Middle East

Gaza conflict: Obama warns Israel amid rising death toll

A convoy of Israeli armoured personnel carriers move towards the Gaza border - 18 July 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Israel's leader Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened to expand the ground offensive in Gaza

US President Barack Obama has backed Israeli's right to self-defence, but warned against escalation in Gaza.

Speaking to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, he underlined his support for Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian militants.

But he said he was "deeply concerned" about civilian losses, with the Palestinian death toll now over 300.

Fifteen Palestinians were reported killed in two incidents on Saturday morning, including a family of eight.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will arrive in the region on Saturday to try to mediate between Israel and Hamas.

Mr Ban's visit would aim to help Israelis and Palestinians "end the violence and find a way forward", UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Flares lit up the skies over Gaza on Friday night as Israeli troops continued their fight against Hamas

"Israel has legitimate security concerns, and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. But we are alarmed by Israel's heavy response," Mr Feltman added.

Mr Netanyahu has warned of a "significant expansion" of the offensive but Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls Gaza, said Israel would "pay a high price" for the invasion.

Israel's ground operation followed 10 days of air strikes on Gaza, which failed to stop Hamas firing rockets across the border.

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Media captionLyse Doucet talks to Gazans while Quentin Sommerville reports from Israel

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked Turkey and Qatar to urge Hamas to accept the terms of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel.

At least 60 Palestinians are thought to have been killed since Israel launched the ground offensive in Gaza on Thursday.

More than 300 Palestinians - three-quarters of them civilians - have been killed since the start of the wider Israeli operation on 8 July, according to officials in Gaza.

On Saturday, an early morning air strike outside a mosque in the southern town of Khan Younis killed seven people.

In the north, where there has been heavy tank shelling, a family of eight - including four children - was killed, according to local health officials.

One Israeli soldier and one Israeli civilian have been killed since 8 July and several Israelis have been seriously injured.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Obama urged Israel to conduct its operations in a way "that minimises civilian casualties"

Mr Netanyahu insisted that the ground operation was necessary to target a Hamas tunnel network, which the Israel military could not do "only from the air".

President Obama said "no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders" but called on Israel's military to conduct its operation "in a way that minimises civilian casualties."

"The US and our friends and allies are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life," he told reporters at the White House.

UN officials say more than 50,000 Palestinians have sought shelter from Israel's ground offensive.

After a relative lull in clashes on Friday, there were reports of increased Israeli tank fire overnight and further air strikes early on Saturday morning.

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