GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli bulldozers demolished more than a dozen tunnels Saturday in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian authorities reported intensified airstrikes and shelling as the death toll from Israel’s ground offensive rose to at least 342 Palestinians. Diplomats struggled to revive a cease-fire.
Israeli soldiers uncovered 34 shafts leading into about a dozen underground tunnels, some as deep as 30 meters (yards), that could be used to carry out attacks, the military said.
Still, Palestinian gunmen managed to infiltrate Israel from Gaza using another tunnel and killed two Israeli soldiers and injured several others, the military said. At least one Palestinian was killed in the clash. Hamas said 12 of its fighters participated in the attack.
It was the second time Palestinians had used their network of underground tunnels to penetrate Israel in the current round of fighting. Israel embarked on its ground offensive late Thursday in part to seek and destroy the tunnels.
Thirteen heavily armed Palestinians sneaked through a tunnel from Gaza and emerged inside Israel near a southern community. The militants were killed by an Israeli airstrike after they popped out of the tunnel.
“I think finding 13 tunnels in such a short time is a great achievement,” he told Channel 10 TV.
He said demolishing the tunnels is dangerous. Troops must assume the passages are booby trapped. Soldiers first close off the area and check for additional openings. Then robots go inside to look around, he said.
After that, the tunnels are destroyed either by special explosives or by heavy equipment. He said it can take up to 12 hours to destroy each tunnel.
“These tunnels aren’t for hiding. They are intended for large attacks in Israeli communities and army bases,” chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz said.
Footage released by the Israeli military showed tunnels being demolished by army excavators and other equipment on the ground and by airstrikes from above.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said the new round of airstrikes raised the death toll from the 12-day offensive to at least 342 Palestinians, many of them civilians.
In Israel, a Gaza rocket killed a man near the southern city of Dimona and wounded four people, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, marking the second Israeli civilian casualty from the fighting. An Israeli soldier was killed after the start of the ground operation, probably from friendly fire.
Casualties could mount quickly if the military moves deeper into urban areas.
Some 50,000 Palestinians are already staying in United Nations shelters, according to UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency for Palestinians.