The father of a Palestinian boy reacts following his death at a hospital in Gaza City July 28, 2014. A huge explosion in a public garden in northern Gaza killed eight children and two adults, and wounded 40 others, Palestinian medics said on Monday. Locals blamed the blast on an Israeli air strike, but Israel denied responsibility, saying it was a misfire by a rocket launched by Hamas militants. Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Palestinian medics say a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people Monday, nine of them children, as a three-week-old conflict in the territory continued on the first day of a major Muslim holiday.
Israeli and Palestinian officials are blaming each other for that attack and a separate one at a nearby hospital outpatient clinic.
Initially, the Israeli military said rockets misfired by Palestinian militants hit the park and Gaza City's main al-Shifa Hospital. The military later described what happened as a mortar attack.
Palestinian health official Ayman Sahabani said 46 people were wounded in the strikes. He said the children who were among the dead were playing on a swing in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City.
The strike at the park occurred a few minutes after the clinic was hit, leaving several people wounded. Camera crews were prevented from filming the area of impact at al-Shifa.
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Gaza's police operations room, Civil Defence and Sahabani said the deaths and injuries were caused by Israeli airstrikes.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, denied Israel was involved.
"This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit al-Shifa Hospital and the Beach [Shati] camp," he said.
In a text message, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the strike on the park a "massacre." The Hamas military wing said that in response to the strike, it fired three rockets toward the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
Israel's military on Monday ordered residents of parts of northern Gaza to evacuate toward central Gaza City, a sign that
Israel may be broadening its assault. The areas warned included Shijaiyah, which saw one of the bloodiest days of fighting last week.
The Israeli military, meanwhile, says nine soldiers were killed in separate battles with Hamas.
It says four soldiers were killed in a mortar attack earlier Monday. Another five soldiers were killed in combat in Gaza, it said.
The announcement brings the toll of soldiers killed to 52. Three civilians have also been killed on the Israeli side.
Brace for 'prolonged' mission, Netanyahu says
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address on Monday that Israelis should brace for a "prolonged" military operation. He also indicated a possible broadening of a mission to decimate Hamas's ability to fire rockets at Israel and to destroy tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.
"There is no war more just than this," Netanyahu said, adding that a demilitarization of Gaza must be part of any future solution for the territory of 1.7 million people.
Elsewhere, a number of Hamas fighters slipped into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Monday. The Israeli military said the militants entered a village using a tunnel and were repelled by soldiers.
Five Palestinians were killed in a firefight according to Israeli television reports.
Israel says it launched its war on Hamas July 8 to halt incessant rocket fire from Gaza. It later broadened the assault into a ground offensive, meant to tackle Hamas's network of tunnels, which Israel sees as a major threat.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called on the two sides in the 21-day conflict to begin talks to "address root causes" to "break the endless, senseless cycle" of violence.
"Gaza is in critical condition," Ban said on his return to New York from a six-day visit to the Middle East, adding that people have "nowhere to run," and that the destruction has been described to him as a "man-made hurricane."
He said ending the fighting between Israel and Hamas is a "matter of their political will."
"They have to show their humanity as leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian," Ban told reporters. "Why these leaders are making their people to be killed by others? It's not responsible, [it's] morally wrong."
The latest violence follows a relative lull in the territory overnight, at the start of Eid al-Fitre, marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Israeli jets struck three sites in Gaza early Monday after a rocket was launched at Israel, the military said.
The strikes followed an almost 12-hour pause in fighting and came as international efforts intensified to end the conflict.
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Israel's military said it struck two rocket launchers and a rocket manufacturing facility in central and northern Gaza after a rocket hit southern Israel earlier Monday. The rocket caused no damage or injuries.
The military said Hamas fired a single rocket into Israel in the morning hours, but there were no casualties or damage.
Earlier, the Israeli military said it had not carried out any attacks in Gaza since 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, but that troops on the ground were pressing on with efforts to destroy the cross-border tunnels constructed by Hamas for attacks inside Israel.
Also, the Israeli military opened artillery fire on Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza in response to the rocket fired at Ashkelon, said the office of Israel's military spokesman. "Quiet will be met with quiet," the office statement said.
Despite the exchange, Monday started off as quietest day of the conflict following "non-stop aggression" from both sides, CBC's Paul Hunter reported.
However, Hunter and others were caught in the middle of intense fighting on Sunday, just as they were boarding a bus to a border crossing, shortly before a possible truce was due to take effect.
"Thuds, bombs, plumes of smoke were increasingly getting closer, and we kind of made a run for it," he said. "There were explosions left, right and centre — scars in the roadway in front of us. Something hit the road to the left of us, and smoke came upon us, and we were fleeing what was behind us. It was relentless, in both directions."
As Muslims began celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday, there was fear and mourning instead of holiday cheer in the Gaza Strip.
Muslims usually mark the start of the three-day Eid tradition with dawn prayers and visits to cemeteries to pay their respects to the dead, while they give children new toys, clothes, shoes and haircuts.
This year, instead of the traditional family visits, many Palestinians huddled inside their homes, fearing more airstrikes.
U.S. President Barack Obama has reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Hamas's rocket attacks. The White House said Obama called Netanyahu Sunday and said a lasting peace will ultimately require a demilitarized Gaza and dismantling of terror groups. The U.S. president also pushing for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire that would allow Israeli and Palestinian civilians to return to normalcy.
International diplomats have hoped that a temporary lull in the fighting could be expanded into a more sustainable truce to end the bloodshed.
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