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US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United States announced signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday, but prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza and the death toll rose to more than 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

Underscoring the challenges facing international negotiators shuttling around the Middle East in a high-profile bid to end the bloodshed, the leader of Hamas insisted the Islamic militants would not relent until their main demand of lifting an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is met.

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official. Hundreds of people fled their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of the city in the southern Gaza Strip. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, flew to Israel on an Air Force jet, despite a ban imposed a day earlier by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of Hamas rocket fire nearby. The FAA extended the ban Wednesday and many major European carriers also canceled more flights due to security concerns.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, without elaborating. “There’s still work to be done.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a televised speech that the opening of the border crossings was a red line.

“When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land,” he said from his home-in-exile in Doha, Qatar. “We will not accept anything but the end of the siege.”

The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization, though the U.N. does not. Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said there must be a way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

The Hamas leader, however, rejected that idea. “Some are talking under the table about disarming the resistance. No one can take away the resistance’s arms,” Mashaal said.

He also dismissed Israel’s assertion that it tries to avoid civilian casualties but Hamas puts them in danger by hiding weapons and fighters in civilian areas.

“The truth is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu could not reach the militants, so killed the civilians,” Maashal said.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas. But Kerry said limited progress has been made.

“We’re doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence,” Kerry told reporters after a meeting of just over an hour with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. “And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it’s not violence.”

He also offered “profound gratitude” to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American from the San Fernando Valley of Southern California who was killed in the fighting. “That’s a remarkable statement – we’re very grateful,” Kerry said.

Kerry later met with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv, but made no comments and headed immediately back to Cairo.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. At least 74 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday and early Thursday, raising the overall death toll in the 16-day war to 702, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed, bringing the military’s death toll to 32. Two Israeli civilians also have died, and a Thai worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

An Israeli airstrike demolished a home in Gaza’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather and a nephew, according to health officials and relatives.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, two Palestinian men were killed in separate clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

Israel has launched more than 3,300 airstrikes since the conflict erupted, while more than 2,250 Palestinian militant rockets have been fired at Israel. The Israeli toll from the rocket strikes has been minimized by the success of the “Iron Dome” defense system, but it has not been 100 percent.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg landed at Ben-Gurion airport Wednesday night on Israel’s national carrier, El Al, and was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on arrival in a bid to show it is safe to fly to Israel.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Duba, United Arab Emirates and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United States announced signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday, but prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza and the death toll rose to more than 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

Underscoring the challenges facing international negotiators shuttling around the Middle East in a high-profile bid to end the bloodshed, the leader of Hamas insisted the Islamic militants would not relent until their main demand of lifting an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is met.

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official. Hundreds of people fled their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of the city in the southern Gaza Strip. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, flew to Israel on an Air Force jet, despite a ban imposed a day earlier by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of Hamas rocket fire nearby. The FAA extended the ban Wednesday and many major European carriers also canceled more flights due to security concerns.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, without elaborating. “There’s still work to be done.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a televised speech that the opening of the border crossings was a red line.

“When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land,” he said from his home-in-exile in Doha, Qatar. “We will not accept anything but the end of the siege.”

The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization, though the U.N. does not. Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said there must be a way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

The Hamas leader, however, rejected that idea. “Some are talking under the table about disarming the resistance. No one can take away the resistance’s arms,” Mashaal said.

He also dismissed Israel’s assertion that it tries to avoid civilian casualties but Hamas puts them in danger by hiding weapons and fighters in civilian areas.

“The truth is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu could not reach the militants, so killed the civilians,” Maashal said.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas. But Kerry said limited progress has been made.

“We’re doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence,” Kerry told reporters after a meeting of just over an hour with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. “And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it’s not violence.”

He also offered “profound gratitude” to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American from the San Fernando Valley of Southern California who was killed in the fighting. “That’s a remarkable statement – we’re very grateful,” Kerry said.

