GAZA CITY (USA TODAY) — Diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas intensified Monday as the two sides counted their dead following the bloodiest day of fighting so far in the two-week campaign.
The death toll among Palestinians from the Israeli offensive in Gaza surpassed 500 on Monday, Gaza health officials said. They said Israeli tank shells struck a hospital in the town of Deir el-Balah, killing at least four people and wounding 60, half of them medical staffers.
The Israeli military said it was looking into the report.
Thirteen Israeli soldiers died Sunday in clashes with Hamas, bringing the overall Israeli death toll to 20, including two civilians who died from rocket and mortar fire directed at Israeli towns and villages from Gaza. There were at least 65 Palestinian deaths Sunday.
President Obama said Secretary of State John Kerry is pressing "immediate cessation of hostilities" structured after a 2012 ceasefire.
"We have a serious concern about the number of Palestinian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives," Obama said, adding that time is of the essence to "stop the deaths of innocent civilians."
"There are enormous passions involved," Obama acknowledged. "Difficult, strageic issues are involved."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is still pushing for a truce. He is expected in Cairo later Monday. In New York, the U.N. Security Council expressed "serious concern" about Gaza's rising civilian death toll and demanded an immediate end to the fighting following an emergency session. The U.N.'s Human Rights council is expected to hold an emergency meeting later Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is also heading back to the region this week in an effort to reach a cease-fire. On Sunday, Kerry said the U.S. still supports the Egyptian proposal for a halt to the hostilities that Israel accepted and Hamas rejected last week.
Gazan shop owner Abu Hamed, 51, said Sunday's fighting was the worst violence he has ever witnessed in his area's already-bloody history.
"People beg me to open my shop to buy from me, but the vast majority have no money, and it's risky to walk in the streets," Hamed said. "We pray to God to protect us from the bloody Israeli attack that spares no one."
On Sunday evening, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri in Gaza claimed his group had captured an Israeli soldier. An announcement on Gaza TV of the soldier's capture set off celebration in the streets of West Bank.
Israel denied it. "There's no kidnapped Israeli soldier," Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, said Sunday night.
Two Americans are among the Israeli soldiers reported killed in Gaza during weekend fighting.