On Saturday in Gaza, Israeli bulldozers destroyed more than a dozen tunnels as Palestinian authorities reported intensified airstrikes and shelling causing the death toll to rise to at least 342 Palestinians since Israel’s ground offensive began. Meanwhile, diplomats struggle to bring about renewed talks of ceasefire, according to Ibrahim Barzak and Aron Heller, Israeli troops battle Hamas, uncover Gaza tunnels. The Israeli military said that soldiers found 34 shafts leading into dozens of underground tunnels that could be used to carry out attacks. However, even after tunnels were destroyed, Palestinian gunmen entered Israel from Gaza using another tunnel killing two Israeli soldiers and injuring several, according to the military. While Hamas said 12 of its fighters participated in the attack and at least one Palestinian was killed in the clash. This is the second time Palestinians used the underground tunnel network to enter Israel in the current conflict. Thirteen armed Palestinians used the tunnel from Gaza and emerged inside Israel near a southern community where an Israeli airstrike killed the militants as they pooped out of the tunnel. The current ground offensive by Israel began late Thursday in order to seek and destroy the tunnels. Cheif military spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz said, “These tunnels aren’t for hiding. They are intended for large attacks in Israeli communities and army bases.” According to Barzak and Heller, footage of the tunnels being destroyed by army excavators, ground equipment and airstrikes was released by the Israeli military. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said the newest airstrikes raised the death toll of the 12 day offensive to 342 Palestinian with many being civilian. In Israel, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld reports that a Gaza rocket killed a man near Dimona making it the second Israeli civilian casualty and an Israeli soldier was killed after the ground operation began. The UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said some 50,000 Palestinians are already in U.N. shelters. Barzak and Heller report, “Early Saturday, Israeli tank fire killed at least five members of the Al Zawaydi family at their home in Beit Lahiya, including two children. In a separate incident, tank shell fire killed three members of the Hamooda family in their home, among them two children. In Gaza City, two boys and a 12-month-old infant neighbor were killed Friday evening following the break of the Ramadan fast. On Saturday, at least two of the bodies were carried by somber relatives during a funeral procession in Gaza City.” Israel blames the civilian casualties on Hamas who they claim fire from within residential areas and use civilian as human shields. Additionally, the military said it hit more than 2,350 targets in Gaza including 1,100 rocket launchers during the 12 days of fighting with 70 terrorist and another 13 brought to Israel for questioning. Gaza militants have fired more than 1,600 rockets at Israel since July 8. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri on Sautrday said, “This initiative still presents the chance for the two sides to cease fire, ending the bloodshed. It meets the needs of both sides. We will continue to propose it. We hope both sides accept it.” Israeli officials say the offensive may last two weeks or longer, while Ziad Nakhala, a leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, told a Palestinian radio station: “The Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip will not surrender to the enemy and will not raise the white flag.” With little international or regional support from its allies in Turkey and Qatar, Hamas appears weaker than previous offensives. Protests against the offensive took place Friday in Turkey, Jordan and the West Bank. Additionally, protests against Israel continued in European countries.
While the war rages on between Hamas and Israel, Palestinian children are paying a heavy price. Karin Laub and Yousur Alhlou, 1 in 5 of Gaza dead are children, report that the United Nations says minors make up one fifth of the 299 Palestinians killed in 11 days of intense Israeli airstrikes of the Gaza Strip where half the 1.7 million people are under 18. Even with Israel warning residents to evacuate target areas, most Gazans have no safe place to go according to rights activists. Bill Van Esveld, a researcher for New York based Human Rights Watch, said, “If you are going to attack civilian structures in densely populated areas, of course you are going to see children killed.” Since fighting began, 71 of those killed were under 18 the Associated Press reports based on information provided by Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. forty eight of the victims were under 13 with many children killed in their own homes. Lt. Col. Pete Lerner, a military spokesman on Friday said,” Israel’s efforts to try to minimize civilian casualties are unprecedented in the Western world,”referring to the evacuation warning system using text messages, automated calls and leaflets dropped from planes. In addition, he said more than a dozen attacks were aborted when civilians were spotted in the area. In recent days, Israel urged people to leave their homes near the border in preparation for a ground offensive Israel launched late Thursday deploying thousands of troops. Abu Musallam, who lost three children in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza near the border, said on Friday at a local hospital: “We are with the resistance” referring to Hamas militants. “Three children died and I can offer another three just to give Palestine its freedom.” Outside the hospital, fourteen year old Yousef Aliyan watches as the dead and wounded are brought to the hospital. “This is not the first time we came under shelling attack,” he said. “I’m used to it.”