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Israel shells Gaza militants
09:43, 21 July 2014, 509

AKIPRESS.COM - Tel Aviv Israeli tanks shelled militant targets in the Gaza Strip and a woman died in an air strike after the bloodiest day for both sides of a nearly two-week military offensive that showed no signs of abating despite global calls for a truce, Reuters reports.

Palestinian health officials said the death toll since July 8 had reached 447, including many civilians, with a woman killed in the predawn strike in Beit Hanoun and 12 more bodies recovered from the embattled Shejaia neighborhood where the number of fatalities rose to 72 from Sunday's fighting.

In its push against militants in Shejaia, Israel also suffered its worst losses in the offensive it launched to stop rocket fire from Gaza at Israel, with 13 soldiers killed, for a total of 18 and another two civilian deaths.

Israel's army said it had been targeting militants from Gaza's dominant Hamas group, charging they fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centers there. The army said it had warned civilians two days earlier to leave.

The Israeli military said it was checking a televised announcement in Gaza from Hamas's armed wing that it had captured an Israeli soldier during the fighting in Shejaia.

Israeli radio, television stations and most news websites ignored the report.

“Qassam Brigades captured a Zionist soldier,” said Abu Ubaida on Sunday, the masked spokesman of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, who identified the soldier as Shaul Aron and recited what he said was Aron's identity tag number.

He provided no other evidence the soldier was in the custody of the Islamist militants.

Aron would be the first Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza since 2011, when Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to free Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was held for more than five years after his 2006 capture in a cross-border raid.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the fighting in Gaza as an “open wound and we must stop the bleeding now.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a news conference on Sunday evening Israel would press on with its campaign with the goals of “restoring quiet” to its southern cities, and the Tel Aviv business hub area.

Israel also sought to damage Hamas and other militant groups' infrastructure in Gaza, he said, adding: “We are undeterred. We shall continue the operation as long as is required.”

The UN Relief and Works Agency said that 81,000 displaced people had now taken refuge in 61 UNRWA shelters in Gaza.


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