Israel shells Gaza militants, probes Hamas claim of captured soldier

Israel shells Gaza militants, probes Hamas claim of captured soldier

GAZA/JERUSALEM - Israeli tanks shelled militant targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday and a woman died in an air strike after the bloodiest day for both sides of a nearly two-week military offensive that showed no signs of abating despite global calls for a truce.

Palestinian health officials said the death toll since July 8 had reached 447, including many civilians, with a woman killed in the predawn strike in Beit Hanoun and 12 more bodies recovered from the embattled Shejaia neighbourhood where the number of fatalities rose to 72 from Sunday's fighting.

In its push against militants in Shejaia, Israel also suffered its worst losses in the offensive it launched to stop rocket fire from Gaza at Israel, with 13 soldiers killed, for a total of 18 and another two civilian deaths.

Israel's army said it had been targeting militants from Gaza's dominant Hamas group, charging they fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centres there. The army said it had warned civilians two days earlier to leave The one-day death toll was the highest for the Israeli military's since a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. It also represented the most Palestinians killed since fighting began on July 8.

The Israeli military said it was checking a televised announcement in Gaza from Hamas's armed wing that it had captured an Israeli soldier during the fighting in Shejaia.

Israeli radio, television stations and most news websites ignored the report. "Qassam Brigades captured a Zionist soldier," said Abu Ubaida on Sunday, the masked spokesman of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, who identified the soldier as Shaul Aron and recited what he said was Aron's identity tag number.

He provided no other evidence the soldier was in the custody of the Islamist militants.

Aron would be the first Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza since 2011, when Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to free Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was held for more than five years after his 2006 capture in a cross-border raid.

The bloodshed in Shejaia, the worst for the Palestinians in 12 days of conflict, has touched off renewed Western efforts to seek a truce to resolve the crisis.

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