Kerry seeks Gaza cease-fire amid rising casualties
POSTED: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 4:18am
UPDATED: Wednesday, July 23, 2014 - 11:50am
GAZA CITY (CNN) — The death toll continues to mount on both sides of the Gaza conflict as the United States pushes for a halt to fighting between Hamas and Israel.
So far, 583 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,600 wounded since Israel began its Operation Protective Edge two weeks ago, Gaza Health Ministry officials said Tuesday.
It's unclear how many of the dead were militants, but the United Nations has estimated that between 70% and 80% are civilians, including at least 120 children. Israel has reported that its forces have killed more than 180 militants.
In total, 27 Israeli soldiers have died -- more than double the number killed in the war with Hamas in 2008 and 2009. Two Israeli civilians have also been killed.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Monday and said the United States would provide $47 million in humanitarian assistance to Gaza. He and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are expected to hold talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday that he has instructed Kerry to "push for an immediate cessation of hostilities."
Talks should focus on a return to the cease-fire deal that stopped the conflict between Israel and Hamas in November 2012, the President said at the White House. "We don't want to see any more" civilian deaths in Gaza or Israel, he said.
But some observers say the chances of a breakthrough remain slim.
"It is going to be very difficult to get a cease-fire right now, you see the objectives of both sides have changed a little bit over the last few days," said David Tafuri, a former U.S. State Department and U.N. official
"Hamas is now using tunnels to make ground attacks in Israel -- clearly they feel like they haven't done enough damage with the rockets," said Tafuri, who now works for the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs. "Israel is now focused on destroying those tunnels. Israel says it needs more time to get all of the tunnels."
'Nothing but a massacre'
The deadly violence has continued on the ground.
The Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza was hit by shelling, leaving five people dead -- one patient and four relatives, the Gaza Health Ministry said Monday.
The Israeli military said an initial investigation shows that a cache of missiles was stored in the immediate vicinity of the hospital and was targeted. "Civilian casualties are a tragic inevitability of the brutal and systematic exploitation of homes, hospitals and mosques in Gaza," the military said.
Israel claims Hamas is responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza, noting that the group has encouraged people to stay in their homes despite repeated warnings from Israel in advance of airstrikes.
"They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can because, somebody said -- it's gruesome -- they use 'telegenically dead Palestinians' for their cause. They want the more dead, the better," Netanyahu told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Sunday.
But some Palestinians have said they fear that even if they flee they will remain vulnerable anywhere they go in Gaza's small, crowded territory. More than 100,000 Palestinians have taken refuge in U.N. facilities since the fighting broke out.
Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti accused the Israeli government of "acting in a criminal way."
"What happened in Gaza during the past 10 days is nothing but a massacre," he told Blitzer on Monday.
"This has to stop," Barghouti said.
Clashes around tunnels
More than 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israel since the start of Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli military said, some of them intercepted by Israel's missile defense system.
In turn, the IDF says it has hit nearly 3,000 "terror targets" in Gaza, including tunnels and weapons storage and manufacturing facilities.
The need to take out Hamas' tunnels under the border was the reason Israel gave for launching its ground operation in Gaza last week. Israeli forces have so far found 23 tunnels, destroying six of them, the IDF said.
The Israeli military on Monday killed more than 10 Hamas fighters who entered the country through tunnels "to attack two different kibbutzim," or communal areas, "where farmers are trying to conduct their daily lives," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN. Four Israeli soldiers were killed in the clashes, the IDF said.
Uncertainty remained over Hamas' claim Sunday that it had captured an Israeli soldier. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations had said late Sunday that the claim was "untrue," but the Israeli Defense Forces later said it couldn't confirm or deny it.
"It could just be Hamas bravado. We're looking into it," Regev said Monday.
Hamas talks with other countries, not Egypt
Hamas rejected a cease-fire proposal made by Egypt last week.
Senior Hamas political figure Izzat Risheq in Qatar told CNN on Monday that Hamas is not speaking directly with Egypt, but several other nations are involved: Turkey, Qatar, and Kuwait. Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal traveled from Qatar to Kuwait on Sunday, Risheq said.
Hamas postponed a scheduled news conference, at which Meshaal was going to speak, due to ongoing talks, Risheq said.
Hamas leaders have said previously they want a broader set of terms to be part of any truce, including the release of recently detained Palestinians and the easing of a border blockade that has been in effect for much of the past seven years on Gaza.
CNN's Ian Lee reported from Gaza City, Josh Levs from Atlanta and Jethro Mullen from Hong Kong. CNN's Karl Penhaul, Ali Younes, Kareem Khadder, Ben Wedeman, Atika Shubert, Yon Pomrenze and Tim Lister contributed to this report.