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Israel pounds Gaza despite international peace efforts - report

Bishkek (AKIpress) - Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives, Reuters reports.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in neighboring Egypt, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Israel later in the day. Both have voiced alarm at mounting civilian casualties.

However, there was no let-up in the fighting around Gaza, with plumes of black smoke spiraling into the sky, and Israeli shells raining down on the coastal Palestinian enclave.

Hamas, the dominant group in the Gaza Strip, and its allies fired more rockets into Israel, triggering sirens in Tel Aviv. One hit a town on the fringes of Ben-Gurion International Airport, lightly injuring two people, officials said.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt missile salvoes out of Gaza by Hamas, which was angered by a crackdown on its supporters in the occupied West Bank and suffering economic hardship because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.

"A ceasefire is not near," said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, viewed as the most dovish member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's inner security cabinet.

"I see no light at the end of the tunnel," she told Israel's Army Radio.

The Israeli military said it had identified the remains of six soldiers killed in an attack on their armored vehicle in Gaza on Sunday and was trying to identify the seventh.

Sparking widespread celebrations in Gaza, Hamas's armed wing announced on Sunday that it had captured a soldier. It displayed a photo ID and army serial number of the man, but did not show any image of him in their hands.

The Israeli military believes it was impossible for anyone to have survived the direct hit on the army APC.

Israel has agreed to mass releases of Palestinian prisoners in the past to secure the freedom of captured soldiers, or even for the return of the bodies of its citizens.

With the conflict entering its third week, the Palestinian death toll rose to 546, including nearly 100 children and many other civilians, Gaza health officials said.

The Israeli military said it had killed 183 militants.

Israel's casualties also mounted, with the military announcing the deaths of two more soldiers, bringing the number of army fatalities to 27 - almost three times as many as were killed in the last ground invasion of Gaza, in a 2008-2009 war.

Two Israeli civilians have also been killed by Palestinian rocket fire into Israel.

Palestinian militants in Gaza said they wanted a five-hour ceasefire on Tuesday to allow residents to emerge from their homes and seek vital supplies. Israel rejected the request for security reasons, a defense official said.

Violence spread to the nearby West Bank, where medics said soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man while dispersing stone-throwing protesters. A Palestinian shot and seriously wounded an Israeli in the Nablus area on Tuesday.


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