Israeli pushes on with Gaza assault, kills dozens

Palestinian leadership proposes to Egypt a plan for a ceasefire to be followed by five days of talks to end fighting

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Israel pushed on with its offensive in the Gaza Strip Tuesday, killing at least 13 women and children in one of its attacks on the Palestinian enclave, as top U.S. and United Nations diplomats pursued talks on ending the conflict.

The fatalities, which were among nearly 40 on Tuesday alone, brought the total death toll to more than 600 Palestinians, AFP quoted Gaza's emergency services as saying – and 29 Israelis – 27 soldiers and two civilians.

A child and three women, one of them pregnant, were killed in two separate Israeli air strikes in Zeitun, in the central Gaza Strip, and Beit Hanun, in the north, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

An elderly woman and her brother were among those killed in three separate raids targeting Bureij and Al-Maghazi in central Gaza, and Rafah in the south. And a series of Israeli air strikes early Tuesday killed seven people. Tuesday's toll included 10 women and three children, according to Qudra.

Meanwhile in New York, where the United Nations Security Council opened debate on the Gaza crisis, the Palestinian envoy to the U.N. held up photographs of slain children and read out the names of the dead as he pleaded for action from the world’s top body.

"On behalf of the Palestinian people, we ask: What is the international community doing to stop this bloodletting, to stop Israel's atrocities?" Riyad Mansour said at a debate on the crisis, according to AFP.

Wearing a black ribbon, he held up photographs of families overcome with grief and of children's corpses, and read out the names of young victims who lost their lives. "Umama Al-Hayyeh, age 9; Dima Isleem, age 2; Mohamad Ayyad, age 2; Rahaf Abu Jumaa, age 4…”

Tuesday was the 15th day of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” against the Gaza Strip, which according to a Gaza police official included the bombing of five mosques, a sports stadium and the home of the late Hamas military chief across the Gaza Strip earlier in the day.

The bombs were among Israeli aircraft attacks on more than 70 targets in the Gaza Strip, Ayman Batniji, a Gaza police spokesperson, told the Associated Press.

Infographic: Gaza offensive

Infographic: Gaza offensive
Infographic: Gaza offensive

Batniji said tank shells damaged several houses along the eastern border of the territory and that at least 19 fishing boats were burned by Israeli navy shells fired from the Mediterranean.

The unusually intense Israeli strikes came as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Cairo to launch the highest-level push to end two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting.

Kerry urged Hamas to pursue a negotiated end to its conflict with Israel after what he said were constructive talks with Egyptian officials about a ceasefire proposal they had put forward last week.

Later Tuesday, a Fatah official told reporters in Cairo that the Palestinian leadership proposed to Egypt a plan for a Gaza ceasefire to be followed by five days of talks to stop fighting between the rivals.

"The Palestinian leadership offered a new suggestion in the framework of the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire followed immediately by negotiations lasting five days," Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed said.

Hamas, the dominant group in the Gaza Strip, and its allies fired more rockets into Israel, triggering sirens in Tel Aviv, Reuters news agency reported. One hit a town on the fringes of Ben-Gurion International Airport, lightly wounding two people, the agency quoted officials as saying.

Later Tuesday, U.S. air carriers Delta Air Lines, American Airlines Group and United Airlines said they were suspending flights to Tel Aviv, citing the security situation. Dutch flag carrier KLM also said it was cancelling its Amsterdam-Tel Aviv flight for similar reasons.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt missile salvoes out of Gaza by Hamas, which was angered by a crackdown on its supporters in the occupied West Bank and suffering economic hardship because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

At least 30 Israelis, mostly from the military, have been killed in the fighting between the two sides.

On Tuesday, the army said two of its soldiers were killed during combat in the Gaza Strip.

“Yesterday, Monday, two IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers were killed during battles of Operation Protective Edge,” a statement from the army read.

Three soldiers were seriously wounded over the course of the night and one other soldier was reportedly missing, Israeli media reported according to Reuters.

(With AP, AFP and Reuters)

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