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73 Palestinians killed on Wednesday in Gaza, total death toll at 695

July 23, 2014 10:53 P.M. (Updated: July 25, 2014 10:47 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Unceasing Israeli attacks on Gaza left 73 Palestinians dead on Wednesday, bringing the death toll since the beginning of Israel's offensive on the Strip to 695.

A Palestinian health ministry spokesman said that 13 people had been killed since sundown, when Palestinians across Gaza broke their Ramadan fast for the day.

Thirty-one of Wednesday's dead were killed in the southern Khan Younis area, Ashraf al-Qidra said.

After intense Israeli strikes on the Khazaa and al-Fakhari neighborhoods overnight and early Wednesday, medics told Ma'an they spent the day pulling bodies from the rubble and searching for injured.

However, they said their work was impeded as Israeli forces prevented them from entering the area several times. Ambulances have still not reached some of those injured or killed by strikes on Khuzaa, the medics said.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human rights estimated on Wednesday that 81.5 percent of those killed in the Israeli offensive were civilians.

The Israeli military said in a statement that more than 60 access shafts leading to some 28 tunnels apparently belonging to Palestinian militants had been found on Wednesday.

The army said it struck over 100 sites across the Strip, "including concealed rocket launchers, terror tunnels, militant compounds, and terror activity posts located within the premises of Al-Wafa hospital, from which multiple attacks were executed against IDF forces."

Three soldiers were killed by Palestinian militants on Wednesday, bringing the total number of soldiers dead in the offensive to 31, the army said in a separate statement.

UN probe

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council launched a probe into the offensive, backing calls by the Palestinians to hold Israel to account despite fierce opposition from Israel.

The decision came after a marathon seven-hour emergency session of the top UN human rights body, where Israelis and Palestinians traded accusations over war crimes.

"What Israel is doing is a crime against humanity," said Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay also said Israel's military actions could amount to war crimes, while at the same time condemning indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas.

"There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," Pillay told the council, citing attacks that have killed Palestinian civilians, including children.

She said Israelis also had a right to live without constant fear of rocket attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's media office slammed the resolution as a "travesty" that ignored violations by Palestinian Hamas Islamists.

'No one can disarm Palestinian resistance'

In the evening on Wednesday, Khaled Mashaal, head of Hamas' political bureau, said in a televised speech that Palestinian militant groups in Gaza refused to disarm.

"No can disarm the resistance," Mashaal said, speaking from Doha.

Twenty-eight foreign ministers of EU member states had on Tuesday called on Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades and other militant groups to disarm.

"We cannot accept any proposal that does not include the lifting of the siege on Gazans," Meshaal said.

"How many Israeli soldiers is Israel willing to see dead before the siege is lifted?"

The leader bemoaned the severe number of Palestinian casualties and the breakdown of the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the start of the offensive.

"Everything in Gaza is collapsing," Mashaal said. "No water, no electricity, no medicine, no fuel, no food."

He urged UN chief Ban Ki-Moon to visit Gaza to witness the effects of the onslaught firsthand.

Israel says it launched "Operation Protective Edge" in response to increased rocket fire on southern Israel in June and early July.

Militant groups in Gaza say they launched the rockets in response to Israel's military search campaign to find three missing Israeli teenagers, a campaign that left at least six Palestinians dead, dozens injured, and hundreds arrested.

AFP contributed to this report
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