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As death toll climbs, pressure builds for Mideast cease-fire

July 21, 2014 at 6:20 PM EDT
More than 500 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have died in the conflict that began two weeks ago. Palestinians reported that Israeli tanks shelled a hospital, killing at least four. The Israelis say they are focused on destroying Hamas rockets and a network of tunnels used by militias. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports on the mounting U.S. and U.N. pressure for a cease-fire.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: : The death toll from the fighting between Hamas and Israel continued to mount today. In total, more than 500 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed since the conflict began nearly two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the U.S. push for a cease-fire accelerated.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner has our report.

MARGARET WARNER: Rescue crews scrambled to find survivors, as Israeli airstrikes blasted parts of Gaza City and Khan Yunis. Local health officials said at least three families were buried in rubble.

Palestinians also reported Israeli tanks shelled a hospital in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, killing at least four people. The Israeli military said it was aiming at anti-tank missiles stored nearby, and Israel’s defense minister vowed to keep up the fight.

MOSHE YA’ALON, Defense Minister, Israel (through interpreter): We are prepared to continue the operation as long as necessary. If there is a need, we will recruit more reserve combat forces until we bring quiet from the Gaza Strip.

MARGARET WARNER: The Israelis say they’re focused on destroying Hamas rockets and the network of tunnels used to store them and to infiltrate militias into Israel. The military said it foiled another such attempt today, shown in this video, and killed 10 militants.

All this came a day after the first major ground battle of the conflict, in Gaza City’s Shaja’ia neighborhood; 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed. Funerals for the soldiers were held today, as the military announced more soldiers died in fighting.

Hamas also claimed late Sunday that it had captured an Israeli soldier, but there was no confirmation. Meanwhile, sirens sounded over Tel Aviv today, as militants fired at least 50 more rockets into Israel, damaging a house, but causing no casualties.

In a televised speech, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, insisted his group won’t stop fighting until there’s an end to the Israeli- Egyptian blockade of the territory, saying, “We cannot go back to the silent death of the blockade.”

As casualties mount, so do the numbers of Gaza residents forced to flee their homes, estimated now in the tens of thousands. The pressure to end the fighting is building, too.

President Obama spoke of the human cost today.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians both in Gaza and in Israel.

MARGARET WARNER: To that end, Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Egypt to try to revive cease-fire efforts. He’s scheduled to meet there with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and others.

The new American involvement came a day after Kerry was caught on an open microphone questioning the toll taken by Israel’s offensive.

JOHN KERRY, Secretary of State: It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.

MARGARET WARNER: The U.N. Security Council voiced similar concerns last night. The 15 members demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities.