The death toll on both sides of the Gaza fighting continued to mount over the weekend, with 18 Israeli soldiers and hundreds of Palestinians killed since IDF ground forces entered the Gaza Strip late Thursday night, ushering in a new and far bloodier phase of the fighting. As of Monday the fighting had officially taken the lives of 20 Israelis—including two civilians killed by rockets—and more than 500 Palestinians, according to Palestinian sources.
In the early hours of Friday morning Sergeant Eitan Barak, a 20-year-old infantryman from Herzliya, was killed in clashes with Hamas gunmen in the northern Gaza Strip, becoming the first Israeli soldier to die in the 14-day operation. On Friday and Saturday four more soldiers were killed in the Strip. On Sunday evening, the Israeli public was floored by news that 13 soldiers, all from the Golani Brigade, had been killed in heavy combat against Hamas gunmen in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya that morning.
Across Israel, a total of 101 IDF soldiers were being hospitalized for battle injuries, Channel 2 reported on Monday.
Shejaiya was the site of even greater carnage for the Palestinians, as the neighborhood, said by Israel to be a center of rocket launching and Hamas tunnel infrastructure, was subject to a combined Israeli artillery and airstrike bombardment beginning Saturday night. On Sunday morning, the Gaza Health Ministry reported that over 70 Palestinians had been killed, including many children, whose bodies were pulled from the rubble in scenes of destruction captured by journalists from around the world during a short-lived humanitarian ceasefire on Sunday.
Along with stopping the rocket fire on the Israeli homefront, the main operational goal of Operation Protective Edge remains the elimination of the Hamas “attack tunnels” which line the Gaza-Israel border. The tunnels have been used for repeated infiltrations in recent days, beginning on Thursday when more than a dozen gunmen infiltrated near the border community of Sufa in the first such attack of the campaign. On Saturday, gunmen entered Israel near the Eshkol region town of Ein Hashlosha before they were stopped by the IDF, and on Sunday, the IDF discovered another tunnel dug deep into Israel underneath the village of Nativ Haasarah. On Monday, the opening of yet another tunnel was found in the dining hall of the Kissufim Kibbutz, according to channel 2.
The fighting continued to rage in Shejaiya on Sunday night and Monday morning, as Israeli forces killed 10 Hamas gunmen including a suicide bomber. On Monday, Israelis awoke to news of another infiltration, this time by two separate squads who emerged in two spots next to Kibbutz Erez and Kibbutz Nir Am and were repelled. The IDF has still not publicly confirmed the number of gunmen killed or given figures on IDF casualties suffered in the infiltration and in clashes overnight in Gaza.
Meanwhile rockets continued to rain upon cities across Israel, though in lower numbers than during previous days. As of mid-afternoon on Monday, around 40 rockets had been fired, out of a total of 1,465 during the 14-day operation, according to IDF figures.
Amid the mounting bloodshed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Monday that the operation would continue and will be expanded until long-term quiet is restored for Israeli citizens.