More than 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed as Israel shelled a Gaza neighbourhood and battled militants on Sunday in the bloodiest fighting in a near two-week-old offensive.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a massacre in Shejaia in the eastern suburbs of the city of Gaza and declared three days of mourning.
Israel’s army said it was targeting militants from Gaza’s dominant Hamas group whom it alleged had fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centres there. The army said it had warned locals two days earlier to leave.
It was the Israeli military’s highest one-day death toll since a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Army sources said seven of the 13 soldiers were in an armoured personnel carrier hit by anti-tank fire. Others were killed setting up positions inside houses they had taken over, the sources added.
Residents fled Sunday’s fighting along streets strewn with bodies and rubble, many of them taking shelter in Gaza’s Shifa hospital.
Cries of “Did you see Ahmed?” “Did you see my wife?” echoed through the courtyard. Inside, dead and wounded lay on blood-stained floors.
Shifa hospital’s director, Naser Tattar, said 17 children, 14 women and four elderly were among the 62 dead, and about 400 people were wounded in the Israeli assault.
Gaza’s Health Ministry officials said at least 405 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed and about 2,600 wounded since Israeli air and naval bombardments began on July 8, followed by a ground push on Thursday.
In all, 18 Israeli soldiers and two Israeli civilians have been killed since the offensive was launched in response, Israel says, to mounting cross-border rocket attacks by militants.
Palestinian fighters kept up their rocket fire on Israel on Sunday. Sirens sounded in southern Israeli towns and in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. There were no reports of casualties from those salvoes.
DEATH TOLL TOPS 400
Thousands streamed out of Shejaia, some by foot and others piling into the backs of trucks and sitting on the hoods of cars filled with families trying to get away. Several people rode out of the neighbourhood in the shovel of a bulldozer.
A video shot by a local showed at least a dozen corpses, including three children, lying in streets, though the footage could not be verified independently.
As the tank shells began to land, Shejaia residents called radio stations pleading for evacuation. An air strike on the Shejaia home of Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, killed his son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, hospital officials said.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said it used landmines and roadside bombs against advancing Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers.
“As we moved into Shejaia we were continued…