Israel pounded Gaza from the air Saturday and troops pressed a ground assault, sending the Palestinian death toll soaring to 337, as the UN chief headed for the region in a bid to broker a ceasefire.
As world diplomats frantically sought ways to end 12 days of bloodshed in and around Gaza, Israel warned it was ready to intensify a ground operation to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels used by militants to infiltrate the Israeli south.
Israel’s Chief-of-Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, said the army was “expanding the ground phase of the operation.”
But even as the operation gathered force, Palestinian commandos succeeded in infiltrating Israel, sparking a deadly skirmish with an army patrol, which ended with a militant dead and two soldiers wounded.
So far, the violence which erupted on July 8 has claimed the lives of 337 Palestinians, and three Israelis, one of whom was killed on Saturday when a rocket hit a Bedouin encampment in southern Israel.
In Gaza, after a relative lull on Friday, violence picked up again in the evening, with intensifying tank shelling and air strikes killing more than a dozen people. And on Saturday, at least 41 people were killed, including two six-year-olds and a toddler, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.
The increasing number of children killed in the conflict is causing a growing outcry, with a joint statement from the NGOs War Child and Defence for Children International saying more children had been killed than militants.
Figures provided by Unicef indicate 73 of the victims were under the age of 18.
“Children should be protected from the violence, and they should not be the victims of a conflict for which they have no responsibility,” Unicef ’s Catherine Weibel told AFP.
Meanwhile, UN chief Ban Ki-moon was to leave for the region on Saturday to help Israelis and Palestinians “end the violence and find a way forward”, the agency said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2014.