Kerry later met with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv, but made no comments and headed immediately back to Cairo.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. At least 74 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday and early Thursday, raising the overall death toll in the 16-day war to 702, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed, bringing the military’s death toll to 32. Two Israeli civilians also have died, and a Thai worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

An Israeli airstrike demolished a home in Gaza’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather and a nephew, according to health officials and relatives.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, two Palestinian men were killed in separate clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

Israel has launched more than 3,300 airstrikes since the conflict erupted, while more than 2,250 Palestinian militant rockets have been fired at Israel. The Israeli toll from the rocket strikes has been minimized by the success of the “Iron Dome” defense system, but it has not been 100 percent.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg landed at Ben-Gurion airport Wednesday night on Israel’s national carrier, El Al, and was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on arrival in a bid to show it is safe to fly to Israel.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Duba, United Arab Emirates and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United States announced signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday, but prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza and the death toll rose to more than 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

Underscoring the challenges facing international negotiators shuttling around the Middle East in a high-profile bid to end the bloodshed, the leader of Hamas insisted the Islamic militants would not relent until their main demand of lifting an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is met.

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official. Hundreds of people fled their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of the city in the southern Gaza Strip. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, flew to Israel on an Air Force jet, despite a ban imposed a day earlier by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of Hamas rocket fire nearby. The FAA extended the ban Wednesday and many major European carriers also canceled more flights due to security concerns.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, without elaborating. “There’s still work to be done.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a televised speech that the opening of the border crossings was a red line.

“When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land,” he said from his home-in-exile in Doha, Qatar. “We will not accept anything but the end of the siege.”

The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization, though the U.N. does not. Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said there must be a way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

The Hamas leader, however, rejected that idea. “Some are talking under the table about disarming the resistance. No one can take away the resistance’s arms,” Mashaal said.

He also dismissed Israel’s assertion that it tries to avoid civilian casualties but Hamas puts them in danger by hiding weapons and fighters in civilian areas.

“The truth is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu could not reach the militants, so killed the civilians,” Maashal said.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas. But Kerry said limited progress has been made.

“We’re doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence,” Kerry told reporters after a meeting of just over an hour with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. “And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it’s not violence.”

He also offered “profound gratitude” to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American from the San Fernando Valley of Southern California who was killed in the fighting. “That’s a remarkable statement – we’re very grateful,” Kerry said.

Kerry later met with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv, but made no comments and headed immediately back to Cairo.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. At least 74 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday and early Thursday, raising the overall death toll in the 16-day war to 702, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed, bringing the military’s death toll to 32. Two Israeli civilians also have died, and a Thai worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

An Israeli airstrike demolished a home in Gaza’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather and a nephew, according to health officials and relatives.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, two Palestinian men were killed in separate clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

Israel has launched more than 3,300 airstrikes since the conflict erupted, while more than 2,250 Palestinian militant rockets have been fired at Israel. The Israeli toll from the rocket strikes has been minimized by the success of the “Iron Dome” defense system, but it has not been 100 percent.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg landed at Ben-Gurion airport Wednesday night on Israel’s national carrier, El Al, and was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on arrival in a bid to show it is safe to fly to Israel.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Duba, United Arab Emirates and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United States announced signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday, but prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza and the death toll rose to more than 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

Underscoring the challenges facing international negotiators shuttling around the Middle East in a high-profile bid to end the bloodshed, the leader of Hamas insisted the Islamic militants would not relent until their main demand of lifting an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is met.

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official. Hundreds of people fled their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of the city in the southern Gaza Strip. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, flew to Israel on an Air Force jet, despite a ban imposed a day earlier by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of Hamas rocket fire nearby. The FAA extended the ban Wednesday and many major European carriers also canceled more flights due to security concerns.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, without elaborating. “There’s still work to be done.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a televised speech that the opening of the border crossings was a red line.

“When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land,” he said from his home-in-exile in Doha, Qatar. “We will not accept anything but the end of the siege.”

The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization, though the U.N. does not. Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said there must be a way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

The Hamas leader, however, rejected that idea. “Some are talking under the table about disarming the resistance. No one can take away the resistance’s arms,” Mashaal said.

He also dismissed Israel’s assertion that it tries to avoid civilian casualties but Hamas puts them in danger by hiding weapons and fighters in civilian areas.

“The truth is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu could not reach the militants, so killed the civilians,” Maashal said.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas. But Kerry said limited progress has been made.

“We’re doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence,” Kerry told reporters after a meeting of just over an hour with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. “And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it’s not violence.”

