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Israel says it is going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and blames them on Hamas, accusing it of firing from within residential neighborhoods and using civilians as "human shields."
Human-rights activists say past confrontations have shown that when Israel carries out attacks in densely populated Palestinian areas, civilian deaths are inevitable.
The military said it has hit more than 2,500 targets in Gaza, including 1,100 rocket launchers, during the 12 days of fighting. It said that some 70 militants were killed and another 13 brought to Israel for questioning.
Gaza militants have fired more than 1,760 rockets at Israeli cities since July 8, the military said.
The military said also it had received intelligence reports that Palestinians had strapped explosives to animals and intended to send them toward soldiers. A donkey laden with explosives approached soldiers later on and blew up, causing no injuries, it said.
Israel’s ground attack came after it became increasingly exasperated with rocket fire from Gaza, especially after Hamas rejected an Egyptian cease-fire plan earlier in the week.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri on Saturday repeated a call for the two sides to adopt the cease-fire, saying it is the only offer on the table, despite efforts from Hamas backers Turkey and Qatar to broker a deal.
"It meets the needs of both sides," he said. "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.
Israeli officials have said the offensive could last up to two weeks or possibly longer.
Also Saturday, Egypt opened its border crossing with Gaza, admitting wounded to Egyptian hospitals and allowing aid and doctors back in.
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, 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.
Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Aron Heller in Tel Aviv, Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem, Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Lefteris Pitarakis in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.
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