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Associated Press
Smoke from Israeli strikes rise over Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Palestinian death toll in Gaza fighting at 508

Associated Press
Smoke from Israeli strikes rises over Gaza City , northern Gaza Strip, Monday, July 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

– The death toll among Palestinians from the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip reached 508 on Monday, Gaza health officials said as the two sides counted their dead following the bloodiest day of fighting so far in the two-week campaign. Diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire intensified amid the mounting carnage.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council expressed “serious concern” about Gaza’s rising civilian death toll and demanded an immediate end to the fighting following an emergency session.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon pressed ahead with his push for a truce in a trip to the region, and was expected in Cairo later Monday. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was also heading back this week to bolster regional efforts to reach a cease-fire.

As Israeli airstrikes continued to pound Gaza on Monday, rescue workers near the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis were digging out bodies from a home flattened in one of the strikes overnight, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health ministry official.

Al-Kidra said the Palestinian death toll from the two-week offensive stood at 508 as of Monday morning, including 20 bodies that were found at the site in Khan Younis. Two people were pulled alive from the rubble, he added.

Elsewhere in Gaza, Israeli tanks opened fire on the home of the Siyam family west of Rafah in the southern part of the strip, killing 10 people, including four young children and a 9-month-old baby girl, al Kidra said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said it foiled a Hamas infiltration attempt on Monday through two tunnels leading from northern Gaza into southern Israel. The military said 10 infiltrators were killed after being detected and targeted by Israeli aircraft.

On Sunday, the first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting exacted a steep price, killing 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and forced thousands of terrified Palestinian civilians to flee their neighborhood, reportedly used to launch rockets at Israel and now devastated by the fighting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the offensive would continue “as long as necessary” to end attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians.

The 13 Israeli soldiers died in clashes with Hamas militants in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shiyajiah, bringing the overall Israeli death toll to 20, including two civilians who died from rocket and mortar fire directed at Israeli towns and villages from Gaza.

On Sunday evening, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri in Gaza claimed his group had captured an Israeli soldier. An announcement on Gaza TV of the soldier’s capture set off celebration in the streets of West Bank.

But there was no official confirmation of the claim in Israel. Earlier, the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, said the Hamas claim was untrue.

––

Enav reported from Jerusalem.

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