He also offered “profound gratitude” to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American from the San Fernando Valley of Southern California who was killed in the fighting. “That’s a remarkable statement – we’re very grateful,” Kerry said.

Kerry later met with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv, but made no comments and headed immediately back to Cairo.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. At least 74 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday and early Thursday, raising the overall death toll in the 16-day war to 702, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed, bringing the military’s death toll to 32. Two Israeli civilians also have died, and a Thai worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

An Israeli airstrike demolished a home in Gaza’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather and a nephew, according to health officials and relatives.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, two Palestinian men were killed in separate clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

Israel has launched more than 3,300 airstrikes since the conflict erupted, while more than 2,250 Palestinian militant rockets have been fired at Israel. The Israeli toll from the rocket strikes has been minimized by the success of the “Iron Dome” defense system, but it has not been 100 percent.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg landed at Ben-Gurion airport Wednesday night on Israel’s national carrier, El Al, and was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on arrival in a bid to show it is safe to fly to Israel.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Duba, United Arab Emirates and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United States announced signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday, but prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza and the death toll rose to more than 700 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

Underscoring the challenges facing international negotiators shuttling around the Middle East in a high-profile bid to end the bloodshed, the leader of Hamas insisted the Islamic militants would not relent until their main demand of lifting an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is met.

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official. Hundreds of people fled their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of the city in the southern Gaza Strip. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, flew to Israel on an Air Force jet, despite a ban imposed a day earlier by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of Hamas rocket fire nearby. The FAA extended the ban Wednesday and many major European carriers also canceled more flights due to security concerns.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, without elaborating. “There’s still work to be done.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a televised speech that the opening of the border crossings was a red line.

“When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land,” he said from his home-in-exile in Doha, Qatar. “We will not accept anything but the end of the siege.”

The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization, though the U.N. does not. Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said there must be a way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

The Hamas leader, however, rejected that idea. “Some are talking under the table about disarming the resistance. No one can take away the resistance’s arms,” Mashaal said.

He also dismissed Israel’s assertion that it tries to avoid civilian casualties but Hamas puts them in danger by hiding weapons and fighters in civilian areas.

“The truth is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu could not reach the militants, so killed the civilians,” Maashal said.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas. But Kerry said limited progress has been made.

“We’re doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence,” Kerry told reporters after a meeting of just over an hour with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. “And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it’s not violence.”

He also offered “profound gratitude” to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American from the San Fernando Valley of Southern California who was killed in the fighting. “That’s a remarkable statement – we’re very grateful,” Kerry said.

Kerry later met with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv, but made no comments and headed immediately back to Cairo.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. At least 74 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday and early Thursday, raising the overall death toll in the 16-day war to 702, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed, bringing the military’s death toll to 32. Two Israeli civilians also have died, and a Thai worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

An Israeli airstrike demolished a home in Gaza’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather and a nephew, according to health officials and relatives.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, two Palestinian men were killed in separate clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

Israel has launched more than 3,300 airstrikes since the conflict erupted, while more than 2,250 Palestinian militant rockets have been fired at Israel. The Israeli toll from the rocket strikes has been minimized by the success of the “Iron Dome” defense system, but it has not been 100 percent.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg landed at Ben-Gurion airport Wednesday night on Israel’s national carrier, El Al, and was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on arrival in a bid to show it is safe to fly to Israel.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Duba, United Arab Emirates and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United States announced signs of progress in cease-fire talks Wednesday, but prospects for a quick end to the fighting were dim as Palestinian families fled fierce battles in southern Gaza and the death toll rose to at least 695 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

Underscoring the challenges facing international negotiators shuttling around the Middle East in a high-profile bid to end the bloodshed, the leader of Hamas insisted the Islamic militants would not relent until their main demand of lifting an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip is met.

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official. Hundreds of people fled their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of the city in the southern Gaza Strip. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, flew to Israel on an Air Force jet, despite a ban imposed a day earlier by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of Hamas rocket fire nearby. The FAA extended the ban Wednesday and many major European carriers also canceled more flights due to security concerns.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said in Jerusalem, without elaborating. “There’s still work to be done.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said in a televised speech that the opening of the border crossings was a red line.

“When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land,” he said from his home-in-exile in Doha, Qatar. “We will not accept anything but the end of the siege.”

