Thousands flee Gaza, bodies lay on streets

An Israeli convoy manoeuvres outside central Gaza Strip July 19, 2014. Israeli forces on Saturday pressed ahead with a ground offensive in Gaza.

An Israeli convoy manoeuvres outside central Gaza Strip July 19, 2014. Israeli forces on Saturday pressed ahead with a ground offensive in Gaza.

At least 100 Palestinians were killed on Sunday during Israeli operations targeting the Gaza strip, with 62 alone in the neighborhood of Shejaiya, in the bloodiest day of fighting between the rivals since 2005, Palestinian officials and witnesses said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a massacre and declared three days of mourning for the victims of the attacks.

The Israeli army said it was expanding its ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, as the bloodiest conflict since 2009 entered its 13th day with a death toll thus far of more than 400, Agence France-Presse reported.

“This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security,” the army said in a statement.

The army started the ground offensive late Thursday, after 10 days of aerial and naval bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory, in a bid to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza militants.

Cease-fire collapses in Shejaiya

Israel resumed shelling on Gaza’s Shejaiya despite agreeing to observe an immediate two-hour humanitarian cease-fire in the district on Sunday. Israel accused Hamas of violating the humanitarian cease-fire there.

Israel’s military said its forces were shot at shortly after the two-hour truce, facilitated by the Red Cross, had begun at 1:30 pm (1030 GMT), and that it had resumed combat operations.

Hamas had no immediate comment on Israeli allegations it had breached the cease-fire.

In Shejaiya, at least 60 Palestinians were killed, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Before Israel declaring the cease-fire, thousands of people fled the eastern Shejaiya district, after heavy shelling left casualties lying in the streets, an AFP correspondent reported.

Ambulances were unable to reach much of the area along the border because of heavy fire, emergency services said.

There were reports of dead and wounded trapped by the bombardment.

The Hamas military wing said its fighters exchanged fire with Israeli forces in Shejaiya and a nearby neighborhood.

A Palestinian cameraman and a paramedic were among those killed there.

“Cameraman Khaled Hammad and paramedic Fuad Jaber were killed in a strike on an ambulance, while they were trying to evacuate the wounded from Shejaiya,” Ashraf al-Qudra, the spokesperson for the emergency services said, according to AFP.

Death toll

Shortly after the announcement, an army statement said two more soldiers had been killed late Saturday in fighting in and around the Gaza Strip.

Since the ground operation began, seven Israeli soldiers have been killed, including two in a firefight with Hamas militants inside Israeli territory.

Since the start of Israel-Hamas fighting almost two weeks ago, 425 Palestinians have been killed and 2,700 wounded in Israeli air and artillery strikes, according to Palestinian health officials. That number includes 112 children, 41 women and 25 elderly people.

One-fourth of the deaths were reported since the start of the ground offensive, the officials said, according to the Associated Press.

Israel said it is going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and blames them on Hamas, accusing it of firing from within residential neighborhoods and using civilians as “human shields.”

Israel expands Gaza offensive

Casualties could mount quickly if the military moves deeper into urban areas.

Some 50,000 Palestinians are already staying in United Nations shelters, according to UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency for Palestinians.

 
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