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UN calls for immediate truce as Gaza toll tops 500

A Palestinian woman mourns during the funeral for those killed in heavy Israeli bombardment of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 21, 2014/AFP

A Palestinian woman mourns during the funeral for those killed in heavy Israeli bombardment of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 21, 2014/AFP

GAZA CITY, July 21- Washington and the United Nations demanded an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza on Monday as Israel pressed a blistering assault on the enclave, pushing the Palestinian death toll to 514.

As world efforts to end the fighting gathered pace, Israel said it killed 10 Hamas militants in an early morning gun battle after they entered southern Israel through cross border tunnels.

At an urgent meeting on Gaza, the UN Security Council urged an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in a call echoed by US President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With growing concern over the number of civilian deaths, both US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki moon headed to Cairo for ceasefire talks, which have so far been rejected by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Following the deadliest day in Gaza in more than five years, in which at least 140 Palestinians were killed, medics pulled another 45 bodies from the rubble early Monday, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al Qudra said.

And 20 more people were killed in a series of strikes across Gaza.

In the latest incident, tank shelling on a hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza killed five people.

And a family of nine was killed in the southern city of Rafah, seven of them children, he said.

As the diplomatic efforts gathered steam, hundreds of people could be seen flooding out of the northern town of Beit Hanun, a day after many thousands fled an intensive Israeli bombardment of the eastern district of Shejaiya.

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On Sunday, at least 72 people were killed in Shejaiya during a punishing Israeli operation which reduced much of the district to rubble and left charred bodies lying in the streets.

– Militants infiltrate Israel –

Since the Israeli operation began on July 8, huge numbers of Gazans have fled their homes, with more than 85,000 people taking shelter in 67 schools run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, a spokesman said.

By Monday morning, a UN school on the outskirts of Shejaiya was packed to overflowing with people seeking shelter, many sleeping in the corridors, an AFP correspondent said.

And in Gaza City’s Shifa hospital, several families could be seen sleeping in gardens in the hope they would be safe from the bombing.

Meanwhile, in southern Israel, the military said troops had killed “more than 10” Hamas militants who managed to cross the border through tunnels. It said there were “two terrorist squads,” one of which was hit by an air strike

Military radio said the second squad engaged in a fierce gun battle with troops in which several soldiers were wounded, without giving further details.

On Sunday, 13 Israeli soldiers were killed inside Gaza, raising to 18 the total number of soldiers killed since a ground operation began late on Thursday.

That represented the army’s heaviest losses in eight years and left Israel in mourning.

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The attack was claimed by Hamas militants from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which said it had carried out “an operation behind enemy lines in response to the massacre in Shejaiya”.

Late on Sunday, the Qassam Brigades claimed it had captured an Israeli soldier it named as Shaul Aaron in a report that the army said it was checking, but which Israel’s UN ambassador said was untrue.

– Ban’s truce tour –

As the UN chief sought to advance regional plans for a ceasefire, Kuwait’s top diplomat pushed him to rally world support to end Israel’s “dangerous aggression” in Gaza at talks in Kuwait City.

Ban was expected in Cairo later on Monday, ahead of the arrival of Kerry.

Elsewhere in the region, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal was to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the Qatari capital for talks on a ceasefire, officials said.

So far, ceasefire proposals have been rejected by Hamas, which has laid out a long list of demands it wants Israel to agree to, including an end to its blockade of Gaza and the release of scores of prisoners.

Despite rising concern over the number of civilian casualties, Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for using innocent civilians “as human shields” and insisted the military operation had “very strong support” from the international community.

Although Israel said Sunday it was expanding its ground operation to destroy cross-border tunnels, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon suggested the mission could be accomplished within days.

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There was no let-up in rocket and mortar fire by Gaza militants on Monday with 40 hitting Israel, one striking the greater Tel Aviv area, and another 11 shot down, the army said.


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