US lifts Israel airport blockadeas Gaza death toll passes 700
Israel won a partial reprieve from the economic pain of its assault on Gaza with the lifting of an American ban on commercial flights to Tel Aviv, as fighting pushed the Palestinian death toll over 700.
A truce between the Jewish state and Hamas Palestinian fighters remained elusive despite intensive mediation bids.
Palestinians said residents of two southern villages were trapped by days of tank shelling, with medics unable to evacuate wounded, and UN agencies said more than 140,000 people had been displaced.
Hamas fired rockets at Tel Aviv and said its gunmen carried out a lethal ambush on Israeli soldiers in north Gaza.
With Washington's encouragement, Egypt has been trying to mediate a limited humanitarian ceasefire. Turkey and Hamas ally Qatar are also involved in diplomatic efforts.
One Cairo official said it could take effect by the weekend - but a US official described any truce by the weekend as unlikely, as did an Israeli security cabinet minister who said the army would need one to two weeks to complete its main mission of razing tunnels used by Hamas for cross-border raids.
"If the talk is of a humanitarian hiatus for removing bodies, all kinds of things that are connected to the civilian population in the short-term, this might be weighed," the minister, Gilad Erdan, told Israel Radio.
"But I will oppose any ceasefire until it is clear both that the tunnels will be destroyed and what will happen in the post-ceasefire period - how we will guarantee that quiet for the residents of Israel will really be preserved in the long-term."
The death toll in Gaza reached 723 on Thursday as Israeli tank fire and pre-dawn assaults killed 31 people in the Hamas-dominated coastal enclave, including an 18-month-old baby and six members of the same family, Palestinian officials said. In southern Khuzaa and Abassan villages, they said, Israeli shelling left dead and wounded under rubble, while medical crews could not risk approaching.
Elsewhere in Gaza, a UN aid agency said three of its teachers were killed in Israeli air strikes.
Israel has lost at least 32 soldiers in clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas raiders who have slipped across the fortified frontier in tunnels.
Palestinian rockets and mortar bombs have killed three civilians in Israel. Such shelling surged last month as Israel cracked down on Hamas in the occupied West Bank, triggering the July 8 air and sea barrage on the Gaza Strip that escalated into an invasion a week ago.
Israel says one of its soldiers is missing in Gaza, and the military believes he might be dead. Hamas says it has capturedhim but has not released a picture of him. Officials say at least 475 houses have been destroyed and 2,644 damaged. 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals have suffered damage.