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Israel rejects ceasefire plan, source says as death toll nears 850

Israel rejected on Friday international proposals for a ceasefire in its fight against Islamist militants in Gaza, but is discussing changes to the truce plan with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a government source said.

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Mediators hope that a truce could come into force ahead of a Muslim festival that starts early next week, but they have struggled to resolve seemingly irreconcilable demands from Israel and Hamas-led fighters, locked in conflict since July 8.

Hamas, which wants an end to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza before agreeing to halt hostilities, has yet to respond to the ceasefire proposition, which has not been made public.

The Israeli source, who declined to be named, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet had turned down the plan because it did not let Israel carry on hunting down Hamas’s tunnel network that criss-crosses the Gaza border.

“Kerry’s proposal leans (too much) towards Hamas’s demands,” said the source.

As diplomacy faltered, fighting raged.

Gaza officials said Israeli strikes killed 55 people on Friday, including the head of media operations for Hamas ally Islamic Jihad and his son. They put the number of Palestinian deaths in 18 days of conflict at 844, most of them civilians.

Militants fired a barrage of rockets out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel, including at the country’s main airport. No injuries were reported, with the Iron Dome interceptor system knocking out many of the missiles.

The Gaza turmoil stoked tensions in the nearby occupied West Bank, where U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governs in uneasy coordination with Israel.

Medics said six Palestinians were killed in separate incidents near the cities of Nablus and Hebron, including one shooting that witnesses blamed on an apparent Jewish settler.

On Thursday night, 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza near the Palestinian administrative capital Ramallah – a scale recalling mass revolts of the past. Protesters surged against an Israeli army checkpoint, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and Palestinian medics said one was shot dead and 200 wounded when troops opened fire.

Israel said three more of its soldiers were killed in Gaza on Friday, bringing the army death toll to 35, as troops battled militants in the north, east and south of Gaza — a tiny Mediterranean enclave home to 1.8 million Palestinians.

It also announced that a soldier unaccounted for after an ambush in Gaza six days ago was definitely dead, although his body had not been recovered. Hamas said on Sunday it had captured the man, but did not release a photograph of him.

Three civilians have also been killed in Israel by rockets from Gaza – the kind of attack that surged last month amid Hamas anger at a crackdown on its activists in the West Bank, prompting the July 8 launch of the Israeli offensive.

The growing Israeli casualty list has only strengthened resolve in the country to pursue this latest campaign against Hamas until the group is significantly weakened.

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