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A Palestinian carries a child wounded during an Israeli strike, as he arrives at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, on July 19
Gaza toll hits 342 on day 12 Israel more barbaric than Hitler: Erdogan

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, July 19, (Agencies): The Gaza death toll hit 342 on Saturday as Israeli warplanes intensified their bombardment and troops pressed a ground assault on the 12th day of a major confrontation with Hamas. The latest incident saw two men, aged 25 and 31, killed in an air strike near Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

And another two people were killed in Zeitun, east of Gaza city, raising the number of Palestinians killed on Saturday to 45. In southern Israel, a Bedouin man was killed and four family members wounded, two of them children, when a rocket hit their desert encampment not far from Israel’s nuclear reactor in Dimona, police said.
His death raised to three the number of Israelis killed since the conflict began on July 8, including a soldier who was reportedly killed by friendly fire.
Among those killed in Gaza were five members of the same family, including a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old, who died in a strike on a house in the northern town of Beit Hanun, Qudra said.
Earlier, Qudra also reported five bodies had been pulled from a home hit by an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis.
So far, more than 2,385 Palestinians have been wounded in the biggest confrontation in and around Gaza since Operation Cast Lead, a bloody 22-day offensive which ended in January 2009.
Israeli troops began a ground offensive in parts of Gaza late on Thursday, starting a new phase in the operation which it said was aimed at destroying tunnels used by the territory’s dominant power, Islamist movement Hamas.
Israel’s army announced Saturday the deaths of two of its soldiers in a clash with Gaza militants who had breached the Jewish state’s border, hours after they had been reported wounded.
An army statement said the two, Sergeant Adar Bersano, 20, from Nahariya, and Major Amotz Greenberg, 45, from Hod Hasharon, were killed fighting a group of militants who infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from the centre of the Gaza Strip.
The army had earlier said two soldiers were wounded in a clash with the militants, who had been “aiming to carry out a lethal attack in one of the nearby communities”.
The militants had fired machineguns and an anti-tank missile at the soldiers, who returned fire, “killing a terrorist and forcing the rest back into Gaza”.
Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said 12 of their men stayed “behind enemy lines” for six hours before engaging in “direct confrontation with the enemy to avenge the blood of our martyrs, particularly the children.”
The militants claimed they “killed six soldiers on patrol and wounded several others,” but the Israeli army said there were only two deaths.
Elsewhere, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Israel of “barbarism that surpasses Hitler” during its ground invasion of Gaza.
Erdogan accused Israel of using disproportionate force in Gaza and said the operation there has derailed efforts to normalize Turkish-Israeli ties. Those soured after Israel’s 2010 raid on an aid ship which killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American.
Erdogan spoke in a campaign speech Saturday in the Black Sea port city of Ordu. He is running for the presidency in elections next month.
He has been speaking out strongly against Israel during its offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza, which has killed more than 300 Palestinians.
Hundreds have also staged protests in recent days outside Israeli diplomatic mission in Ankara and Istanbul and more were scheduled for later Saturday.
Even as the death toll mounts in the Gaza Strip, attempts to broker a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel have so far run aground - in part because they have become mired in the deep divisions between Mideast countries.
At the center of the problems is the bitter enmity between Egypt and its Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia on one side and Gaza’s Hamas rulers and its allies, Turkey and Qatar, on the other.
An Egyptian cease-fire proposal quickly fell apart the past week when Israel accepted it but Hamas rejected it. Hamas demanded greater guarantees for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza, enforced by Israel and Egypt. The Egyptian proposal called for both sides to halt hostilities unconditionally - dangling only a promise of further talks that could address the closure.
Qatar-based Hamas spokesman Hossam Badran described Cairo’s cease-fire proposal as “all but dead,” calling it a “surrender” to Israel.
He and other Hamas officials said they were instead turning to Qatar, which they said had an initiative that would address their demands, including release of prisoners and giving unfettered access to the densely populated strip. That quickly sparked accusations by Egypt that Hamas’ allies were undermining it.
“The Hamas-Qatar-Turkey axis is trying to abort Egypt’s role, which is the region bulwark in the face of a plot aimed at fragmenting the region into rival mini-states,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told reporters Thursday night, just before Israel announced the start of its ground assault into Gaza.
Shukri said Egypt is in a “very tense and difficult” relationship with Hamas, where reaching common ground is nearly “impossible.”
On Saturday, Shukri said he knows of no other initiative and that “the Egyptian initiative remains the initiative on the table” with international support.
Speaking next to visiting French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Shukri said there was no intention to amend the proposal, which he said meets the demands of both sides.
