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Fighting intensifies in Gaza as Israel warns of lengthy campaign

Fighting intensifies in Gaza as Israel warns of lengthy campaign
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Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 5:18am

Three weeks into the Gaza conflict, fighting is intensifying, the death toll is climbing and Israel has warned its citizens to be ready for a prolonged battle.

Efforts to bring about a lasting cease-fire between Israel and Hamas have failed to gain traction, despite calls from world leaders.

Israeli airstrikes and artillery rained down on Gaza early Tuesday as the Palestinian death toll rose above 1,100, according to health authorities.

The Israeli military reported that 10 of its soldiers were killed Monday, five of them in an attack in which militants used a tunnel to get into Israeli territory.

The conflict, once again, claimed more children. Eight of them were among 10 people killed Monday in a refugee camp near the beach in Gaza, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The children were playing in the street near their homes when an explosion shook the ground. Holes as large as fists pockmarked a nearby building.

One boy in the neighborhood, 8-year-old Anas, described the horrific scene his young eyes witnessed.

"I saw a boy all cut up right here. Over there a man ... he looked dead, and I saw a boy who was dead too," he said.

'So loud, so terrifying'

One of the dead was Mohammed, a boy who was playing with other kids near his front door.

Top of his class at math, Mohammed was a fan of the Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi, according to one of the boy's young friends.

"He would always say Messi was an amazing player. He loved football," said 12-year-old Olaa.

She also remembers the blast that killed her friend.

"Glass sprayed on me. It was so loud, so terrifying. I can't even describe it," she said.

The Israeli military blamed a misfired Hamas rocket for the deaths. Hamas accused the Israelis, with a TV news outlet reporting the explosion was caused by a drone. Witnesses also suggested the blast came from a drone.

More than 200 children have been killed in Gaza since the conflict began, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The deaths Monday came as Palestinians celebrated Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Soldiers killed in tunnel attack

Ten Israeli soldiers were killed Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Five were killed fighting militants who tried to attack Israeli civilians using a tunnel shaft leading to the Nahal Oz community, the IDF said. Israeli soldiers stopped the attempted attack, killing one of the attackers, the military said.

One Israeli soldier died in combat in southern Gaza. And another four were killed and eight were injured by mortar fire near Beeri, close to the Israeli-Gaza border, the IDF said.

A total of 53 Israeli soldiers have died since the IDF began Operation Protective Edge against Hamas on July 8. Three civilians have been killed in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military will not end its incursion into Gaza until it has destroyed the tunnels.

"We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign in Gaza," he said on Israeli television Monday.

Gaza toll passes 1,100

Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for Gaza health ministry, said 1,101 people have been killed and more than 6,500 wounded in Gaza since the current conflict began. Most of the dead are civilians, according to the United Nations.

Al Aqsa TV reported early Tuesday that Israeli strikes hit the Ministry of Finance in western Gaza and the house of Ismail Haniyeh, a senior political leader of Hamas. A radio station run by Hamas was bombed.

Gaza is now like a burning building. "We need to get the people out, and then we need to extinguish the fire, and then we sit down and talk."

Erakat called for Israel to pull troops out of Gaza.

Israel isn't acting in self-defense, he said: "They're the occupying power. They should be responsible for the human lives there."

'There is no dignity'

Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths, saying militants encourage people to stay in their homes despite Israeli warnings that strikes are coming. It says Hamas also uses civilian buildings such as homes, schools, mosques and hospitals for military purposes, like storing weapons.

But many residents of Gaza say they feel nowhere is safe in the small, crowded territory.

"You cannot understand how it feels not being able to move, to be trapped, to not even see family or friends," Ghada Al Kord, who works for the humanitarian group CARE in Gaza, wrote in a blog post. "There is no dignity. We are frustrated and we do not know when it will end."

Al Kord, 28, who is three months pregnant, said she was worried about the future that awaits her unborn child.

"Our children are growing up surrounded by violence," she wrote in the post Monday. "There is no safe or calm environment for them."

Leaders call for truce

Diplomatic efforts are continuing to try to find a way to end the hostilities.

The Gaza crisis was discussed Monday in a joint call involving U.S. President Barack Obama. British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

A statement from Cameron's office said the leaders agreed on "the urgent need for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza and Israel, backing the efforts of the Egyptian government to achieve this."

Hamas rejected an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire about a week into the conflict, saying it wants broader issues to be addressed, including Israel's blockade of Gaza and detentions of Palestinians.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Washington at the weekend after a trip to the Middle East and Paris, where he held discussions in an attempt to calm the violence. But he had little to show for his days of shuttle diplomacy in the region.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday night that he was concerned the IDF had dropped leaflets in the northern Gaza Strip, warning thousands of residents to leave their homes and evacuate to Gaza City. If true, this would have a "devastating humanitarian impact" on Gaza residents, he said.

-- CNN's Karl Penhaul reported from Gaza; and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Sara Sidner, Ralph Ellis, Ashley Fantz, Elise Labott, Tim Lister, Maryam Affane and Amir Tal contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
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