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Israel says it is 'days' from completing Gaza tunnel hunt

© Mahmud Hams, AFP | Civilians in Gaza

Video by Vikram SINGH

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-31

Israel on Wednesday pressed ahead with its' Gaza offensive, saying it was 'days' from achieving its' core goal of destroying all of Hamas' cross-border tunnels, despite widespread international alarm over the soaring Palestinian death toll.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet on Wednesday approved continuing the assault launched on July 8 in response to a surge of rocket attacks by Gaza's dominant Hamas Islamists. But Israel also sent a delegation to Egypt, which hasbeen trying, with Washington's blessing, to broker a ceasefire.

At least 17 people were killed in an Israeli air strike on a packed Gaza market on Wednesday that followed soon after Israel said it would observe a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire beginning at 12pm (GMT).

Thick black smoke billowed over the site, located in the Shejaiya neighbourhood, as at least five ambulances raced to the scene where bodies lay strewn on the ground, an AFP correspondent said.

At least another 200 people were wounded, medics said.

The four-hour truce was supposed to allow Gaza's battered population of 1.8 million to go out in safety to stock up on goods, and for medics to evacuate the dead and wounded.

Instead, there was further bloodshed, with Israeli tank shelling and air strikes killing 106 Palestinians and wounding hundreds more on Wednesday, medics said, hiking the overall death toll in Gaza to 1,336.

The Israeli army said three of its troops had also been killed in Gaza, raising the number of soldiers killed to 56 since the operation began on July 8.

IN THE FIELD: INSIDE GAZA'S NETWORK OF TUNNELS

Israel had said its truce would not apply in places were troops were "currently operating", hours after the army made what it called a "significant advance" into the narrow coastal strip.

Hamas denounced the four-hour lull as a publicity stunt, saying it had "no value".

The strike on the market also came hours after Israeli tank shells struck a UN school sheltering some 3,300 Gazans, killing 16 and drawing a furious response from the United Nations.

"This morning a UN school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack," UN chief Ban Ki-moon said while on a visit to Costa Rica.

"It is unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice."

The attack was also denounced by the White House.

"The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians, including children and UN humanitarian workers," the statement said.

A statement from the office of French President François Hollande said he agreed with the UN chief's assessment of the attack as "unjustifiable" and called for an immediate ceasefire.

It was the second time in a week that a school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, had been hit, prompting a blistering attack on Israel by Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces," he said, adding that the school's location in the Jabaliya camp had been communicated to the Israeli army 17 times.

"No words to adequately express my anger and indignation," he wrote on his official Twitter account, describing it as "intolerable".

Hamas is known to use UN schools and hospitals as weapons depots. UN Secretary General Ban last week expressed “outrage and regret” that rockets had again been found inside a UN school for refugees.

Ban said storing the rockets in this way “turned schools into potentially military targets, endangering the lives of innocent children”, along with those of UN employees and the tens of thousands of sheltering Palestinians. He urged an investigation into the practice.

The strikes on the school came a day after Israel unleashed its heaviest air and artillery assault yet in the bloodiest day of the three-week Gaza war, destroying key symbols of Hamas control and shutting down the territory’s only power plant.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)

 

Date created : 2014-07-30

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