First day of Israeli ground offensive in Gaza raises death toll near 300

Watch above: The situation in the Gaza Strip is only getting worse, as Israeli troops are pounding areas with heavy artillery. Paul Johnson reports

Latest updates:

  • UN Security Council holds emergency meeting
  • 297 deaths in Gaza Strip since start of Operation Protective Edge on July 8, 2,200 Palestinians injured
  • Israeli soldier killed in ground operation may be victim of friendly fire
  • Hamas says IDF lying about tunnels, claims they’re used for training
  • Hospital in Gaza City severely damages in Israeli assault

Palestinian death near 300

One of the youngest victims of the latest conflict between Israel, Hamas and militant factions in the Gaza Strip is a 5-month-old baby killed Friday by Israeli fire in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Asham al-Qadra told The Times of Israel.

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At least four teenagers also died Friday, including three siblings killed when their home was hit by Israeli shelling, contributing to the rising death toll in the Gaza Strip.

Almost 300 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza, 57 on Friday alone. Most are civilians.

Sole Israeli soldier death possibly due to friendly fire

The first Israeli soldier to be killed during the military’s 11-day offensive may have been killed by “errant tank fire,” according to the Times of Israel.

This image released by the Israeli Defense Forces on Friday, July 18, 2014 shows Sgt. Eitan Barak, 20, who was killed overnight at the start of a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Defense Force/via AP Photo

The Israeli Defense Force reported 20-year-old Sgt. Eitan Barak died in the Gaza Strip on Friday, in the early hours of the ground assault.

The Times of Israel quoted IDF spokesman Moti Almoz saying it was a “mistake” by an Israeli tank. “We send our deep condolences to the family. We will continue to learn the lesson,” Almoz said.

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Meantime thee other IDF soldiers were injured when their vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile near a border fence.

Barak’s death is the second Israeli death during this latest conflict: An Israeli civilian died from injuries sustained Tuesday after being struck by a mortar near the Erez Crossing with Gaza.

Hamas says Israel lying about underground tunnels

Hamas is accusing the Israeli military of lying about the destruction of tunnels Israel says militants use to smuggle weapons, infiltrate Israeli territory and link command centre with rocket launching sites.

The IDF, which says it has uncovered more than 20 such tunnels, published photos of tunnels it claims to have uncovered in the Gaza Strip on Friday. But Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades released a statement claiming the tunnels are used “only for the purposes of training.”

“The IDF’s reports are meant only to improve the morale and image of the IDF,” Haaretz reported the statement saying.

Prior to the ground invasion, the IDF said it spotted 13 heavily armed militants briefly entering Israel from the mouth of a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa, near the southeast corner of the Gaza Strip. The IDF destroyed it, killing at least one militant.

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The government said its goal is to stop rocket attacks, destroy the network of Hamas tunnels into Israel and weaken Hamas militarily.

But there are calls from hard-liners in Israel to completely crush Hamas and drive it from power in Gaza.

That could mean a longer operation with the danger of mounting casualties in a conflict.

Israeli fire damages hospital in Gaza City

Photos posted on Facebook Friday show just how badly Gaza City’s Al Wafa rehabilitation hospital was damaged since it came under Israeli fire several hours earlier.

Ma’an News Agency reported another hospital, in the northern Gaza community of Beit Hanoun, was damaged in an Israeli strike.

The Palestinian news agency cited a nurse saying an Israeli drone missile hit the hospital, which still had patients and staff inside. According to Ma’an News, the hospital was evacuated and no one was injured.

Other hospitals in the Gaza Strip have been flooded with injured civilians.

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About 2,200 people have been hurt as a result of Israeli air strikes during the past 11 days.

But Israel, and the Canadian government, blame Hamas for putting civilian lives at risk.

Emergency UN Security Council meeting on Gaza

Israel’s UN Ambassador Ron Prosor told the Security Council it had “an obligation to unequivocally condemn Hamas before it’s too late” and said Israel has agreed to Egypt-brokered ceasefire offers while Hamas rejected them.

He said Israeli forces “are fighting in Gaza, but they are not fighting the people of Gaza” and insisted Israel “has been committed to upholding international law.”

He repeated Israel’s claim Hamas is using civilian facilities–including mosques, hospitals, and schools—to store weapons.

Those claims gained credence Thursday when the United Nations Relief and Work Agency, which assists Palestinian civilians, discovered about 20 rockets stored in a vacant school.

The agency alerted officials and the rockets were later removed. The agency issued a statement saying storing the rockets inside the school “endangered civilians … and put at risk UNRWA’s vital mission to assist and protect Palestinian refugees in Gaza.”

U.S. envoy to the United Nations Samantha Power told the Security Council the storage of weapons inside the school was “indefensible”

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced he would travel to the region on Saturday to meet with and “express solidarity with the Israelis and Palestinians.”

With files from The Associated Press

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