Israel said 13 soldiers were killed in battles against militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, where the death toll among Palestinians has exceeded 400 as fighting intensified.
The armed wing of Hamas said its fighters ambushed the Israeli soldiers in a southern part of the coastal strip, shot them and took their weapons, in text messages sent to reporters. The deaths brought to 18 the number of soldiers who have been killed since fighting escalated two weeks ago. Two Israeli civilians have also lost their lives.
Among Palestinians, the death toll reached 430 as of about 7 p.m. local time, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman of the health ministry in Gaza. At least 60 of those included children and women killed in the Shuja’iya area of Gaza City, where residents reported heavy artillery and tank fire.
The Israeli military campaign began with air strikes against Gaza rocket squads, then evolved into a ground war with the declared aim of destroying a network of tunnels militants dug to carry out cross-border raids. The conflict is worsening even amid renewed diplomatic efforts aimed at finding a cease-fire agreement, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry saying he’d head to the region “very, very shortly,” in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”.
The attack on Shuja’iya targeted “Hamas terrorist infrastructure, specifically tunnel infrastructure and rocket capabilities,” Israeli army spokesman Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner said today. Hamas is listed as a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
Israel’s military chief, Benny Gantz, spoke of the loss of the soldiers in a briefing to reporters broadcast on Channel 2,
“We’ve had more casualties today than other days,” he said. “The battles were difficult and complex but we’re determined to move ahead with the mission.”
The United Nations has said more than 60,000 Gazans have fled to its shelters in the coastal enclave.