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Death toll rises as UN chief pushes for Gaza ceasefire

By Colin Francis

The UN chief and the US Secretary of State are heading to Cairo to try to end two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza which has killed at least 500 Palestinians and 20 Israelis – and displaced tens of thousands of people.

The new ceasefire efforts by Ban Ki-moon and John Kerry followed the deadliest day of fighting since the escalation erupted on July 8, including a reported Israeli shelling of a hospital in the central Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian health official said 12 Israeli tank shells hit the Al Aqsa hospital in the town of Deir el-Balah, killing four people and wounding 60.

Ashraf al-Kidra said the shells landed in the administration building, the intensive care unit and the surgery department, adding that 30 of the wounded were medical staff.

Live footage showed the wounded being moved on trolleys into the emergency department. The Israeli military says it is checking the report.

In New York, the UN Security Council expressed "serious concern" about Gaza's rising civilian death toll and demanded an immediate end to the fighting.

As Israeli air strikes continued to pound Gaza, rescue workers near the southern city of Khan Younis were digging out bodies from the one-storey home of the Abu Jamea family, which was flattened in one of the strikes overnight.

Ashraf al-Kidra said the Palestinian death toll from the two-week offensive had passed 500. More than half of those – 268 – had been killed since the Israeli ground operation in Gaza began late on Thursday.

That total includes 20 bodies found at the site near Khan Younis, where two people were pulled alive from the rubble, Mr al-Kidra added.

Elsewhere in Gaza, he said, 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 nine-month-old baby girl.

"Without any warning at all they began bombarding us at midnight and at 2am," said Mahmoud Siyam, the head of the family.

"We are not related to any military or political activities. "We are civilised people (living) in this area of Gaza – what crime have we committed?"

Yesterday, the first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting exacted a steep price, killing 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers.

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