Gaza (July 22): The relentless Israeli military campaign dubbed Operation Protective Edge targeting the Gaza Strip, which has lasted for more than two weeks, has killed over 600 Palestinians even as the US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed the Islamist Hamas movement for the ongoing crisis.
Ashraf al-Qedra, Gaza health ministry spokesman, told reporters that the death toll has reached 609, while the number of those wounded hit 3,720, adding that two-thirds of the victims are civilians.

He also said that Tuesday, 11 Gazans were killed, including four women, one of them pregnant, in a series of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza city, as well as on northern and southern part of the strip, Xinhua reported.

Two women, who were sisters and in their fifties and sixties, were killed, while five others were wounded in an Israeli airstrike on Zeitoun neighbourhood in southern Gaza Strip, he said.

In a separate attack on northern Gaza, a pregnant woman was killed along with her unborn baby, the spokesman said, adding that “two more young men and a woman were killed in an airstrike on the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah”.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) confirmed Tuesday that a soldier had gone missing in action during its two-week air, naval and ground offensive in Gaza, Efe news agency reported from Jerusalem.

The soldier, who has not been identified, went missing early Sunday after an anti-tank rocket hit an Israeli armoured vehicle, killing seven other troops, media reported.

The Al Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, had Sunday announced the capture of an Israeli soldier.

The abduction took place after Israeli ground troops last week entered Gaza, following days of heavy air and naval artillery bombardments on the Palestinian enclave within Operation Protective Edge.

At least 29 Israelis have died during the offensive, 27 of them troopers who perished in the fighting and two civilians killed by rockets fired from Gaza on Israel.

Meanwhile, the Gaza health ministry said in an emailed press statement that since the start of the Israeli war on Gaza, Israel has targeted 25 health centres and hospitals, while the latest attack on medical facilities was the one on al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deel al-Ballah in central Gaza Strip on Monday.

Al-Waqf ministry also said in a press release that Israeli war jets and tank shells destroyed 50 mosques all over the Gaza Strip.

In Cairo, US Secretary of State Kerry Tuesday blamed Hamas for the ongoing crisis and voiced support for “Israel’s right of self-defence”.

“For two weeks, we have seen Hamas launch rocket after rocket at Israeli neighbourhoods, and for two weeks, we have seen Israel respond as any country has the right to do and it is under attack,” Kerry told reporters in a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart in Cairo.

Kerry’s remarks came after holding talks with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry on how to reach a ceasefire agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The top US diplomat urged both the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a ceasefire agreement and put an end to the atrocities, Xinhua reported.

“Just reaching a ceasefire clearly is not enough,” Kerry said, urging “serious engagement, discussion, negotiation regarding the underlying issues and addressing all the concerns that brought us to where we are today”.

“We’re here working because we’ve seen too much bloodshed on all sides, including the death of two American citizens,” Kerry said, stressing US support for the Egyptian proposed truce between Israel and Hamas.

Last week, Egypt proposed a truce initiative, calling both sides to stop shooting at each other unconditionally. The Egyptian offer was welcomed by all sides excluding Hamas, which rejected the idea, and demanded a comprehensive solution package and an end to years of rigid Israeli blockade on the enclave.

Kerry reaffirmed $47-million humanitarian aid to the people in the conflict-stricken strip, lamenting that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was “going worse day after day”.

“People lost their homes, all of their positions, their access to food and water and their entire way of life.”

Kerry arrived in Cairo Monday evening, a few hours after the arrival of UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who also met with Sisi and voiced support for the Egyptian bid for ceasefire in Gaza.