israel rejected the offer.

The United States urged its Israeli ally to do more to limit the high civilian death toll from the operation while supporting Israel's right to defend itself.

'No guarantee of 100 percent success'

President Barack Obama said Washington was "deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life," adding that Washington was "hopeful" that Israel would operate "in a way that minimizes civilian casualties."

But Israeli army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, said the army was "expanding the ground phase of the operation."

"There will be moments of hardship," he warned in a briefing to the military, anticipating further Israeli casualties.

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

Military spokesman Lieutenant General Peter Lerner told journalists Saturday that during the past 24 hours the military had seized 13 tunnels into Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to be ready for "a significant broadening of the ground activity."

He said the ground operation was necessary to deal with the tunnels, but admitted there was "no guarantee of 100 percent success."

Israel launched its assault on Gaza -- which it has named Operation Protective Edge -- 12 days ago in what it said was an attempt to curb rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, which had increased since it began an assault on the West Bank in June that left 10 dead, 130 injured, and more than 600 Hamas-affiliated individuals in prison.

That campaign was launched by Israel after the disappearance of three Israeli youth, for which it blamed Hamas but presented no evidence. Hamas, meanwhile, denied the charges, and many accused Israel of blaming the group in order to have an excuse to "crush" the group, as senior Israel officials later demanded.

Although Hamas had widely observed a ceasefire with Israel put in place in 2012, as Israel massively targeted the group across the West Bank other groups began firing rockets, with Israel bombing the Strip in near nightly raids as a result, eventually escalating into the current operation 12 days ago.

Aid agencies gearing up

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has opened 44 of its schools to shelter those fleeing homes in the most heavily bombarded areas, and it said on Saturday there were more 50,000 Gazans seeking sanctuary so far.

The World Food Program said it had already distributed emergency food rations and food vouchers to more than 20,000 displaced people.

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

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

Hospitals, meanwhile, were struggling to keep up with the number of injured, and the World Health Organization warned on Tuesday -- before the ground operation had begun -- that medicine supplies were at emergency levels, with shortages running up to 40 percent.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was also in Cairo to join peace efforts, called for an urgent truce.

"The absolute priority is a ceasefire, but it must guarantee a lasting truce," he said, adding that it should take into account "Israel's security" and Palestinian demands.

AFP contributed to this report.
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