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Gaza violence mounts as nine Israeli soldiers killed

The Israeli military says nine soldiers have been killed in separate attacks in ongoing Gaza fighting.

It says four soldiers were killed in a mortar attack earlier Monday. It says another five soldiers were killed in combat in Gaza.

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Earlier, an Israeli strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people Monday, nine of them children, as Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack.

The announcement by Israel’s military of the soldier deaths brings the toll of soldiers killed to 52. Three civilians have also been killed on the Israeli side. Palestinian health officials say more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began the three weeks ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier said Monday that Israel must be ready for a ‘‘prolonged’’ military operation in the Gaza Strip and will ‘‘act aggressively and responsibly’’ until the mission is completed.

A truce between the sides remained elusive as diplomats sought to end the fighting at the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In Israel, meanwhile, the military said Gaza militants infiltrated into the country through a tunnel under the Gaza-Israel border and opened fire on soldiers. Israeli media reported that five of the militants were apparently killed in a firefight, but the military did not immediately elaborate.

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 emergency room at nearby Shifa Hospital. Sahabani said nine of the 10 killed at the park were children under the age of 12 and 46 were wounded.

The strike on the park occurred a few minutes after the hospital’s outpatient clinic was hit, leaving several people wounded. Camera crews were prevented from filming the area of impact at Shifa.

Gaza’s police operations room, Civil Defense and Sahabani blamed the attacks on Israeli airstrikes.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, denied Israel was involved. ‘‘This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit the Shifa Hospital and the Beach (Shati) camp,’’ he said.

Gaza’s Interior Ministry spokesman Eyad al-Bozum said he believes that shrapnel found in dead bodies and in the wounded is evidence of Israel’s role in the incident.

‘‘The occupation claims that Palestinian rockets hit the hospital and the park,’’ he said. ‘‘This is an attempt to cover their ugly crime against children and civilians, and because of their fear of scandal and international legal prosecution.’’

In a text message, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the strike on the park a ‘‘massacre.’’ The Hamas military wing said that in response to the strike, it fired three rockets toward the Israeli port city of Ashdod.

Israel’s military on Monday also ordered residents of parts of northern Gaza to evacuate towards central Gaza City, a sign that Israel may be broadening its assault. The areas warned included Shijaiyah, which saw one of the bloodiest days of fighting last week.

Earlier, Israeli jets struck several sites in Gaza and rockets continued to fall on Israel, the Israeli military said, disrupting a relative lull.

Israel says it launched its war on Hamas July 8 to halt incessant rocket fire from Gaza. It later broadened the assault into a ground offensive, which is meant to tackle Hamas’ network of tunnels which Israel sees as a major threat.

The United Nations on Monday called for an ‘‘immediate’’ cease-fire in the fighting that has already killed over 1,040 Palestinians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side. On Sunday, President Barak Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push for an immediate end to the conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, according to a statement from his office, in which he voiced his dismay with the U.N. announcement. ‘‘It does not include a response to Israel’s security needs and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip,’’ he said.

Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
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