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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Wednesday, July 18, 2018

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Raging battle in Gaza shatters hopes for truce

Official Israeli broadcaster said five gunmen were killed

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GAZA CITY/TEL AVIV - Intense fighting continued to rage between the Hamas and Israeli forces, throwing to pieces an unofficial ceasefire declared for the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, marking the end of a month of fasting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday his country will press on with its air and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, dashing hopes that the three-week-old conflict would end soon.

Rebuffing appeals for an immediate cease-fire, Netanyahu said in a televised address, "we will not finish the mission, we will not finish the operation without neutralizing the tunnels, which have the sole purpose of destroying our citizens, killing our children."

He was referring to Hamas's tunnel networks, through which its fighters have sought to infiltrate and launch attacks on Israel.

"There is no war more just than this," Netanyahu said, adding that a demilitarization of Gaza must be part of any future solution for the territory of 1.7 million people.

Palestinian medics say a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people Monday, nine of them children playing on a street.

Palestinian health official Ayman Sahabani said 46 people were wounded in the strikes. He said the children who were among the dead were playing on a swing in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City.

Gaza's police operations room, Civil Defence and Sahabani said the deaths and injuries were caused by Israeli airstrikes.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, denied Israel was involved.

"This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit al-Shifa Hospital and the Beach [Shati] camp," he said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in a text message called the strike on the park a "massacre".

The Hamas military wing said that in response to the strike, it fired three rockets towards the Israeli port city of Ashdod.

Media reports citing unnamed Israeli officials said Palestinian fighters slipped into an Israeli village from the Gaza Strip.

The militant, the media reports said, fought a fierce gun battle with troops in the village.

Official Israeli broadcaster said five gunmen were killed in the battle that shattered hopes of a possible long-term ceasefire between the two warring sides.

The Israeli army issued fresh warnings asking thousands of Palestinians to vacate their homes in areas around the strip.

On the other hand, four Israelis were reportedly killed by cross-border Palestinian mortar fire.

The Israel Defense Forces also said its jets hit two rocket launchers and a rocket manufacturing facility in central and northern Gaza in three airstrikes ordered in response to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel.

Gaza and southern Israel have seen an upsurge in violence despite a plea by the UN secretary general for a cessation of hostilities.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a passionate appeal for peace in the region and urged Israel to make an immediate halt to the violence in Gaza. The world body chief said the Palestinian territory was in a "critical condition".

"In the name of humanity, the violence must stop," Ban told reporters.

"It's a matter of their political will. They have to show their humanity as leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian," he said.

The three-week military confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian side has left more than 1,030 Palestinians, mostly civilians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israeli killed.

The UN Security Council also called for the truce at its meeting early Monday morning.

The council urged Israel and Hamas "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid period and beyond".

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