The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization, though the U.N. does not. Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said there must be a way forward that does not involve Hamas having the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

The Hamas leader, however, rejected that idea. “Some are talking under the table about disarming the resistance. No one can take away the resistance’s arms,” Mashaal said.

He also dismissed Israel’s assertion that it tries to avoid civilian casualties but Hamas puts them in danger by hiding weapons and fighters in civilian areas.

“The truth is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu could not reach the militants, so killed the civilians,” Maashal said.

U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas. But Kerry said limited progress has been made.

“We’re doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence,” Kerry told reporters after a meeting of just over an hour with Abbas in the West Bank town of Ramallah. “And this needs to end, for everybody. We need to find a way forward that works. And it’s not violence.”

He also offered “profound gratitude” to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American from the San Fernando Valley of Southern California who was killed in the fighting. “That’s a remarkable statement – we’re very grateful,” Kerry said.

Kerry later met with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv, but made no comments and headed immediately back to Cairo.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. At least 67 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday, raising the overall death toll in the 16-day war to 695, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed, bringing the military’s death toll to 32. Two Israeli civilians also have died, and a Thai worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

An Israeli airstrike demolished a home in Gaza’s Shijaiyah neighborhood, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather and a nephew, according to health officials and relatives.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, two Palestinian men were killed in separate clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

Israel has launched more than 3,300 airstrikes since the conflict erupted, while more than 2,250 Palestinian militant rockets have been fired at Israel. The Israeli toll from the rocket strikes has been minimized by the success of the “Iron Dome” defense system, but it has not been 100 percent.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg landed at Ben-Gurion airport Wednesday night on Israel’s national carrier, El Al, and was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on arrival in a bid to show it is safe to fly to Israel.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Duba, United Arab Emirates and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the top U.S. diplomat reported progress in efforts to end fighting that has so far killed more than 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

But neither side appeared to be backing down, after Palestinian rocket fire led several international airlines to cancel flights to Tel Aviv and Israeli troops clashed with Hamas near the Gaza town of Khan Younis in heavy fighting that forced dozens of families to flee. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal later demanded Gaza’s borders be open and an end to the blockade against it, calling Palestinians “the true owners of the land.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group Hamas – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire.

He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after earlier talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who is also in the region. But U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire were making some progress as he met for a second time this week with Ban. “We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said. “There’s still work to be done.”

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken meanwhile said Hamas must be denied the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, a Palestinian health official said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate some 250 people from the area, which has been pummeled by air strikes and tank shelling since early Wednesday.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Further north, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, which saw intense fighting earlier this week, an airstrike demolished a home, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather Hassan and his nephew Osama.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel said five more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 32, without providing further details. Two Israeli civilians have been killed in 15 days of fighting.

In Jerusalem, 30,000 people attended the funeral of Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old from the San Fernando Valley of southern California serving in the Israeli military. Steinberg was killed in an attack on an armored personnel carrier on Sunday.

“I spoke with him a day and a half ago,” his mother, Evie Steinberg, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. “I said `are you afraid?’ He said `no. I am afraid only for you.’ He’s a hero.” Kerry offered “profound gratitude” for the large turnout.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and leveling entire buildings. The Palestinian death toll stands at 684, mostly civilians, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel says it launched the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, some of which have been used to stage attacks.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights meanwhile warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.

Navi Pillay noted an Israeli drone strike that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced Israeli fire that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, saying such incidents should be investigated.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials have slammed the cancellations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel’s own El Al airline is still flying in and out of Ben-Gurion.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the flight cancellations were a “great victory” for the group.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the top U.S. diplomat reported progress in efforts to end fighting that has so far killed more than 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

But neither side appeared to be backing down, after Palestinian rocket fire led several international airlines to cancel flights to Tel Aviv and Israeli troops clashed with Hamas near the Gaza town of Khan Younis in heavy fighting that forced dozens of families to flee. Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal later demanded Gaza’s borders be open and an end to the blockade against it, calling Palestinians “the true owners of the land.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group Hamas – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire.

He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after earlier talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who is also in the region. But U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire were making some progress as he met for a second time this week with Ban. “We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said. “There’s still work to be done.”

