Is­rael, Ha­mas bat­tling in Gaza Strip

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Is­raeli troops un­cov­ered more than a dozen cross-bor­der tun­nels and bat­tled Gaza mil­i­tants on the sec­ond day of an open-ended ground oper­a­tion over the weekend, as the Pales­tinian death toll con­tin­ued to climb and diplo­mats scram­bled to re­vive cease-fire ef­forts.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary said it had se­verely di­min­ished the ar­se­nal of Ha­mas, the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group rul­ing Gaza, but the mil­i­tants have con­tin­ued to fire rock­ets.

In the north­ern Gaza Strip, Pales­tinian of­fi­cials re­ported in­ten­si­fied Is­raeli airstrikes, shelling and nu­mer­ous civil­ian ca­su­al­ties. Gaza Health Min­istry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said the new round of strikes raised the death toll from the 12-day of­fen­sive to more than 330 Pales­tini­ans, many of them civil­ians and nearly a fourth of them un­der the age of 18.

In Is­rael, a Gaza rocket killed a man near the south­ern city of Di­mona and wounded four people, po­lice spokesman Micky Rosen­feld said, mark­ing the sec­ond Is­raeli civil­ian ca­su­alty from the fight­ing. An Is­raeli sol­dier was killed af­ter the start of the ground oper­a­tion, likely from friendly fire.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary said dur­ing its first 24 hours on the ground in Gaza troops dis­cov­ered 13 tun­nels into Is­rael — some as deep as 30 me­ters (yards) — that could be used to carry out at­tacks. Is­rael says it launched the of­fen­sive to deal with that threat. On Satur­day, the mil­i­tary said it thwarted a sec­ond in­fil­tra­tion at­tempt through just such a tun­nel, killing one mil­i­tant and forc­ing the oth­ers to re­turn to Gaza.

The mil­i­tary also said it has hit 2,350 tar­gets in Gaza, in­clud­ing 1,100 rocket launch­ers, dur­ing the 12 days of fight­ing. Mil­i­tants have fired more than 1,600 rock­ets since July 8.

“We have struck hard on the two main strate­gic as­sets of Ha­mas: the rock­ets and these tun­nels,” Is­raeli mil­i­tary spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.

Is­rael says it has en­coun­tered lit­tle re­sis­tance on the ground so far, and has killed about 20 mil­i­tants in spo­radic gun­bat­tles. Three soldiers were wounded in overnight fight­ing, one se­ri­ously, the mil­i­tary said.

In one case, it said troops en­coun­tered a man who ap­pealed for med­i­cal as­sis­tance be­fore pulling out grenades and try­ing to hurl them at soldiers. He was shot dead, au­thor­i­ties said. Troops also en­coun­tered a don­key with ex­plo­sives strapped to it.

Is­rael launched the ground oper­a­tion late Thurs­day af­ter its air cam­paign on the Ha­mas-ruled ter­ri­tory failed to halt the un­re­lent­ing rocket fire. The rate of Pales­tinian ca­su­al­ties has risen since the ground of­fen­sive be­gan — Al-Kidra said more than 90 Pales­tini­ans have since been killed.

Ca­su­al­ties could quickly mount fur­ther if the mil­i­tary moves fur­ther into ur­ban ar­eas.

Some 50,000 Pales­tini­ans al­ready are stay­ing in United Na­tions shel­ters, ac­cord­ing to UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency for Pales­tini­ans.

Du­san Vranic /AP Photo

Is­raeli ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers move along the Is­rael and Gaza bor­der, Satur­day, July 19, 2014.

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