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Israel batters Gaza's Shijaiyah, over 60 dead

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories -- More than 60 Palestinians were killed Sunday as Israeli forces pounded northern Gaza, sending thousands more fleeing in terror in the deadliest assault on the enclave in five years.

Sunday's bloody toll prompted urgent efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to broker a temporary ceasefire to allow paramedics to evacuate the dead and wounded in a deal accepted by both sides.

Inside the ravaged neighborhood of Shijaiyah, there were hellish scenes of carnage and chaos as a convoy of ambulances rushed in to make the most of the calm, an AFP correspondent said.

But it lasted less than an hour, with Israel accusing Hamas militants of firing in violation of the agreement, and saying its forces were “responding accordingly.”

As the death toll in Gaza passed 410, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to add his weight to truce efforts and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was to hold talks in Qatar with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal.

So far, truce efforts have been rejected by the Islamist Hamas movement, which is the dominant power in Gaza.

Undaunted by the Israeli bombardment by land, sea and air, it has pressed on with its own assaults which killed another two Israeli soldiers overnight, the army said.

Shijaiyah Burns

As Israel's blistering offensive on Shijaiyah showed no sign of easing, thousands could be seen fleeing for their lives after heavy shelling left casualties lying in the streets, an AFP correspondent reported.

Footage from the area showed vast clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky as the shelling continued and Gaza's eastern flank burned.

Ambulances were unable to reach much of the area along the border with Israel because of heavy fire.

But as the ceasefire got under way, a convoy of ambulances entered, with medics seen picking up at least three dead bodies, including that of a man with his intestines hanging out and his head completely destroyed, the correspondent said.

The blackened shells of cars littered the streets along with the burnt-out wreckage of an ambulance, as smoke poured from areas that were still burning.

At least four men carrying machine-guns could be seen among the people evacuating the area, some of them masked, the correspondent said.

Among the dead were women and children, as well as a Palestinian paramedic and a cameraman who were killed when the ambulance they were in was hit, with the ongoing fire hampering efforts to recover the bodies.

“He wasn't a fighter, he was a fighter for humanity,” wailed one relative as the family buried him.

“He was an ambulance worker, did he deserve to die?”

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Smoke rises after an Israeli missile hit Shijaiyah neighborhood in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, July 20. (AP)



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