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Horror of Gaza’s deadliest day

Over 100 killed in deepening conflict as calls for ceasefire grow

By David Hughes and AP

Scores of civilians were killed yesterday as Israeli troops escalated their ground offensive in Gaza City.

The deadliest day of fighting against Hamas militants has left at least 100 people dead, forced thousands to flee and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes.

Palestinian officials reported at least 87 people killed as air and artillery strikes echoed across the city and say 35,000 people have been forced from their homes.

Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed in one of the military’s worst days for casualties for many years.

At least 425 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have died in the near two-week conflict.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond last night warned that Israel must act in a “proportionate” way. He said “we will be looking very carefully” to make sure that civilians are being protected as Israeli troops continued their offensive.

Mr Hammond said there needed to be a ceasefire and longer-term solution to the situation to prevent a flare-up every few years.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he expected to arrive in the Middle East in coming days and that he support's Egypt's call for an immediate ceasefire, rejected last week by Hamas.

Yesterday’s battle in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighbourhood was the deadliest so far in Israel's three-day-old ground offensive, which followed 10 days of heavy airstrikes on targets linked to Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Israel has said it had sent thousands of troops into Gaza to destroy Hamas rocket launchers and tunnels dug by the Islamic militants to sneak into Israel. The Israeli military said 8% of more than 1,700 rockets fired at Israel since July 8 came from Shijaiyah.

Local residents said Israeli tanks entered after midnight and fired heavily. After daybreak, dozens of wounded from Shijaiyah were rushed to Gaza's central Shifa Hospital.

Frantic parents carried children bloodied by shrapnel and the emergency room quickly overflowed, forcing doctors to treat some patients on mattresses in a hallway.

The heavy fighting came as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon headed to Qatar to try to push stalled ceasefire efforts forward.

He was set to meet Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Gulf state, Mr Abbas' spokesman said. Mr Abbas also plans to meet Hamas' top leader, Khaled Mashaal.

Hamas last week rejected an Egyptian call on both sides to halt hostilities, saying it first wants guarantees that Israel and Egypt will significantly ease their border blockade of Gaza, which has been ruled by the Islamic militant group since 2007.

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