The Israeli army say they have intercepted two groups of Palestinian fighters who entered Israel via tunnels from the Gaza Strip on Monday morning. A military spokesperson said at least 10 fighters had been killed, as residents of Kibbutz Nir Am and Kibbutz Erez in south Israel were ordered to remain indoors, according to Haaretz.
News of the attempted infiltration emerged as the Palestinian death toll surpassed 500 with more than 3,000 people injured, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. At least 25 Palestinians were killed in attacks overnight, including seven children from the same family, while 20 Israeli soldiers were injured as the military offensive into Gaza enters its third week.
Early on Monday morning the Israeli army announced “two terrorist cells” had entered southern Israel through a tunnel from the Gaza Strip. The army said in a statement posted online that the air force opened fire “the moment it [the group of fighters] was identified” by surveillance and confirmed “a hit”.
The second group of Palestinian fighters were said to have “fired an anti-tank missile at an army vehicle”, according to Haaretz. They report the army as having opened fire and killed “about 10” of the fighters.
Military radio said the second group tried to approach Kibbutz Nir Am close to Gaza’s northeastern tip, where they engaged in a fierce gun battle with soldiers. Several soldiers were wounded, the radio said, without giving further details.
Army sources have told Haaretz the “security incident” is now over and that residents near the border with Gaza can leave their homes.
Monday’s attack was claimed by Hamas’ military wing the al-Qassam Brigades, which said it had carried out “an operation behind enemy lines in response to the massacre in Shejaiya”, an assault by the Israeli army on Sunday in Gaza that killed scores of civilians.
Pressure Mounts, Solidarity Protests in West Bank Spread
Meanwhile international pressure calling for an end to fighting continues to mount as US President Barack Obama called for an “immediate ceasefire” on Sunday evening, while at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council members expressed “serious concern about the growing numbers of casualties”.
American Secretary of State John Kerry is rumored to be arriving in Cairo on Monday, stepping up efforts to mediate a ceasefire between the Palestinian factions and Israel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is already in the region and on Sunday described the Israeli attack on Shejaiya as an “atrocious action”.
UN chief Ban condemned Israel’s continuing offensive in Gaza from Doha, where Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will meet on Monday to discuss a truce.
As the death toll continues to swiftly rise in Gaza, violence threatens to spread in the West Bank, where solidarity protests on Sunday led to clashes with Israeli forces. Demonstrations against the Israeli assault on Gaza were held in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem, Tulkarem and Jerusalem, with reports of injuries in several locations.
“My brother works in the hospital here [Tulkarem] and he said a lot of protesters are being brought in injured after clashing with Israeli forces,” said Hend Abu Shanab, a student from Tulkarem in the West Bank. “There is a strong Israeli army presence in the town and people are coming onto the streets from everywhere.”
“I haven’t seen protests like this since the second intifada [uprising],” she added.
In the northern city of Nablus there were reports of Palestinian Authority security forces firing on groups of protesters, as they tried to break up the demonstrations.
Meanwhile in Hebron groups of youths clashed with Israeli forces as they swarmed the streets demanding an end to Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.
Protesters in Ramallah gathered at the main roundabout and launched fireworks to celebrate an announcement by Hamas’ military wing that they had captured an Israeli soldier. The green flag of Hamas was seen flying among the demonstrators and chants heard in support of the al-Qassam Brigades, who published military documents belonging to the soldier they claim to have captured.
Israel Denies Purported Soldier Capture
Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri described the apparent capture of Shaul Aron as a “major victory”, according to Anadolu Agency, who quoted him as saying it was a “retaliation for the martyrs.”
At the UN on Sunday evening the Israeli representative denied a soldier had been captured.
“There’s no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumors are untrue,” Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor told reporters in New York.
While details of the purported soldier capture remain unclear, the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza continues to intensify and widen in scope. 43 percent of territory in Gaza has been subject to Israeli evacuation warnings or designated “no-go areas” by their army, according to the UN, while the latest briefing by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said 72 percent of Palestinian casualties have been civilians.
Gaza Hospitals Stretched to Limit
Hospitals in Gaza are under severe pressure dealing with high numbers of patients in extreme circumstances. A Norwegian doctor working at the Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical facility, has written an open letter urging American president Obama to visit and spend a night among its workers.
“I invite you – spend one night – just one night – with us in Shifa. Disguised as a cleaner, maybe,” wrote Dr. Mads Gilbert. “I am convinced, 100%, it would change history.”
“Nobody with a heart and power could ever walk away from a night in Shifa without being determined to end the slaughter of the Palestinian people,” he added.
(Middle East Eye – www.middleeasteye.net)