Israeli troops battle Hamas, uncover Gaza tunnels
"This initiative still presents the chance for the two sides to cease fire, ending the bloodshed," he said. "It meets the needs of both sides. We will continue to propose it. We hope both sides accept it."
In a fresh effort to broker a truce, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was to leave Saturday for the Middle East to help mediate the Gaza conflict. A cease-fire is "indispensable" for urgently needed humanitarian efforts to succeed, the undersecretary-general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Friday.
Israeli officials have said the offensive could last up to two weeks. The military reported making steady progress but said dozens of tunnels remain and would not give a time frame for its operation.
Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, visited troops on the Gaza border early Saturday and said "a strategic national patience is necessary" to complete the mission.
"Hamas and other terror organizations have been hit hard, painfully and extensively," he added.
But Gaza militants have remained defiant despite the heavy death toll.
"The Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip will not surrender to the enemy and will not raise the white flag," Ziad Nakhala, a leader in the Islamic Jihad militant group, told a Palestinian radio station. "We are open to all possibilities as long as the enemy does not respond to the demands of the resistance."
Hamas has survived Israeli offensives in the past, including a major three-week ground operation in January 2009 and another weeklong air offensive in 2012. It now controls an arsenal of thousands of rockets, including long-range projectiles, and has built a system of underground bunkers.
But Hamas is weaker than it was during the previous two offensives, with little international or even regional support from its main allies, Turkey and Qatar. Protests against the offensive took place Friday in Turkey, Jordan and the West Bank.
Heller reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writers Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Lefteris Pitarakis in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.