At least 65 dead as Israeli tanks and troops hit Gaza with
Escalating their ground offensive, Israeli troops backed by tanks and warplanes battled Hamas militants in a crowded neighborhood of Gaza City yesterday.
The fighting, including heavy Israeli tank fire, killed scores of Palestinians, forced thousands to flee and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes.
Palestinian health officials reported at least 65 people killed as air and artillery strikes echoed across the city for hours. They put the number of displaced at 35,000.
An estimated 425 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have been killed in the near two-week conflict which escalated as UN chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to try to revive cease-fire efforts.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, said he expects to come to the Middle East in the coming days and that he support's Egypt's call for an immediate ceasefire, rejected last week by Hamas.
The Islamic militants say they want guarantees that Gaza's border blockade will be eased before agreeing to stop fighting.
Kerry said he is siding with Egypt, saying that "you cannot reward terrorism," referring to Hamas. Sunday's battle in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood was the deadliest so far in Israel's 3-day-old ground offensive, which followed 10 days of heavy airstrikes on targets linked to Gaza's Hamas rulers.
Israel has said it sent thousands of troops into Gaza to destroy Hamas rocket launchers and tunnels dug by the Islamic militants to sneak into Israel.
Residents of the neighborhood said Israeli tanks entered after midnight and fired heavily.
"The gate of hell has opened, and shrapnel came through the windows," Shijaiyah resident Jawad Hassanain said by phone.
He said he and his family sought shelter in a nearby building after their house shook from the explosions.
"From 12:30am until 4am, all you could hear is heavy bombardment, the smell of fire and the smell of death. By 4:30, and after the call for the prayer, we were able to get in an ambulance," which took them to his sister's neighborhood, he said.
After daybreak, dozens of wounded from Shijaiyah were rushed to Gaza's central Shifa Hospital.
Frantic parents carried children bloodied by shrapnel, and the emergency room quickly overflowed, forcing doctors to treat some patients on mattresses in a hallway.
During a brief Red Cross-brokered lull, paramedics entered the neighborhood to retrieve the dead.
Dozens of houses over several blocks were destroyed or badly damaged, a scene reminiscent of Israel's last major incursion into Gaza more than five years ago.
Palestinian health officials said at least 65 people were killed and 288 wounded in Shijaiyah, bringing the overall Palestinian toll since July 8 to 425 dead and some 3,000 wounded.
Close to half of the dead were killed since the start of the ground offensive.
Israeli military casualties spiked in the fighting, with 13 killed Sunday, raising the total number of dead soldiers to 18.
Two civilians have also died in mortar and rocket attacks. Dozens of soldiers have been wounded since the start of the ground operation, according to Israeli hospitals.
Speaking to CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is only targeting militants in its campaign.
"All civilian casualties are unintended by us, but intended by Hamas. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can, ... it's gruesome," Netanyahu said.