GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli bulldozers on Saturday demolished more than a dozen tunnels the military said were being used by Hamas gunmen to sneak beneath the southern border of the Jewish state and carry out attacks on its soldiers and civilians.
Palestinians reported intensified airstrikes and shelling as the death toll from Israel’s ground offensive rose to at least 342 Palestinians, including many civilians. Five Israelis – three soldiers and two civilians – have also been killed since the fighting began more than 10 days ago, and dozens of Israelis have been injured as Gaza rockets continue to rain down on Israeli cities.
Israeli soldiers uncovered 34 shafts leading into about a dozen underground tunnels, some as deep as 30 yards, the military said. Israel views the tunnels as a strategic threat, and demolishing them is a high priority in their campaign.
Still, Palestinian gunmen disguised in Israeli uniforms managed to infiltrate Israel from Gaza using another tunnel and on Saturday killed two Israeli soldiers and injured several others, the military said.
At least one Palestinian was killed in the clash.
It was the second day that Palestinians had used their network of underground tunnels to penetrate Israel in the current round of fighting.
Israel embarked on its ground offensive Thursday, the same day 13 heavily armed Palestinians sneaked through a tunnel from Gaza and emerged inside Israel near a southern community. The militants were killed by an airstrike after they popped out of the tunnel.
The military said it has hit more than 2,500 targets in Gaza, including 1,100 rocket launchers, during the 12 days of fighting. It said that some 70 militants were killed and another 13 brought to Israel for questioning.
Gaza militants have fired more than 1,760 rockets at Israeli cities since July 8, the military said.
In a fresh effort to broker a truce, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon left Saturday for the Middle East to help mediate the Gaza conflict.
Israeli officials have said the offensive could last up to two weeks or possibly longer.
Meanwhile, police in Paris clashed on Saturday with thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters who defied a ban on a demonstration over the Israeli offensive in Gaza. More than 30 people were arrested, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether there were injuries.
Thousands marched in London calling for an end to Israeli military action in Gaza, and protests also occurred in Dublin and Ankara, Turkey.