Even as Israel began withdrawing some of its troops from Gaza, at least 10 people were killed and 30 injured on Sunday in a fresh strike on a UN school sheltering displaced Palestinians in the south of the strip.
Gaza’s ministry of health spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said the attack on UN school left 30 persons injured in the southern city of Rafah, which straddles the border with Egypt.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said that Operation Protective Edge was still “ongoing” but only undergoing “re-assessment and re-organisation” as per Israel’s security needs.
“The operation is not over, it is pretty much ongoing. We are only re-assessing and re-organising troops constantly based on our security needs”, an IDF spokesman Capt Ronnie Kaplan informed.
Emphasising that IDF is “carefully evaluating the pros and cons of deployment in various areas of Gaza”, Kaplan asserted that neutralising the “terror tunnels” is a priority and Israel will not withdraw till it is completed.
“We are still on alert”, he added.
Other security sources here estimated that the infiltration tunnels had been more or less identified and destroying them was a matter of “very few days”.
Nine members of a family were also killed in Israeli attacks in Rafah, taking the Palestinian death toll to 1,712, with more than 9,000 wounded in the 27-day conflict. The dead include 398 children, 207 women and 74 elderly people, officials said.
Meanwhile, missing IDF officer 2nd Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, said to have been captured by Hamas, was declared dead by Chief Military Rabbi Raffi Peretz.
The Givati commander died on Friday in Rafah when his group came under attack by Gaza militants during a humanitarian ceasefire.
Another officer and a soldier from Givati Brigade, Major Benaya Sarel and Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni, were also killed in the attack aided by a suicide bomber.
“Based on the evidence collected from the scene we reached the conclusion that the officer is dead. We found some of his body parts in the tunnel”, Kaplan said.
Hamas had denied it was holding the 23-year-old Goldin captive, saying it did not know the soldier’s whereabouts.
The military wing of the Islamist group said it had lost contact with some fighters in the area where Israel said the soldier had been seized.
It had said that it believed the fighters and possibly Goldin had been killed in an Israeli airstrike.
Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon and Rabbi Peretz met the soldier’s family at their home in the town of Kfar Saba on Saturday night.
Hundreds of well-wishers had gathered outside their home and there was an outpouring of grief when the military’s announcement was made public.
It is understood the army came to its conclusion after examining DNA evidence.
Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “keep all options open” saying the Israeli offensive in Gaza will continue until “we achieve our objective of restoring security to you, Israel’s citizens”.
“Hamas again mistakenly believes that the people of Israel do not have the will and determination to fight them and Hamas again will learn the hard way that Israel will do whatever it must do to protect its people,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference with Ya’alon on Saturday.
The Islamist group, which controls the Gaza Strip since ousting rival Palestinian faction Fatah in a bloody conflict in June 2007, would pay an “intolerable price” for attacks on Israel, Netanyahu warned.
A spokesman for Hamas, Fawzi Barhoum, dismissed the Israeli Premier’s warnings saying he was “confused” and that the Islamic faction would “continue to resist until we achieve our goals”.
Meanwhile, a UN spokesman in Gaza has warned that a “health disaster of widespread proportions is rapidly unfolding” in the enclave after three weeks of intense conflict.
A spokesman for UNRWA, Christopher Gunness, said that Gaza’s medical services are “on the verge of collapse”.
“At least half of all public health primary care clinics in Gaza are closed,” Gunness said, adding that the “medical facilities still functioning are overwhelmed”.
The UN agency also warned that there was a serious risk of an outbreak of waterborne and communicable diseases because of a lack of adequate water and poor sanitation.