Friends of Israeli soldier Matan Gotlib mourn during his
funeral in Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv. Gotlib was killed
by a booby trap detonated as he and two other soldiers
uncovered a tunnel shaft, the army says. REUTERS/Nir Elias
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing
international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza,
says he will not accept any ceasefire that stops Israel
completing the destruction of militants' infiltration tunnels.
The Israeli military estimated on Wednesday (local time) that
accomplishing that task would take several more days,
extending a four-week-old aerial and ground offensive in the
small, densely populated coastal territory.
"We are determined to complete this mission, with or without
a ceasefire," Netanyahu said in public remarks at a meeting
of his full cabinet in Tel Aviv. "I wont agree to any
proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to finish
this important task, for the sake of Israel's security."
Leaving open the option of widening its ground campaign in
the Islamist Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip, the Israeli military
said it had called up an additional 16,000 reservists. They
will relieve a similar number of reserve soldiers being stood
down, a military source said.
Fighting, however, appeared less ferocious than on previous
days this week - more than 100 were killed on Wednesday
Gaza health officials said 34 Palestinians were killed in
Israeli assaults on Thursday that included an air strike on a
home in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip,
killing 11 members of the same family.
The Israeli military said more than 90 rockets were fired
from the Palestinian enclave, some deep into Israel. One
person was moderately wounded by a Gaza projectile that
struck in the southern town of Kiryat Gat.
Three Israeli soldiers were wounded, one critically, by a
cross-border mortar, Barzilai hospital director Hezi Levi
told Channel Ten television. Israeli media said at least
three more people hurt in the attack but the military gave no
Hamas said it had fired one rocket at Israel's commercial hub
Tel Aviv, which the military said was intercepted.
Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on July 8 in response
to a surge of cross-border rocket attacks.
Gaza officials say at least 1,427 Palestinians, most of them
civilians, have been killed in the battered territory and
nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been
killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three
civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel.
Netanyahu faces intense pressure from abroad to stand his
forces down. The United States and the U.N. Security Council
have urged an immediate, unconditional ceasefire by both
sides in Gaza to allow in humanitarian relief and for further
talks on a more lasting cessation of hostilities.
Israel briefly observed a July 15 ceasefire proposed by
Egypt, but Hamas continued attacks, saying its conditions had
been ignored. Egyptian officials say they put together a
revised truce plan this week that had been provisionally
accepted by Israel, though Hamas was still undecided.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned on
Wednesday the deaths of at least 15 Palestinians among
thousands sheltering at a U.N.-run school. The United Nations
said its initial assessment was that Israeli artillery shells
hit the facility.
The White House on Thursday condemned the incident. "The
shelling of a U.N. facility that is housing innocent
civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable
and totally indefensible," spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The U.S. Defence Department urged Israel on Thursday to do
more to protect civilian life during its military operations.
"The civilian casualties in Gaza have been too high. And it's
become clear that the Israelis need to do more to live up to
their very high standards - their very high and very public
standards - for protecting civilian life," Pentagon spokesman
Colonel Steve Warren said at a news briefing.
The United Nations' senior human rights official, Navi
Pillay, said Israel had attacked homes, schools, hospitals
and U.N. premises in apparent violation of the Geneva
Pillay said Israeli actions seemed to be in "deliberate
defiance of obligations that international law imposes".
Israel said its forces were attacked by guerrillas near the
school in Jabalya in north Gaza and had fired back. In
another incident on Wednesday, 17 people were killed in
nearby Shejaia by what Palestinian officials said was Israeli
shelling of a produce market. Seven more died of their wounds
The Israeli military said it was investigating.
"Such a massacre requires an earthquake-like response," said
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, whose militants have kept up
dozens of daily rocket launches deep into Israel.
The Israelis have kept casualties from the salvoes low, using
the Iron Dome air defence system to intercept them and
air-raid sirens to send people to shelters.
In Beit Lahiya, another northern Gaza town, Israeli tank
shells landed near another U.N.-run school and at least 30
people sheltering inside were wounded by shrapnel and
shattered glass, witnesses and hospital officials said.
Rolling Israeli ground assaults on residential areas,
preceded by mass warnings to evacuate, have displaced more
than 200,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians. The tiny
territory's infrastructure is in ruins, with power and water
Israel says it is trying to avoid civilian casualties and
blames these on Hamas and other groups dug in for urban
Both sides have voiced openness to a truce, but their terms
diverge dramatically. Israel wants Gaza stripped of
infiltration tunnels and rocket stocks. Hamas rules that out,
and seeks an end to a crippling Gaza blockade enforced by
Israel and Egypt, which view the Palestinian Islamists as a
Diplomacy to end the Gaza conflict is further complicated by
the fact Israel and the United States shun Hamas as a
terrorist group, while the go-betweens - Egypt, Qatar and
Turkey - disagree on Gaza policy.
In early 2009, Israel ended a three-week Gaza war with a
unilateral ceasefire with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other
smaller militant factions following suit.
Israel has ordered its ground forces to focus on locating and
destroying a warren of tunnels through which Hamas has
menaced its southern towns and army bases.
Major General Sami Turgeman, chief of Israeli forces in Gaza,
said on Wednesday they were "but a few days away from
destroying all the attack tunnels".
"Progress has been satisfactory, and we are completing our
treatment of the terror tunnels," Defence Minister Moshe
Yaalon said on Thursday. "During the fighting, soldiers are
finding new tunnel shafts, and they are also being
Three Israeli soldiers were killed on Wednesday by a booby
trap detonated as they uncovered a tunnel shaft, the army
said. Military losses are more than five times those from the
last Gaza ground war, in 2008-2009, but Israeli opinion polls
show strong public support for fighting on until Hamas is
Washington has also allowed Israel to tap a local U.S. arms
stockpile in the past few weeks to replenish its grenades and
mortar rounds, a U.S. defence official said on Thursday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who failed in a visit to
the region last week to secure a ceasefire, voiced support
for Israel's operations against the tunnels.
"No country can sit there and live with tunnels being dug
under its border, out of which jump people who are carrying
handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs in order to kidnap their
citizens and hold them for ransom," Kerry said in an
interview broadcast on Thursday by India's NDTV.