The tensions are rooted in the turmoil in Egypt over the past year. Hamas spawned off the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt’s government has branded a terrorist organization since the military’s ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last summer. Egyptian authorities have been cracking down hard on Morsi’s Brotherhood and accuse Hamas of helping Islamic militants waging a campaign of violence in Egypt, a claim the group denies.
Egypt also has tightened the closure on Gaza by destroying smuggling tunnels under the border that were largely propping up the strip’s economy. That has thrown Hamas into a financial crisis.
Turkey and Qatar were also close allies of Morsi and the Brotherhood - and the result has been deep tensions between them and the government of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, the former army chief that ousted Morsi.
The cease-fire plan put forth by Egypt now is virtually identical to one presented by Morsi during the last round of Gaza fighting. At the time, both sides accepted the accord, and Morsi was lauded for his mediation. Now, however, there is not only deep mistrust in the way, but also increased Hamas expectations for an end to the stifling blockade.
Badran told The Associated Press that Hamas wants the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, an arrangement to allow Gazans to pray in Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and the release of political prisoners held by Israel.
Hamas and its allies Qatar and Turkey also are pressing for the opening of an airport and seaport in Gaza under international administration.
“We have to impose conditions and guarantees to prevent the recurring of this assault and lift this inhumane and illogical blockade on Gaza,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiya said in a speech last week.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said the blockade must be lifted. “If a tunnel is closed, an airport has to be opened. There has to be a breathing space. The situation now is beyond a ghetto,” he said in an interview Thursday with Turkey’s NTV television.
However, Egypt - as well as Hamas’ rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - is wary of any moves that would give Hamas breathing room and strengthen its hold on Gaza.
“There is no way Egypt is going to let the crossing open for Hamas to come and go without control,” an Egyptian foreign ministry official said. He said Egypt could agree to international observers - or forces from Abbas’ Palestinian Authority - controlling the crossing, as long as they are on the Gaza side.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
Sameh Seif al-Yazel, a security expert and one-time member of el-Sisi’s presidential campaign, said Egypt would accept arrangements giving free movement in and out of Gaza as long as they are endorsed by the Palestinian Authority. “Egypt is siding with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, not Hamas,” he said.
Abbas has backed the Egyptian proposal, saying it is identical to the 2012 cease-fire brokered by Morsi. After visiting Cairo, Abbas left to Turkey, where he is expected to meet with Hamas’ top leader, Khaled Mashaal, before heading to Qatar and other Gulf countries in an attempt to bridge the gaps.
Thousands joined a pro-Palestinian rally in London on Saturday, chanting “Israel is a terror state”, while protesters defying a ban in Paris clashed with riot police blocking their march.
The London rally organisers said they expected a turnout of up to 20,000 people on the march from Prime Minister David Cameron’s office to the Israeli embassy.
In Paris, despite a rare police ban and warnings from President Francois Hollande, hundreds began massing for their march but clashed with police who blocked their route.
The demonstrators threw rocks and bottles at anti-riot squads which responded with tear gas lobbied into the streets.
The ban, which Hollande had said was to preserve “public order” following violence after similar marches, applied only to Paris. Thousands turned out in several other French cities for authorised demonstrations against the ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza.
On July 13, pro-Palestinian demonstrators tried to storm two synagogues in Paris during a rally, and clashed with Israeli supporters.
Twelve days of violence between Israeli forces and Hamas have led to more than 335 deaths, the majority of them Palestinian civilians.
In London, demonstrators held up placards pleading for Israel to end its “attacks on Gaza”, and reading “Stop the bombing, free Palestine”, “Stop Israeli state terror, join the socialists” and “End Israeli apartheid”.
The left-wing Stop the War Coalition, one of the organisers of the march, condemned British and US support for Israel as “nothing less than collusion with war crimes killing women, children and disabled people”.
In France, the US embassy issued a statement “strongly encouraging” its citizens to steer clear of the protests, saying that because of their unauthorised nature and “due to the current political environment in the Middle East, spontaneous clashes or eruptions of violence cannot be ruled out.”
Hollande, speaking from west Africa, has said that he is seeking to avoid “importing” the Middle East conflict into France.
Participants who insist on holding the rally “at all costs will bear the responsibility” for it, he added on Saturday.
However, he added, “this isn’t going to stop other forms of expression.”
Authorities say organisers who defy the ban will face a six-month prison term and 7,500-euro fine.
Meanwhile Belgian police were concerned that unauthorised demonstrations would take place in Brussels and Antwerp on Saturday.
Representatives from Belgium’s Jewish and Muslim communities joined together on Friday to call for good relations to be upheld between religious communities.

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