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken meanwhile said Hamas must be denied the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, a Palestinian health official said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate some 250 people from the area, which has been pummeled by air strikes and tank shelling since early Wednesday.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Further north, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, which saw intense fighting earlier this week, an airstrike demolished a home, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather Hassan and his nephew Osama.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel said five more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 32, without providing further details. Two Israeli civilians have been killed in 15 days of fighting.

In Jerusalem, 30,000 people attended the funeral of Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old from the San Fernando Valley of southern California serving in the Israeli military. Steinberg was killed in an attack on an armored personnel carrier on Sunday.

“I spoke with him a day and a half ago,” his mother, Evie Steinberg, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. “I said `are you afraid?’ He said `no. I am afraid only for you.’ He’s a hero.” Kerry offered “profound gratitude” for the large turnout.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and leveling entire buildings. The Palestinian death toll stands at 684, mostly civilians, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel says it launched the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, some of which have been used to stage attacks.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights meanwhile warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.

Navi Pillay noted an Israeli drone strike that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced Israeli fire that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, saying such incidents should be investigated.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials have slammed the cancellations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel’s own El Al airline is still flying in and out of Ben-Gurion.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the flight cancellations were a “great victory” for the group.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the top U.S. diplomat reported progress in efforts to end fighting that has so far killed more than 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

But neither side appeared to be backing down, after Palestinian rocket fire led several international airlines to cancel flights to Tel Aviv and Israeli troops clashed with Hamas near the Gaza town of Khan Younis in heavy fighting that forced dozens of families to flee. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal later demanded Gaza’s borders be open and an end to the blockade against it, calling Palestinians “the true owners of the land.”

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group Hamas – a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration – while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire.

He met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after earlier talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who is also in the region. But U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire were making some progress as he met for a second time this week with Ban. “We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said. “There’s still work to be done.”

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken meanwhile said Hamas must be denied the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, a Palestinian health official said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate some 250 people from the area, which has been pummeled by air strikes and tank shelling since early Wednesday.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Further north, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, which saw intense fighting earlier this week, an airstrike demolished a home, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather Hassan and his nephew Osama.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel said five more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 32, without providing further details. Two Israeli civilians have been killed in 15 days of fighting.

In Jerusalem, 30,000 people attended the funeral of Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old from the San Fernando Valley of southern California serving in the Israeli military. Steinberg was killed in an attack on an armored personnel carrier on Sunday.

“I spoke with him a day and a half ago,” his mother, Evie Steinberg, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. “I said `are you afraid?’ He said `no. I am afraid only for you.’ He’s a hero.” Kerry offered “profound gratitude” for the large turnout.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and leveling entire buildings. The Palestinian death toll stands at 684, mostly civilians, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel says it launched the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, some of which have been used to stage attacks.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights meanwhile warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.

Navi Pillay noted an Israeli drone strike that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced Israeli fire that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, saying such incidents should be investigated.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials have slammed the cancellations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel’s own El Al airline is still flying in and out of Ben-Gurion.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the flight cancellations were a “great victory” for the group.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the top U.S. diplomat reported progress in efforts to end fighting that has so far killed more than 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

But neither side appeared to be backing down, after Palestinian rocket fire led several international airlines to cancel flights to Tel Aviv and Israeli troops clashed with Hamas near the Gaza town of Khan Younis in heavy fighting that forced dozens of families to flee.

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group Hamas — a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration — while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire.

He was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after earlier talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who is also in the region. But U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire were making some progress as he met for a second time this week with Ban. “We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said. “There’s still work to be done.”

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken meanwhile said Hamas must be denied the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official.

The Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate some 250 people from the area, which has been pummeled by air strikes and tank shelling since early Wednesday.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Further north, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, which saw intense fighting earlier this week, an airstrike demolished a home, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather Hassan and his nephew Osama.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel said five more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 32, without providing further details. Two Israeli civilians have been killed in 15 days of fighting.

In Jerusalem, 30,000 people attended the funeral of Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old from the San Fernando Valley of southern California serving in the Israeli military. Steinberg was killed in an attack on an armored personnel carrier on Sunday.

