Israeli offensive in Gaza continues as diplomats pursue cease-fire

Israel offensive continues in Gaza Strip as top diplomats attempt to forge a cease-fire

Israel’s military continued to pound the Gaza Strip with heavy shelling on Saturday, calling on more civilians to leave their homes on the second day of its expanding ground operation against rocket launchers and cross-border tunnels while top diplomats were set to converge on the region to pursue a cease-fire.

Aircraft and artillery fire struck rocket-launchers, cars and houses throughout the coastal enclave. One strike killed five family members in their Beit Hanoun home, pushing the death toll above 330, according to Palestinian officials.

Fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas and other militants continued above and below ground Saturday. Overnight, around 20 militants were killed after engaging forces with gunfire and grenades as Israeli soldiers continued to comb Gaza for tunnels that Israel views as a strategic threat.

The Israeli military has reportedly located dozens of shafts dug under homes and green houses leading to 13 tunnels and intends to blow them up in coming days. At least three Israeli soldiers were injured Thursday in a battle with heavily armed militants who used one such tunnel to enter Israel from the central Gaza Strip with plans to attack a nearby community, a military official said.

In Israel, a 32-year-old man was killed and four others wounded in a rocket strike outside the town of Dimona. The rocket landed in a Bedouin village, where residents complain of little or no protection.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was slated to arrive in Israel on Saturday to attempt to broker a cease-fire; also expected was French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who was slated to meet with his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

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