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Ban Ki-moon to meet Abbas as Gaza violence escalates

AFP

As Israel sent more troops into Gaza early on Sunday, diplomatic efforts to arrange a ceasefire intensified with UN chief Ban Ki-moon due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

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As fighting raged, Ban headed to Qatar on Sunday as part of renewed ceasefire efforts. The UN Secretary General was due to meet Abbas in Doha later in the day, a senior Qatari source told Reuters. Ban will then travel to Kuwait, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan, a UN statement said.

Later on Sunday, Abbas was also due to meet Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Qatar to discuss an Egyptian-proposed truce, and the movement said it had received an invite to Cairo for ceasefire talks.

On Saturday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri repeated an appeal for the two sides to adopt the ceasefire, saying Egypt's plan is the only one on the table, despite efforts from Hamas backers Turkey and Qatar to broker a deal.

“It meets the needs of both sides,” he said. “We will continue to propose it. We hope both sides accept it.”

Heavy tank fire

Early on Sunday, loud explosions shook Gaza as Israeli flares lit up the night sky and Israeli fighter jets flew low across the densely populated territory.

Palestinians reported heavy Israeli tank fire on the border areas of Gaza. Doctors said a son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter of senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya were killed early Sunday when their house was hit by a tank shell in Gaza City. In the southern city of Rafah, three brothers were killed when an airstrike targeted the family house, said health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

In Israel, a Gaza rocket killed a man near the southern city of Dimona and wounded four people, police said, marking the second Israeli civilian casualty from the fighting.

Since the start of Israel-Hamas fighting almost two weeks ago, 348 Palestinians were killed and 2,700 wounded in Israeli air and artillery strikes, according to Palestinian health officials. One fourth of the deaths were reported since the start of the ground offensive late Thursday, the officials said.

Five Israelis, three soldiers and two civilians, have also been killed and dozens wounded as rockets continue to rain down on Israel.

Israel's military said early on Sunday that they had widened their ground offensive by sending more troops into Gaza. Over the weekend, Israeli troops demolished more than a dozen tunnels that were used by Hamas to sneak into Israel and carry out attacks on soldiers and civilians, the army said.

Israeli soldiers uncovered 34 shafts leading into about a dozen underground tunnels, some as deep as 30 metres, the military said. Israel views the tunnels as a strategic threat, and demolishing them is a high priority in their campaign.

Gunmen disguised

Palestinian gunmen disguised in Israeli uniforms managed to infiltrate Israel from Gaza using another tunnel and on Saturday killed two Israeli soldiers and injured several others, the military said. At least one Palestinian was killed in the clash.

Hamas said 12 of its fighters participated in the attack and that the group took some of the soldiers' weapons back to their hideouts.

In two other confrontations, Palestinian gunmen jumped out of tunnels and shot at soldiers who returned fire. Two of the gunmen were killed. Another militant died when the explosive vest he was wearing went off, the military said.

In one instance, the militants were found with tranquilisers and handcuffs, indicating they “intended to abduct Israelis,” according to the military.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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