“I spoke with him a day and a half ago,” his mother, Evie Steinberg, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. “I said `are you afraid?’ He said `no. I am afraid only for you.’ He’s a hero.” Kerry offered “profound gratitude” for the large turnout.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and leveling entire buildings. The Palestinian death toll stands at 684, mostly civilians, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel says it launched the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, some of which have been used to stage attacks.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights meanwhile warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.

Navi Pillay noted an Israeli drone strike that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced Israeli fire that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, saying such incidents should be investigated.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials have slammed the cancellations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel’s own El Al airline is still flying in and out of Ben-Gurion.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the flight cancellations were a “great victory” for the group.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the top U.S. diplomat reported progress in efforts to end fighting that has so far killed more than 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis.

But neither side appeared to be backing down, after Palestinian rocket fire led several international airlines to cancel flights to Tel Aviv and Israeli troops clashed with Hamas near the Gaza town of Khan Younis in heavy fighting that forced dozens of families to flee.

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group Hamas — a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration — while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire.

He was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after earlier talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who is also in the region. But U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire were making some progress as he met for a second time this week with Ban. “We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said. “There’s still work to be done.”

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken meanwhile said Hamas must be denied the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official.

The Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate some 250 people from the area, which has been pummeled by air strikes and tank shelling since early Wednesday.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Further north, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, which saw intense fighting earlier this week, an airstrike demolished a home, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather Hassan and his nephew Osama.

Israel also struck the Wafa hospital in Gaza City, which the military says houses a Hamas command center. Basman Ashi, the medical center’s director, said all 97 patients and staff were evacuated following Israeli warnings and that no one was hurt in the attack.

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel said five more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 32, without providing further details. Two Israeli civilians have been killed in 15 days of fighting.

In Jerusalem, 30,000 people attended the funeral of Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old from the San Fernando Valley of southern California serving in the Israeli military. Steinberg was killed in an attack on an armored personnel carrier on Sunday.

“I spoke with him a day and a half ago,” his mother, Evie Steinberg, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. “I said `are you afraid?’ He said `no. I am afraid only for you.’ He’s a hero.” Kerry offered “profound gratitude” for the large turnout.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and leveling entire buildings. The Palestinian death toll stands at 684, mostly civilians, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel says it launched the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, some of which have been used to stage attacks.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights meanwhile warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.

Navi Pillay noted an Israeli drone strike that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced Israeli fire that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, saying such incidents should be investigated.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials have slammed the cancellations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel’s own El Al airline is still flying in and out of Ben-Gurion.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the flight cancellations were a “great victory” for the group.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the top U.S. diplomat reported progress in efforts to broker a truce in a war that has so far killed more than 680 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

But neither side appeared close to backing down, after Palestinian rocket fire led several international airlines to cancel flights to Tel Aviv and Israeli troops clashed with Hamas fighters near the Gaza town of Khan Younis, forcing dozens of families to flee.

Israel has insisted it must substantially curb the military capabilities of the Islamic militant group Hamas — a position that appears to have gained support within the U.S. administration — while Hamas has demanded the lifting of a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade on the impoverished coastal territory it has ruled since 2007.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire agreement between the warring sides.

He was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after earlier talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who is also in the region. But U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire were making some progress, describing unspecified steps forward in the negotiations as he met for a second time this week with Ban.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said, adding, “There’s still work to be done.”

White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken meanwhile said Hamas must be denied the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official.

The Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate some 250 people from the area, which has been pummeled by air strikes and tank shelling since early Wednesday.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Further north, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, which saw intense fighting earlier this week, an airstrike demolished a home, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather Hassan and his nephew Osama.

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel said two more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 29, without providing further details. Two Israeli civilians have been killed in 15 days of fighting.

In Jerusalem, 30,000 people attended the funeral of Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old from the San Fernando Valley of southern California serving in the Israeli military. Steinberg was killed in an attack on an armored personnel carrier on Sunday.

“I spoke with him a day and a half ago,” his mother, Evie Steinberg, told Israeli Channel 2 TV. “I said `are you afraid?’ He said `no. I am afraid only for you.’ He’s a hero.” Kerry offered “profound gratitude” for the large turnout.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and leveling entire buildings. By mid-day Wednesday, the Palestinian death toll stood at 684, mostly civilians, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Israel says it launched the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, some of which have been used to stage attacks.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights meanwhile warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.

