- At least 10 deaths reported after Gaza City park, hospital struck
- Israeli military says 9 of its soldiers killed on Monday
- UN Security Council calls for 'unconditional humanitarian ceasefire'
Flares lit up the night sky over Gaza as Israel continued its aerial bombardment overnight, following a warning earlier Monday from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the conflict could become a “prolonged” military operation.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries on the ground in Gaza, but live video of the city skyline showed multiple large plumes of smoke rising into the sky around 2 a.m. local time. Several loud explosions could be heard.
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An Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh early on Tuesday causing damage but no casualties, Gaza's interior ministry said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman had no information on the report but was checking for details.
Haniyeh's son confirmed the strike on his Facebook page and added that the house of the former Hamas Gaza prime minister was empty.
The nighttime violence followed a day of heavy Hamas-Israeli fighting in which nine young children were killed by a strike on a Gaza park where they were playing, according to Palestinian health officials — a tragedy that each side blamed on the other.
Israeli tanks also resumed heavy shelling in border areas of Gaza, killing five people, including three children and a 70-year-old woman, and wounding 50 in the town of Jebaliya, which was among the areas civilians were warned to evacuate from, the Red Crescent said.
Many Jebaliya residents said they did not dare attempt an escape to Gaza City. Sufian Abed Rabbo said his extended family of 17 had taken refuge under the stairway in their home.
"God help us. We have nothing to do but pray," the 27-year-old told The Associated Press by phone. "I don't know who left and who stayed, but in our street, we are all very scared to move."
The latest bloodshed came despite mounting international calls for a ceasefire and followed failed attempts by both sides to agree to even a lull in fighting of several hours for the start of the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan.
10 killed at refugee camp
The Hamas-run health ministry said 10 people, including nine children under the age of 12, were killed and 46 wounded in the blast at a park in the Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City.
Israeli and Palestinian officials are blaming each other for that attack and a separate one, which Gaza officials reported at a nearby hospital outpatient clinic.
"This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit al-Shifa Hospital and the Beach (Shati) camp," said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman.
He said the explosion in the park was caused when a rocket launched by Gaza militants misfired. Palestinian police and civil defence said an Israeli missile hit as children were playing on a swing set.
"The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit," said Nidal Aljerbi, a witness.
After three weeks of bloodshed, both Israel and Hamas are holding out for bigger gains and a ceasefire remains elusive, despite an appeal by the UN Security Council and growing pressure from the United States.
Israel says its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished scores of Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border that militants use to infiltrate Israel and smuggle weapons.
Hamas says it will not cease fire until it receives international guarantees Gaza's seven-year-old border blockade by Egypt and Israel will be lifted.
Netanyahu defended the Gaza air and ground offensive, saying in a televised speech Monday that "there is no war more just than this."
Israel has said it is defending its citizens against attack from Gaza by hitting Hamas rocket launchers, weapons storage sites and military tunnels. However, there is growing U.S. frustration with the mounting number of Palestinian casualties — at least 1,072 killed and 6,450 wounded since July 8, the vast majority civilians, according to Hamas health officials.
The Israeli military says 52 soldiers have been killed, including four killed Monday in a mortar attack on southern Israel. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai citizen working in Israel also have been killed.
U.S. pushes for ceasefire
U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.
The Obama administration pushed back Monday against a torrent of Israeli criticism over Kerry's latest bid to secure a ceasefire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a "misinformation campaign" against the top American diplomat.
"It's simply not the way partners and allies treat each other," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Her comments were echoed by the White House, where officials said they were disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry's efforts to negotiate a ceasefire as more favourable to Hamas.
Israel had accepted an Egyptian call for an unconditional ceasefire early in its Gaza campaign, but Hamas rejected the idea.
Netanyahu said Monday that Israel won't end its offensive until Hamas's network of tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border has been neutralized. "We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign," he said. "We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children."
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded defiantly. "His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people, and the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children," he said.
IDF seeks to destroy tunnel system
For now, ground forces have largely operated on the edges of Gaza.
The Israeli military has said it has located 31 tunnels, is aware of the existence of 10 more and has so far demolished close to 20.
Gaza militants have repeatedly used the tunnels to sneak into Israel, including on Monday when several infiltrated into southern Israel. The army said one Hamas militant coming through a tunnel was killed in a firefight, but that searches in the area were continuing.
The Hamas military wing said nine of its fighters infiltrated and attacked an army post.
After three weeks of battle, "our fighters still have a lot of surprises in store for the leaders of the occupation and their elite soldiers," the group said in a statement.
An updated version of this story dropped mention of the strike at al-Shifa Hospital. We have added that detail back in and changed the headline to reflect the latest developments.Aug 03, 2014 2:34 PM ET