July 19 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli soldiers clashed with Gaza militants who slipped across the border through one of the tunnels targeted by the military as it pushes deeper into the Hamas-controlled enclave. The Palestinian death toll rose past 340.
Two Israeli soldiers died in the foiled raid earlier today, the army said in an e-mailed statement, bringing to three the number of soldiers killed since Israel’s forces, backed by tanks, heavy artillery and warships, entered Gaza two days ago. One Palestinian was also killed, the army said.
In addition to the Palestinian deaths, at least 2,000 people have been wounded since fighting intensified on July 8, according to Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qedra. Much of the densely populated territory of 1.8 million has been without electricity for at least a day because of heavy bombardment and about 50,000 people have fled to United Nations shelters.
As the conflict enters a 13th day, diplomatic efforts to help broker a cease-fire accelerated. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was headed to the region today while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah faction controls part of the West Bank, has met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
Israel has clashed with Gaza militants repeatedly since 2005, when it ended its 38-year occupation of the territory while restricting, along with Egypt, the movement of its people and goods by controlling border crossings. The incursion is the first significant Israeli ground offensive in Gaza since 2009.
Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, speaking today, said that the army has destroyed about 3,000 militant rockets, or 50 percent of their total arsenal, and that militants have fired about 1,600.
Dozens of infiltration tunnels have been dug so far, some up to 30 meters deep, with access points under greenhouses, homes, open areas, Lerner said. About 20 militants have been killed in skirmishes with Israeli troops, he added.
Israel called up 48,000 reservists before the invasion, and Channel 2 TV said ministers have authorized the mobilization of 18,000 more. Troops moved into Gaza after air strikes failed to end rocket attacks that reached farther into Israel than ever before, and after Hamas other militants rejected an Egyptian truce proposal. Hamas is listed as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
The renewed attempts to mediate an end to the fighting come as rallies were held in capital cities around the world in protest of the ground operation and to show solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. In London, thousands of people marched from Downing Street to the Israeli embassy in Kensington.
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