Israel keeps up deadly air strikes as Gazans flee the north

Israel keeps up deadly air strikes as Gazans flee the north

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - Israel hit the Gaza Strip with air strikes and artillery fire early Monday on the seventh day of its offensive and as diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed intensified.

Aircraft struck three training facilities of Hamas's military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, around the coastal territory, but caused no casualties, medics and eyewitnesses said.

They also hit buildings in Gaza City, Deir el-Balah in the southern part of the strip, and in the northern town of Jabaliya, injuring an unspecified number of people.

There was shelling reported in Beit Lahiya, in the far north of the strip, where Israel had earlier warned residents of an impending assault.

World powers prepared to meet over the spiralling violence as the Palestinian death toll from the punishing Israeli air campaign hit 172 with another 1,230 people wounded, the emergency services said.

Fearing for their lives, about 17,000 people have taken shelter in installations of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, the agency said in a statement.

Despite increasing calls for a ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military was hitting Hamas "with growing force", warning there was no end in sight.

"We do not know when this operation will end," he told ministers.

US Secretary of State John Kerry phoned Netanyahu to renew a US offer to help mediate a truce and he "highlighted the US concern about escalating tensions on the ground," a senior State Department official said.

Kerry also said that he was engaged with regional leaders "to help to stop the rocket fire so calm can be restored and civilian casualties prevented".

On the Palestinian side, president Mahmud Abbas said he would ask UN chief Ban Ki-moon to "put the State of Palestine under the UN international protection system" in order to address the violence in Gaza.

As the death toll rose, the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said most of the victims were civilians, putting their number at more than 130, among them 35 children and 26 women.

It also said Israel had hit 147 homes and badly damaged hundreds of others.

So far, no Israelis have been killed, although militants in Gaza have pounded the south and centre of the country with about 715 rockets since the fighting began on July 8, an army spokeswoman told AFP late Sunday. Around 160 had been intercepted, she said.

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