NINE children were killed following a strike on a Gaza playpark yesterday.
Israeli and Palestinian authorities blamed each other for the attack, while fighting continued despite a major Muslim holiday.
A truce between Israel and Hamas remained elusive despite diplomatic efforts to end the fighting at the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Israeli military said a mortar attack on southern Israel caused “deaths and injuries”, but did not disclose further details. Israeli media reported that the attack killed at least four people, which saw military helicopters rushing people to hospital on stretchers.
More than 1,030 Palestinian lives, most of them civilian, have been lost since 8 July, when Israel launched its offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
Israel’s military death toll rose to 48 with yesterday’s deaths. Three civilians have also died.
Last night, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that parties to the conflict in Gaza had “expressed serious interest” in his request for a further 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire, but “have not yet agreed on the timing of its implementation”.
The Gaza park attack happened as children played on a swing in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, said Ayman Sahabani, head of the accident and emergency department at nearby Shifa Hospital.
Mr Sahabani said nine of the ten people killed were children under the age of 12. Some 46 other people were wounded.
The strike occurred a few minutes after the hospital’s outpatient clinic was hit, leaving several people wounded.
Pools of blood could be seen on the ground in the Beach refugee camp garden in the aftermath of the explosion. Munther Al-Derbi, a camp resident, said: “We came out of the mosque when I saw the children playing … Seconds later a missile landed. May God punish … Netanyahu,” he said, referring to the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Gaza’s police operations room, civil defence and Mr Sahabani all blamed the attacks on Israeli airstrikes.
But Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner denied Israel was involved.
He said: “This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit the Shifa Hospital and the Beach camp.”
Gaza’s interior ministry spokesman Eyad al-Bozum said he believed that shrapnel found in dead bodies and in the wounded was evidence of Israel’s role in the incident.
He said: “The occupation [ie, Israel] claims that Palestinian rockets hit the hospital and the park.
“This is an attempt to cover their ugly crime against children and civilians, and because of their fear of scandal and international legal prosecution.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the strike on the park a “massacre”.
Hamas’ military wing said that, in response to the strike, it fired three rockets toward the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
Mr Netanyahu said yesterday: “We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children.”
And he said Israel would not finish its operation until it had “neutralised” Hamas tunnels out of Gaza.
Israel’s military yesterday also ordered residents of parts of northern Gaza to evacuate towards central Gaza City, a sign that Israel may be broadening its assault.