Palestinian death toll rises, Israel warns of long war

Kerry says efforts to agree truce must lead to the disarmament of Hamas

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At least eight children were killed in an explosion at a public garden in northern Gaza on Monday, Reuters quoted medics as saying, as Western powers called for more pressure for a lasting ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile warned of a prolonged war in Gaza, Reuters reported, dashing any hopes of a swift end to the three-week conflict.

The increasing violence comes on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, a holiday celebrated by Muslims which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

U.S. President Barack Obama held the latest in a series of phone conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, with the White House statement from that conversation saying that ultimately any lasting solution to the conflict must end “the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced the same stance, saying international efforts to agree a truce between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza must lead to the disarmament of Hamas, AFP reported.

Also on Monday, an attack in southern Israel killed at least four Israeli soldiers and wounded another seven, the Israeli army and an Al Arabiya correspondent reported. The attack was the result of a mortar bomb fired on Ashkol, the correspondent said.

Reuters quoted locals in north Gaza as blaming the blast at the public garden on an Israeli air strike.

Pools of blood lay on the ground in the Beach refugee camp garden in the aftermath of the explosion, which killed 10 people and wounded 40 others, the news agency said.

At roughly the same time, another blast shook the grounds of Gaza’s main Shifa hospital, without causing any casualties, the news agency said.

Israel denied responsibility for the two attacks, saying Hamas rockets had hit the Gaza hospital and the beachfront refugee camp.

“We have not fired on the hospital or on Shati refugee camp," Maj. Arye Shalicar told AFP.

"We know that Hamas was firing from both areas and the missiles struck these places," he said, indicating that over the past three weeks around 200 missiles fired by Gaza militants had fallen short and landed inside the Gaza Strip.

Elsewhere in the Gaza Strip, a 4-year-old child was one of two people killed by Israeli tank fire, medics quoted by AFP said.

Samih Ljneid was killed when a shell hit a house to the east of Jabaliya where clashes had recently erupted between Israeli troops and Hamas militants, Ashraf al-Qudra, the emergency services spokesman said.

The shelling also killed a second person in the same area, he said.

Monday's violence seemed to have put an end to an unofficial lull in the fighting as Muslims began marking the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

More than 6,200 Palestinians have been injured in the ongoing violence which began with an intensive air campaign on July 8 and expanded when Israel sent ground troops into the Gaza periphery on July 17.

The United States and major EU nations called for more pressure to obtain a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, the French presidency said.

The leaders of the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Britain "agreed to redouble their efforts to obtain a ceasefire. Pressure must increase to get there," the French presidency said after the five held telephone talks, AFP reported.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, has said that parties to the conflict in Gaza have “expressed serious interest” in his request for a further 24 hour humanitarian ceasefire, but “have not yet agreed on the timing of its implementation.”

“The Secretary-General calls on the parties to renew a humanitarian pause in Gaza and reiterates his demand for a durable ceasefire that could set the ground for the start of comprehensive negotiations,” his spokesman said in a statement.

Earlier on Monday, the U.N. Security Council had called for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

In an emergency session held late Sunday in New York, the 15-member council released a statement calling for a truce between Hamas and Israel.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a phone conversation on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasized the need for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, the White House said.

Urging a permanent end to hostilities on the basis of the 2012 ceasefire agreement, Obama added that “ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza,” Reuters reported.

On Sunday, Hamas belatedly said it had agreed to a 24-hour humanitarian truce with Israel, shortly after Israel announced a resumption of hostilities in Gaza following a day-long pause.

“In response to the U.N.’s intervention request to monitor the situation ... it has been agreed between the resistance factions that a 24-hour humanitarian truce will start from 2 p.m. (1100 GMT),” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement, AFP reported.

The announcement came after the Israeli army announced earlier Sunday that it was resuming its raids on Gaza by land, sea and air after Hamas continued firing rockets, ending a unilateral 12-hour humanitarian truce.

If implemented, the truce will temporarily suspend the fighting in the Gaza strip where more than 1,060 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians. Israel has lost 48 soldiers and another three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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