Gaza Death Toll Tops 600 as Israel Bombs Homes, Hospital
The number of Palestinians killed in Gaza topped 600 on Tuesday as Israel continued its ferocious land, air and sea offensive against Hamas and other militants resisting Israeli occupation and blockade.
The Gaza Health Ministry says 625 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8. More than 4,000 others have been wounded. The vast majority of the dead are civilians, including many women, children and elderly people. Of the 56 people killed on Monday, a third were children, Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told reporters.
Israel’s relentless assault on Gaza, which has continued unabated for nearly two weeks, targeted homes, mosques and a hospital. Israeli officials claim Hamas militants are operating in and around civilian infrastructure in Gaza, where 1.8 million residents, most of them refugees, live in one of the most densely populated places on earth.
Emergency workers continued to pull bodies from destroyed and damaged homes, apartment blocks and other building in Gaza on Tuesday even as Israeli forces continued to pound the tiny territory with air strikes, artillery barrages and naval bombardment.
More than 100,000 Gaza residents have fled for their lives, with some refugees killed as they sought shelter in what they believed were safer places. Such was the case with the al-Qassas family, who fled heavy Israeli shelling in their Shejaiya neighborhood only to be bombed at their grandfather’s home in Thalathini. At least eight members of the family, including four children, were killed, Palestine’s Maan News Agency reports.
Entire families are being wiped out. An Israeli strike on the Khan Younis home of the Abu Jamea family killed between 24 and 28 people, including 15 children. Another strike on the home of the Siyam family in southern Gaza, near Rafah, killed at least 10 relatives, including four young children and a nine-month-old baby girl, the Associated Press reports.
An Israeli strike on an apartment tower in Gaza City also killed 11 members of the al-Kilani family, including a man, his wife and their five young children ages 4-12.
It wasn’t just homes that Israel has been bombing. Israeli tank fire struck the al-Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza City on Monday, blasting an intensive care unit and an operating room, killing four people, including doctors, and wounding more than 70 others. Ambulances attempting to evacuate patients had to turn back due to intense Israeli shelling. Earlier, an ambulance ferrying wounded civilians was attacked by Israeli forces; a journalist and a paramedic were killed.
“The hospital is coming down over our heads. They bombed the fourth floor, the second floor, the third floor, the medical ward, the surgical ward, the ICU,” al-Aqsa emergency room nursing supervisor Jabul Abu Miri told ABC News. “The medical team is a target, the nurses are a target, the doctors are a target. We are soldiers in the army? No, we are not soldiers… we are doctors and nurses treating patients. We are not doing anything.”
Israeli officials claim Hamas militants are storing weapons and launching rockets against Israel from locations in and near homes, as well as near the medical facilities it attacked. In the case of al-Aqsa Hospital, IDF officials said the target was a cache of anti-tank missiles in the “immediate vicinity.”
“Civilian casualties are a tragic inevitability of [Hamas’] brutal and systematic exploitation of homes, hospitals and mosques in Gaza,” the IDF said in a statement. Israeli officials have repeatedly said they take extraordinary measures to avoid killing innocent civilians.
Al-Aqsa was at least the second medical facility to be attacked by Israeli forces. Earlier in the war, a rehabilitation center for disabled people in eastern Gaza was struck, killing two women who were unable to evacuate following a ‘knock on the roof’ warning from an Israeli warplane.
Ten Israeli human rights groups have written an urgent letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to protest what they are calling their country’s grave violations of international law.
“Basic principles of humanitarian law were violated, and as a result many civilians were killed,” the letter states, pointing to United Nations and other figures showing that around 70-80 percent of Palestinians killed have been innocent civilians.
Israel claims the high civilian death toll is a result of Hamas and other militants operating in residential areas. Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, who has previously boasted about killing Arabs, is one of many Israeli officials who have accused Hamas of using “human shields.”
Israel says it has killed more than 170 Palestinian resistance fighters since its ground invasion of Gaza began on Thursday. Ten Hamas fighters were killed on Monday after using tunnels to infiltrate Israel near the southern town of Sderot in an apparent attempt to attack a nearby kibbutz. The Times of Israel reports seven Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers were killed in a battle with the infiltrators, who were dressed in IDF uniforms.
The seven IDF deaths bring the total number of Israeli troops killed during the war to 28. Two Israeli civilians have also been killed by rockets and artillery fired from Gaza. At least 130 Israelis have also been injured.
Hamas continued to launch rockets indiscriminately into Israel despite the ferocious Israeli assault, with 116 rockets reportedly launched on Monday alone. Israel claims more than 2,000 rockets have been fired during the war, with nearly 400 intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Israeli officials said more than a dozen Hamas tunnels have been located and destroyed.
International efforts to end the fighting continued on Tuesday, with US Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in Cairo, Egypt on Monday in an attempt to reach a ceasefire. Kerry met with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“We don’t want to see any more civilians killed,” said US President Barack Obama, who also asserted Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas rockets.
The United States also announced it would provide $47 million in humanitarian relief aid for Palestine. Washington gives an average of around $3 billion in annual military aid to wealthy Israel, including many of the weapons used by the IDF to attack Gaza.
Despite attempts to end the bloodshed, both Israel and Hamas vowed to fight on until their objectives are met.
“If needed we will recruit more reservists in order to continue the operation as long as necessary until the completion of the task and the return of quiet in the whole of Israel,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told an Israeli parliamentary committee.
Hamas says it will keep launching rockets until Israel lifts its crippling eight-year blockade of Gaza and releases some Palestinian prisoners.
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