, GAZA CITY, July 22- The UN chief and Washington’s top diplomat were in Cairo on Tuesday to push for an end to two weeks of violence in Gaza that has killed 583 Palestinians.
As the conflict entered its 15th day, neither side showed any sign of willingness to end the violence, with Israel pursuing a relentless campaign of shelling and airstrikes, and militants hitting back with rocket fire and fierce attacks on troops operating on the ground.
Gaza medics say the dead include many women and children, while in Israel, 27 of the 29 victims were soldiers killed since the ground assault began late on July 17.
World powers have urged Hamas to accept an Egyptian brokered ceasefire and stop raining rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, demands it has so far resisted.
Ahead of a meeting with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, US Secretary of State John Kerry demanded that the Islamist Hamas movement agree to end the fighting to spare further bloodshed, in a call echoed by the Arab League.
“Only Hamas now needs to make the decision to spare innocent civilians from this violence,” he said, pledging $47 million in humanitarian aid for the battered Gaza Strip.
Ban also demanded a complete halt to the bloodshed. “Violence must stop, it must stop now,” he said late Monday.
Last week, an Egyptian truce proposal collapsed after it was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas, with US officials admitting that ceasefire efforts could prove trickier than before as Cairo, the regional mediator, now has little leverage with the movement after the army overthrew its Islamist ally, president Mohamed Morsi, last year.
Although Kerry defended Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas attacks, he voiced Washington’s concern over the growing body count.
“We are deeply concerned about the consequences of Israel’s appropriate and legitimate effort to defend itself,” he said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon also demanded Hamas “immediately” halt its cross-border rocket attacks, adding that while he understood Israel’s military response, “there is a proportionality and … most of the death toll (has been) Palestinian.”
– 100,000 displaced –
Meanwhile there was no halt to the bloodshed on the ground with 23 people killed in fresh Israeli strikes on Tuesday, raising the death toll since Israel launched its operation on July 8 to 583, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al Qudra said.
Five of those killed on Tuesday were members of the same family who died in a strike on Deir al Balah in central Gaza. Four of the victims were women, he said.
Another 3,640 people have been wounded.
Israel has said Operation Protective Edge is to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, and on July 17 it sent in ground troops with the aim of destroy cross border tunnels used by Hamas militants to infiltrate southern Israel.
Since the offensive, more than 100,000 Gazans have fled their homes, seeking shelter in 69 schools run by the Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).
Early on Tuesday morning, the Israeli army said another two of its troops had been killed in clashes in Gaza a day earlier, raising Monday’s toll to nine soldiers.
Overall, 27 soldiers have died in the past four days, with 13 killed on Sunday alone in what was the bloodiest single day for the Israeli military since the Lebanon war of 2006.
Two Israeli civilians have also been killed by rocket fire.
– ‘Lift the blockade’ –
Hamas’s main condition for halting its fire is a lifting of Israel’s eight year blockade on the enclave, but it is also looking for “the release of those recently detained” in the West Bank, Ismail Haniya, the movement’s top Gaza based official, said late on Monday.
“The conditions of the Palestinian resistance constitute the minimum required for a truce. The resistance and the sons of our people who have made such sacrifices in this mad war cannot accept anything less,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas held talks in Doha, pledging to work together for a ceasefire and to lift the blockade on Gaza.
“Hamas and Abbas agreed that all Palestinian factions should work as a team towards a ceasefire,” Azzam al Ahmed, a senior official in Abbas’s Fatah party, told AFP.
“It was decided that there should be a ceasefire first, and we will continue discussions with Egypt and all regional and international sides until we crystallise the content of a final peace agreement.”
But there has been no let-up in cross-border rocket fire since the operation began, with 116 rockets hitting Israel on Monday, one striking the greater Tel Aviv area, and another 17 shot down.
Violence also broke out in the West Bank, where an Israeli shot dead a Palestinian who had been throwing stones at his car, Palestinian security sources said. The Israeli army said it was investigating the incident.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, an Israeli was seriously wounded after a Palestinian opened fire at him from a travelling car, the army said.