Israel vows to continue offensive as Gaza toll rises to 501

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Gaza/Jerusalem, July 21: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip despite the death of his 18 soldiers in the two-week long conflict that has killed 501 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and injured more than 3,100.

Netanyahu told reporters last night that the death of the soldiers is "painful and difficult", but Israel will continue its Operation Protective Edge with full speed ahead.

The Palestinians death toll today reached 501, with the recovery of more bodies from a home flattened in an Israeli air strike early today near the city of Khan Younis. At least 20 bodies were found at the site and two people were pulled alive from the rubble, a health official said, adding that over 3,100 Palestinians have been injured so far.

Four Indian tailors working in Gaza for the last two years were evacuated yesterday unharmed with the help of the Representative Office of India (ROI) in Ramallah, West Bank.

Pushkar Sharma, an Indian-American representative of the UN Access coordination office in Gaza, said the Indians, along with a few other foreign nationals, crossed over through the Erez crossing around noon before the two-hour humanitarian ceasefire brokered by the Red Cross began.

Some more Indians, married to Palestinians or working at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charities, have decided not to leave the coastal strip because of personal or moral reasons.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council today called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and UN chief Ban Ki-moon met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Qatar to end the escalating conflict that has also displaced thousands.

Twenty Israelis, including 18 soldiers, have died so far in the Operation Protective Edge launched on July 8. Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed yesterday alone, which is higher than that sustained during the entire three- week duration of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, the last time Israel sent its troops into Gaza.

"We bow our heads to our fallen sons, who died so we could continue living in our country," Netanyahu said at a press conference with Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

"I would like to express, on behalf of the government of Israel and the people of Israel, the deep pain we feel. We send our condolences to the parents, children, partners and families of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) soldiers who fell in battle. I want to tell you, there isn't a war more just than that in which your sons bravely died in," he said accusing Hamas of dragging his country into the war. He promised "to complete the task to restore calm to the south, central Israel and the rest of the country" in an indication that the operation would continue.

PTI

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