Kerry Heads To Cairo As Palestinian Death Toll Climbs Over 500 In Gaza
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — The death toll among Palestinians from the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip reached 512 on Monday, Gaza health officials said, as the two sides counted their dead following the bloodiest day of fighting so far in the two-week campaign. The officials said some 3,150 Palestinians had been wounded.
Diplomatic efforts to arrange a cease-fire intensified amid the mounting carnage.
Twenty Israelis also have died, including 13 soldiers killed in Sunday’s heavy fighting.
In New York Sunday night, the U.N. Security Council expressed “serious concern” about Gaza’s rising civilian death toll and demanded an immediate end to the fighting, following an emergency session.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pressed ahead with his push for a truce in a trip to the region, and was expected in Cairo later Monday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was also en route to Cairo.
As Israeli airstrikes continued to pound Gaza on Monday, rescue workers near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis were digging out bodies from a home flattened in one of the strikes overnight, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health ministry official.
Al-Kidra said the Palestinian death toll from the two-week offensive stood at 508 as of Monday morning, including 20 bodies that were found at the site in Khan Younis. Two people were pulled alive from the rubble, he added.
Elsewhere in Gaza, Israeli tanks opened fire on the home of the Siyam family west of Rafah in the southern part of the strip, killing 10 people, including four young children and a 9-month-old baby girl, al Kidra said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it foiled a Hamas infiltration attempt on Monday through two tunnels leading from northern Gaza into southern Israel. The military said 10 infiltrators were killed after being detected and targeted by Israeli aircraft.
Authorities and family members say two Americans who were Israel Defense Force soldiers were among Sunday’s fatalities.
Stuart Steinberg confirmed the death of his 24-year-old son, Max Steinberg, to CBS News on Sunday. Steinberg, whose family lives in California, was a sharpshooter for the Golani Brigade and was one of 13 Israeli troops killed in fighting Sunday.
Earlier Sunday, the IDF said in a statement that 21-year-old Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli was killed in combat in the Gaza Strip. Deputy Israeli Consul General Maya Kadosh said Carmeli was from Texas.
A spokesman for the armed wing of Gaza-ruling Hamas claimed the group had captured an Israeli soldier during Sunday’s fighting. Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, dismissed the claim late Sunday.
“There’s no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumors are untrue,” he said.
The Obama administration, including Kerry, is sharpening its criticism of Hamas for its rocket attacks on Israel and other provocative acts like tunneling under the border. And the administration is toning down an earlier rebuke of Israel for its attacks on the Gaza Strip that have killed dozens of civilians, including children.
In a statement Sunday evening, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the U.S. and international partners “deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life.”
Both President Barack Obama and Kerry expressed concern about the rising death toll.
Obama, in a telephone call Sunday, informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Kerry’s trip and condemned Hamas’ attacks, according to a White House statement.
The U.S. will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement offered by Egypt that would halt the fighting.
Cairo’s cease-fire plan is backed by the U.S. and Israel. But Hamas has rejected the Egyptian plan and is relying on governments in Qatar and Turkey for an alternative proposal. Qatar and Turkey have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is also linked to Hamas but banned in Egypt.
Making the rounds of Sunday talk shows, Kerry said Hamas needs to recognize its own responsibility for the conflict.
“It’s ugly. War is ugly, and bad things are going to happen,” Kerry told ABC.
Both Obama and Kerry said Israel has a right to defend itself against frequent rocket attacks by Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Kerry accused Hamas of attempting to sedate and kidnap Israelis through a network of tunnels that militants have used to stage cross-border raids.
He said on CNN that Hamas must “step up and show a level of reasonableness, and they need to accept the offer of a cease-fire.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was already in the region to try to revive cease-fire efforts.
The U.N. relief agency in Gaza estimates that 70,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in the fighting and are seeking shelter in schools and other shelters the United Nations has set up.
U.S. officials said Hamas could bring relief to the Palestinian people if it agrees to a cease-fire proposed by Egypt – a view Netanyahu is pushing, as well.
Netanyahu said in an ABC News interview that Israel has tried to avoid killing Palestinian civilians by making phone calls, sending text messages and dropping leaflets on their communities. But Hamas doesn’t “give a whit about the Palestinians,” Netanyahu said. “All they want is more and more civilian deaths.”
The prime minister said his top goal is to restore a sustainable peace, but then will ask the international community to consider demilitarizing Gaza to rid Hamas of its rockets and shut down the tunnels leading into Israel.
Kerry spoke Sunday on all five major news network talk shows: CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” CNN’s “State of the Union,” ABC News’ “This Week,” and “Fox News Sunday.”
“Fox News Sunday” anchor Chris Wallace confronted Kerry over private comments he made – which were caught on tape — expressing frustration with Israel’s Gaza invasion.
During the series of network interviews Sunday, Kerry paused to speak by phone with a top aide about the situation in Israel.
“It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation. It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said in remarks that were caught on his microphone for the interview. “We got to get over there. Thank you, John. I think, John, we ought to go tonight. I think it’s crazy to be sitting around.”
Wallace played the tape during his interview with Kerry and asked whether he was upset with the Israelis for going too far.
“It’s tough to have this kind of operation. I reacted obviously in a way that, you know, anybody does with respect to young children and civilians,” Kerry said.
“But,” he added, “war is tough, and I said that publicly and I’ll say it again. We defend Israel’s right to do what it is doing in order to get at those tunnels. Israel has accepted a unilateral cease-fire. It’s accepted the Egyptian plan which we also support.”
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