Navi Pillay noted an Israeli drone strike that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced Israeli fire that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, saying such incidents should be investigated.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Israeli officials have slammed the cancelations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel’s own El Al airline is still flying in and out of Ben-Gurion.

Even before the flight cancellations, the conflict was taking its toll on the Israeli economy. Military and finance ministry officials have said that the first 10 days of the operation had direct costs of about 2 billion shekels – about $585 million.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the U.S. secretary of state reported progress in efforts to broker a truce in the conflict that has so far killed at least 657 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

Trapped by an escalation of fighting in Khan Younis, a town on the edge of the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinian families scrambled to flee the area.

John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire agreement between the warring sides.

Kerry was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem and Ramallah in what appeared to be a crucial day in the flailing talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire agreement were making some progress after days of a deadly impasse between Israel and Hamas militants. He was not specific in describing what he called steps forward in the negotiations as he met for a second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said, adding, “There’s still work to be done.”

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel also reported that two more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 29, but did not elaborate on the circumstances of the latest casualties. Two Israeli civilians have also died in the 15-day fighting

A Palestinian health official said eight Hamas fighters died in the ferocious battle near Khan Younis, from where the Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate about 250. Khan Younis has been under Israeli tank shelling and drone strikes since early Wednesday.

The Red Crescent said Hamas fighters in the area were deploying rocket propelled grenades and light weapons, including machine guns, against the Israelis.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby UN schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

The Israeli military did not respond to Associated Press inquiries as to why such heavy fighting was concentrated in Khan Younis, saying only it was conducting operations throughout the Gaza Strip. The fighting was centered on an agricultural area, which Israel has claimed is a site for Hamas tunnels going under the border into Israel.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and destroying large amounts of property there. By mid-day Wednesday, the Palestinian death toll stood at 657, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra, most of them civilians.

Israel says it began the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel that are intended to allow Hamas militants to carry out attacks against Israelis.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively free of violence, despite the Gaza fighting.

Mahmoud Hamamreh was killed in stone throwing clashes in the village of Husan early Wednesday, doctors said.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines quickly canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, dealing a blow to Israel’s lucrative tourist industry.

The conflict is also starting to strain the Israeli economy. Military and finance ministry officials have said that the first 10 days of the operation had direct costs of about 2 billion shekels – about $585 million.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the U.S. secretary of state reported progress in efforts to broker a truce in the conflict that has so far killed at least 657 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

Trapped by an escalation of fighting in Khan Younis, a town on the edge of the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinian families scrambled to flee the area.

John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket that hit near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire agreement between the warring sides.

Kerry was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem and Ramallah in what appeared to be a crucial day in the flailing talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire agreement were making some progress after days of a deadly impasse between Israel and Hamas militants. He was not specific in describing what he called steps forward in the negotiations as he met for a second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” Kerry said, adding, “There’s still work to be done.”

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel also reported that two more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 29, but did not elaborate on the circumstances of the latest casualties. Two Israeli civilians have also died in the 15-day fighting

A Palestinian health official said eight Hamas fighters died in the ferocious battle near Khan Younis, from where the Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate about 250. Khan Younis has been under Israeli tank shelling and drone strikes since early Wednesday.

The Red Crescent said Hamas fighters in the area were deploying rocket propelled grenades and light weapons, including machine guns, against the Israelis.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby UN schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

The Israeli military did not respond to Associated Press inquiries as to why such heavy fighting was concentrated in Khan Younis, saying only it was conducting operations throughout the Gaza Strip. The fighting was centered on an agricultural area, which Israel has claimed is a site for Hamas tunnels going under the border into Israel.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and destroying large amounts of property there. By mid-day Wednesday, the Palestinian death toll stood at 657, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra, most of them civilians.

Israel says it began the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel that are intended to allow Hamas militants to carry out attacks against Israelis.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively free of violence, despite the Gaza fighting.

Mahmoud Hamamreh was killed in stone throwing clashes in the village of Husan early Wednesday, doctors said.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines quickly canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, dealing a blow to Israel’s lucrative tourist industry.

