Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) – Israel said Sunday it would further expand its ground offensive in Gaza as the death toll from its intensive assault soared to 364 ahead of a visit to the region by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
Islamist movement Hamas, the main power in Gaza, refused to yield in the face of the relentless air, sea & land attacks, continuing its own assaults & reiterating that its demands must be met for any ceasefire to take place.
Diplomatic efforts to seek a truce were set to intensify Sunday with the arrival of Ban in the region to assist Israelis & Palestinians "end the violence & find a way forward."
p>Meanwhile Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Qatar to discuss an Egyptian-proposed truce, & the movement said it had received an invite to Cairo for ceasefire talks.
On day 13 of the bloodiest Gaza conflict in several years, early morning Israeli bombardments killed 14 people, medics said, including the son of a senior Hamas official.
Sunday's deaths raised the total toll to 357 Palestinians.
Seven Israelis have been killed, including two soldiers in a Saturday commando-style raid inside Israeli territory by Hamas militants.
Gazans mourn victims of strikes that killed childr …
Two other soldiers were killed on Saturday, one by an anti-tank missile & the other in a firefight with a militant who had emerged from a tunnel & attacked troops, the army said Sunday.
Israel said its ground operation to stamp out militant cross-border rocket fire, which began Thursday, was set to "expand" after Sunday.
"This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip & establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety & security," the army said in a statement.
The Jewish state has authorised the call-up of more than 53,000 reserve troops.
An intensive artillery barrage east of Gaza City before dawn Sunday killed two children, medics said, adding to a high civilian death toll.
The increasing number of children killed in the conflict is causing a growing outcry, with a joint statement from NGOs War Child & Defence for Children International saying more children had been killed than militants.
Israeli forces’ flares light up the night sky in the northern Gaza Strip, early Saturday, July 19, 2 …
Figures provided by the UN children's agency, UNICEF, indicate at least 73 of the victims were under the age of 18.
– Civilian casualties –
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu absolved Israel of all responsibility Saturday for civilian casualties, laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hamas.
A statement from Netanyahu's office cited him as saying Hamas was "using innocent civilians as human shields for its terrorist activities; it is responsible if civilians are inadvertently hit."
The UN's Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said earlier in the week it found 20 rockets stored in one of its schools in Gaza, condemning the "group or groups" involved.
UNRWA has opened 49 of its schools to shelter those fleeing the most heavily-bombarded areas.
Israeli army video claims to show tunnels from Gaz …
So far, more than 60,000 Gazans have sought sanctuary at UN institutions, the agency said.
– Hamas invited to Cairo –
Hamas "received an invitation, through mediators, for a delegation headed by Khaled Meshaal to visit Cairo & discuss the Egyptian initiative," it said in a statement.
It said the Islamist movement said its "position on the initiative is known, yet it is at the same time ready to cooperate" should its demands for a truce be met.
An Egyptian foreign ministry official said he could not confirm or deny the new invitation.
Hamas earlier in the week rejected Egypt's proposal for a truce – which was accepted by Israel – saying that it had not been consulted.
Hamas relations with Egypt have hit a low since Cairo's military regime took power last July, ousting Hamas ally the Muslim Brotherhood.
Turkey & Qatar, where Meshaal is based, are more sympathetic to the movement.
Abbas & Meshaal will meet in Qatar Sunday to discuss the Egyptian-proposed truce, an official close to Abbas said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP his movement had presented its demands to "all parties concerned, including Qatar, Turkey & the Arab League" as well as Abbas & Egypt.
The demands include a complete lift of the siege on Gaza, opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt & freedom of movement in the border areas.
In addition, Hamas demands the release of its members who had been freed in a 2011 deal & recently re-arrested in an Israeli crackdown on the West Bank.
Politics & GovernmentUnrest, Conflicts & WarKhaled MeshaalHamasIsraelGaza CityMahmud Abbas