GAZA CITY — Israel continued to hammer targets in Gaza and an Israeli soldier has been reported missing, even as diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas intensify.
Overnight, Israeli aircraft hit more than 70 targets in Gaza, including five mosques and a sports complex, said Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji.
More than 500 Palestinians — including almost 100 children — have been killed as Israel’s offensive in Gaza grinds on.
Palestinian officials put the death toll at 570 since fighting began July 8, with about 3,350 wounded.
Seven Israeli soldiers died in the fighting Monday, Israel Defense Forces said. Another 13 Israeli soldiers died Sunday in clashes with Hamas. The overall Israeli death toll rose to 27, including two civilians who died from rocket and mortar fire directed at Israeli towns and villages from Gaza.
One Israeli soldier went missing during a deadly battle in the Gaza Strip, a defense official told the Associated Press. It is unclear if the soldier is dead or alive.
“A vehicle carrying 7 soldiers was attacked July 20,” the Israeli Defense Forces announced via their officialTwitter account. “We have identified 6 of their bodies. Efforts to identify the 7th soldier are ongoing.”
(Photo: Oded Balilty, AP)
On Sunday evening, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri in Gaza claimed his group had captured an Israeli soldier. An announcement on Gaza TV of the soldier’s capture set off celebration in the streets of the West Bank.
Israel denied it. “There’s no kidnapped Israeli soldier,” Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, said Sunday night.
United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Cairo on Monday to try to broker a cease-fire. The top Hamas leader in Gaza indicated the group would not accept an unconditional cease-fire.
Upon arrival, Kerry announced that the United States would provide $47 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza.
President Obama said Kerry was pressing “immediate cessation of hostilities” structured after a 2012 cease-fire.
“We have a serious concern about the number of Palestinian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives,” Obama said, adding that time is of the essence to “stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and Israel.”
“There are enormous passions involved,” Obama acknowledged. “Difficult, strategic issues are involved.”
Ban is still pushing for a truce. In New York, the U.N. Security Council expressed “serious concern” about Gaza’s rising civilian death toll and demanded an immediate end to the fighting after an emergency session. The U.N.’s Human Rights council is likely to hold an emergency meeting later Monday.
Contributing: The Associated Press