The conflict is also starting to strain the Israeli economy. Military and finance ministry officials have said that the first 10 days of the operation had direct costs of about 2 billion shekels – about $585 million.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the U.S. secretary of state flew into Israel to press top-gear efforts for a truce in the conflict that has so far killed at least 657 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

Trapped by the fighting in Khan Younis, a town on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinian families scrambled to flee the area.

John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire agreement between the warring sides.

Kerry was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Jerusalem and Ramallah in what appeared to be a crucial day in the flailing talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire agreement were making some progress after days of a deadly impasse between Israel and Hamas militants. He was not specific in describing what he called steps forward in the negotiations as he met for a second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon.

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel also reported that two more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 29, but did not elaborate on the circumstances of the latest casualties. Two Israeli civilians have also died in the 15-day fighting

A Palestinian health official said eight Hamas fighters died in the ferocious battle near Khan Younis, from where the Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate about 250. Khan Younis has been under Israeli tank shelling and drone strikes since early Wednesday.

The Red Crescent said Hamas fighters in the area were deploying rocket propelled grenades and light weapons, including machine guns, against the Israelis.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby UN schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

The Israeli military did not respond to Associated Press inquiries as to why such heavy fighting was concentrated in Khan Younis, saying only it was conducting operations throughout the Gaza Strip. The fighting was centered on an agricultural area, which Israel has claimed is a site for Hamas tunnels going under the border into Israel.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and destroying large amounts of property there. By mid-day Wednesday, the Palestinian death toll stood at 657, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra, most of them civilians.

Israel says it began the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel that are intended to allow Hamas militants to carry out attacks against Israelis.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively free of violence, despite the Gaza fighting.

Mahmoud Hamamreh was killed in stone throwing clashes in the village of Husan early Wednesday, doctors said.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines quickly canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, dealing a blow to Israel’s lucrative tourist industry.

The conflict is also starting to strain the Israeli economy. Military and finance ministry officials have said that the first 10 days of the operation had direct costs of about 2 billion shekels – about $585 million.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

US pushes for truce as Gaza battle rages

KDWN

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants on Wednesday near a southern Gaza Strip town as the U.S. secretary of state flew into Israel to press top-gear efforts for a truce in the conflict that has so far killed at least 657 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

Trapped by the fighting in Khan Younis, a town on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinian families scrambled to flee the area.

John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket near the airport the day before, reflecting his determination to achieve a cease-fire agreement between the warring sides.

Kerry was to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Jerusalem and Ramallah in what appeared to be a crucial day in the flailing talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza.

In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza cease-fire agreement were making some progress after days of a deadly impasse between Israel and Hamas militants. He was not specific in describing what he called steps forward in the negotiations as he met for a second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon.

Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed in southern Israel on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker’s nationality.

Israel also reported that two more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military’s death toll to 29, but did not elaborate on the circumstances of the latest casualties. Two Israeli civilians have also died in the 15-day fighting

A Palestinian health official said eight Hamas fighters died in the ferocious battle near Khan Younis, from where the Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate about 250. Khan Younis has been under Israeli tank shelling and drone strikes since early Wednesday.

The Red Crescent said Hamas fighters in the area were deploying rocket propelled grenades and light weapons, including machine guns, against the Israelis.

Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby UN schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

The Israeli military did not respond to Associated Press inquiries as to why such heavy fighting was concentrated in Khan Younis, saying only it was conducting operations throughout the Gaza Strip. The fighting was centered on an agricultural area, which Israel has claimed is a site for Hamas tunnels going under the border into Israel.

The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza’s 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and destroying large amounts of property there. By mid-day Wednesday, the Palestinian death toll stood at 657, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra, most of them civilians.

Israel says it began the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel – more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted – and to destroy a network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel that are intended to allow Hamas militants to carry out attacks against Israelis.

As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively free of violence, despite the Gaza fighting.

Mahmoud Hamamreh was killed in stone throwing clashes in the village of Husan early Wednesday, doctors said.

On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines quickly canceled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, dealing a blow to Israel’s lucrative tourist industry.

The conflict is also starting to strain the Israeli economy. Military and finance ministry officials have said that the first 10 days of the operation had direct costs of about 2 billion shekels – about $585 million.

Enav reported from Jerusalem.