Two Israeli troops, one civilian, killed while Palestinian toll tops 300


(JTA) — Two Israeli soldiers and a civilian were killed in the Gaza conflict, while the Palestinian death toll topped 300, mostly civilians.

Odeh al-Waj, 32, a member of a Bedouin settlement in the Negev that is unrecognized by the Israeli government, was killed when a rocket exploded outside his shack on Saturday, and four members of his family were wounded, including an infant daughter who was in serious condition.

Residents of the community told Israeli media that they did not receive the same protections, including sirens and shelters, as other communities because of their “unrecognized” status.

Sgt. Adar Barsano, 20, and Maj. Amotz Greenberg, 45, died in a gunfight with Hamas infiltrators near Kissufim, along the center of Gaza’s border with Israel.

Two soldiers were wounded in the gunfight and the Israeli army said a Hamas gunman was killed while the others retreated. The army said the infiltrators planned an attack on a community.

The deaths bring to five the number of Israelis killed since Israel launched air strikes July 8 to counter an intensification of rocket fire. A civilian was killed by rocket fire on July 15, and a soldier was killed, possibly by friendly fire, when Israel launched a ground operation late Thursday night.

Palestinian deaths topped 300, among them eight members of a single family, including four children, killed by artillery fire between Friday night and Saturday.

Israel says it is focused on clearing out infiltration tunnels and now has control of 13 of them.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Friday and Saturday with a number of world leaders, among them several who have expressed concern about civilian casualties in the war, particularly in the wake of the ground operation and the deaths Wednesday of four boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach when they were hit by Israeli fire.

Netanyahu spoke to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who are visiting the region, and also with President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Leaders have cited the Gaza beach killings, captured on video, in urging restraint.

“Even prior to the beginning of today’s ground offensive in Gaza, there had been a regrettable number of incidents involving the deaths of civilians, including the terrible killing of four Palestinian boys on a beach in Gaza City,” Ban said in a statement Wednesday released prior to announcing his departure for the region. He called “on Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had said Thursday that “there’s more that can be done” by Israel to prevent casualties, calling the deaths of the children on the beach “horrifying.”

In statements describing the phone calls, Netanyahu said the blame for the conflict should lie with Hamas.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu told U.S. President Obama that Hamas was using the residents of Gaza as human shields, as was seen yesterday when munitions were discovered in a UN school in Gaza, and added that, therefore, Hamas was responsible for injuries to the residents of Gaza,” said the statement released Friday by Netanyahu.

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