"There's no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumors are untrue," Prosor told reporters at United Nations as the Security Council held an emergency meeting on the escalating crisis between Israel and Palestinians.

Hamas's armed wing said on Sunday it had captured an Israeli soldier, as fighting in Gaza led to the bloodiest losses in a nearly two-week military offensive, with some 100 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers killed.

"Qassam Brigades captured a Zionist soldier," said Abu Ubaida, the masked spokesman of the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, who identified the soldier as Shaul Aron and recited what he said was Aron's identity tag number.

He provided no other evidence the soldier was in the custody of the Islamist militants.

Ubaida said the capture happened during the same battle in which 13 Israeli soldiers died earlier, near Shejaia, the embattled neighborhood east of the city of Gaza where most of the Palestinian casualties occurred on Sunday.

Aron would be the first Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza since 2011, when Israel released about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to free Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was held for more than five years after his 2006 capture in a cross-border raid.

The one-day death toll was the highest for the Israeli military's since a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. It also represented the most Palestinians killed since fighting began on July 8.

Cries of celebration and fireworks were heard around Gaza shortly after the Hamas broadcast on Sunday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a massacre in Shejaia and declared three days of mourning. Israel's army said it had been targeting militants from Gaza's dominant Hamas group, whom it alleged had fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centres there. The army said it had warned locals two days earlier to leave.

Army sources said seven of the 13 Israeli soldiers were in an armoured personnel carrier hit by anti-tank fire. Others were killed setting up positions inside houses they had taken over, the sources added.

Residents fled Sunday's fighting along streets strewn with bodies and rubble, many of them taking shelter in Gaza's Shifa hospital.

Cries of "Did you see Ahmed?" "Did you see my wife?" echoed through the courtyard. Inside, dead and wounded lay on blood-stained floors.

Obama sends Kerry to Egypt to forge ceasefire on Gaza

US President Barack Obama has dispatched his Secretary of State John Kerry to Cairo to meet with Egyptian and other officials on the volatile situation in the Gaza Strip and seek an immediate cessation of hostilities.

"The President discussed Israel's ongoing military operation, reiterated the US' condemnation of attacks by Hamas against Israel and reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself. The President also raised serious concern about the growing number of casualties, including increasing Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza and the loss of Israeli soldiers," the White House said in a statement.

The announcement was made by Obama when he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, their second call in three days to discuss the situation in Gaza. Obama informed Netanyahu that Kerry will soon travel to Egypt to seek an immediate cessation of hostilities based on a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement, it said.

"The President underscored that United States will work closely with Israel and regional partners on implementing an immediate ceasefire, and stressed the need to protect civilians—in Gaza and in Israel," the White House said.

"US– and our international partners– are deeply concerned about the risk of further escalation, and the loss of more innocent life," State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said, adding Kerry is travelling to the region on Monday.

"We believe there should be a ceasefire as soon as possible – one that restores the cease-fire reached in November of 2012," she said, adding that Kerry is working to support Egypt's initiative to pursue that outcome, and will travel to the region as part of those efforts.

Earlier in the day, Kerry said that Israel is responding to an intransigent Hamas that was offered a ceasefire and didn’t want to take it.

"We support the Egyptian effort to have a ceasefire, which Israel joined into, which does not have preconditions, and then there is a promise of sitting down and dealing with those underlying issues that need to be dealt with," he said.

"But Hamas is trying to insist that as a reward for their terrorist behavior, things be decided ahead of time, and we support Israel and the international community’s right not to be extorted by terrorism," he added.

Kerry said US has been working very closely with all of the parties and in touch with them.

In another interview to a news channel, Kerry said the Hamas needs to do is stop rocketing Israel and accept a ceasefire.

"They need to join up and be responsible and accept a unilateral – not a unilateral, but a multilateral ceasefire without conditions, and then we pledge to discuss all the underlying issues, which we’ve been trying to do for the last year and a half," he added.

UNSC calls for immediate ceasefire

The UN Security Council on Monday called for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, even as UN chief Ban Ki-moon met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Qatar in the first leg of his Middle East tour which aims to end the escalating conflict that has killed 501 Palestinians and 20 Israelis.
    
The powerful 15-nation Council held a late-night emergency meeting here on Sunday and expressed serious concern about the escalation of violence in and around Gaza.
    
"The members of the Security Council express serious concern about the growing numbers of casualties," said Rwandan Ambassador Eugene Richard Gasana, whose country holds the 15-member Security Council's rotating presidency for July.
    
"The members of the Security Council call for an immediate cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement" reached between Israel and Hamas, he said.
    
The Council also emphasized the need to improve the humanitarian situation, including through humanitarian pauses, such as the five-hour truce brokered last week by the Secretary-General's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry.
    
The emergency UNSC meeting came even as Ban is in the region as part of a visit aimed at expressing solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians and help bringing about a ceasefire.
    
He met with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
    
"As I travel the region, I will continue to press for an (immediate) ceasefire – an immediate end to the Israeli military operation in Gaza and the rocket fire by Hamas and Islamic Jihad," Ban said earlier at a press conference alongwith Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiya.
    
He reiterated his demand that all sides respect international humanitarian law and stop the ongoing violence.
     
"While I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shejaiyah neighborhood in Gaza," Ban said.
    
"I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians," he added.

Gaza toll rises to 501

The Palestinian death toll on Monday rose to 501 after bodies of 16 people who were killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in the south of the Gaza Strip were found this morning.
    
Israel has said its 18 soldiers have been killed since the ground operation began last week, the largest number of Israeli soldiers killed in combat since the 2006 Lebanon war.

'Human Shields'

Netanyahu has accused Hamas of using non-combatants as human shields, and he said the army was concentrating on military targets. "All civilian casualties are unintended by us, but actually intended by Hamas. They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can ... it's gruesome," Netanyahu said. "They use telegenically-dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead the better."

The UN Relief and Works Agency said that 81,000 displaced people had now taken refuge in 61 UNRWA shelters in Gaza.

Egypt, Qatar, France and United Nations, among others, have all been pushing, with little sign of progress, for a permanent ceasefire in the worst surge of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in two years.

Qatar was due to host a meeting between Abbas and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday, a senior Qatari source said.

Speaking in Doha, Ban described the fighting in Gaza as an "open wound and we must stop the bleeding now." He was due to travel to Kuwait, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan during the week, a UN statement said. The Qatari source said Abbas would also meet Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

The Western-backed Abbas in April struck a reconciliation deal with Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from forces loyal to his Fatah movement. The agreement led to the formation of a Palestinian unity government and Israel's pullout from US-brokered peace talks.

Hamas has already rejected one Egyptian-brokered truce, saying any deal must include an end to a blockade of the coastal area and a recommitment to a ceasefire reached after an eight-day war in Gaza in 2012.

Hostilities escalated following the killing last month of three Jewish students that Israel blames on Hamas. Hamas neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

The apparent revenge murder of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem, for which Israel has charged three Israelis, further fuelled tension.

JPN/Agencies

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