GAZA CITY — A soldier who was previously believed captured by Hamas was killed in battle, said the Israeli military Saturday night.
The military announced that 23-year-old Hadar Goldin of the Givati infantry brigade had been killed Friday. Israel's defense minister, along with the chief military rabbi, met with the soldier's family at their home in the town of Kfar Saba.
Hundreds of well-wishers from around Israel gathered outside their home, praying and showing their support. There was an outpouring of grief among the crowd when the military's announcement was made public.
Earlier on Saturday, defying international pleas for yet another truce, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said military forces will continue the ground operation in Gaza at full force until it accomplishes its goal of destroying Hamas tunnels.
Speaking at a news conference, Netanyahu said that after those tunnels are destroyed, Israeli forces will "regroup" in accordance with their own security needs.
"We promise the citizens of Israel to bring back calm and order, and we will continue to operate until this goal is reached no matter how much time it takes,'' he said.
The news came as Israeli media reported troops were already pulling back from parts of Gaza after having destroyed 31 tunnels since last month.
The Israeli military told residents of the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya that it was safe for them to return to their homes, while Israeli troops and tanks also moved away from an area near the south-central Gaza town of Khan Younis.
Meanwhile, cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel won't be sending a delegation to the proposed truce talks in Cairo, alleging that Hamas' repeated violations of previous cease-fires "leads us to the conclusion that with this organization there is no point speaking" about any deal.
Earlier Saturday, shelling intensified on the southern Gaza town of Rafah as Israeli forces searched for Goldin. At least 35 Palestinians were killed, and the area's main hospital was evacuated, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra.
Since hostilities broke out July 8, more than 1,650 Palestinians have died and more than 8,000 have been wounded, al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 63 of its soldiers and three civilians, according to the Israeli military.
Across the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials reported more than 150 airstrikes Saturday, including several against mosques and one against the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza City.
The Israeli military said it struck 200 targets in the past 24 hours, including five mosques concealing weapons. It said the university was being used as a research and weapons manufacturing site for Hamas.
Gaza militants, meanwhile, have fired 74 rockets at Israel since midnight, the Israeli military said.
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Many Israelis say they just want an end to the conflict but only after the mission is accomplished.
"I don't want our government to finish it before we accomplish our objectives: to destroy the tunnels, to take out their rockets and to damage their terrorist infrastructure so that they will not be able to bomb us for a few years," said Bosmat Habani, 25, of Tel Aviv. "I have no illusions that we can achieve peace, but I am hoping we can get some quiet time. They (Hamas) don't want peace."
It's a similar sentiment across the border in Gaza.
"If Israel has got a problem with Hamas then why it does not deal with them directly," asked Omar Melou, 35, who lost members of his family and his home in the conflict. "Why instead does it harm the civilians, kill children and destroy their homes?"
The longer the conflict goes on, the more Gazans see a reason to keep fighting, Melou said.
"The Israelis are helping Hamas to raise its popularity," he said. "People in Gaza want the deaths of their loved ones avenged, whether by Hamas or any other party."
Meanwhile, in Gaza, residents are coping with shortages of power, water and fuel and scrambling to stock up on food supplies and other necessities. The war has severely disrupted daily life with many shops and other businesses shut and hospitals struggling to treat the thousands of wounded.
"It's getting worse — and it was already a dire situation before," said Abu Zaid of Gaza City. "Water stations cannot pump water due to power outages, people cannot watch TV or have light at night or wash — they cannot charge their mobile phones."
In Israel, the conflict has also interrupted daily life, residents say.
"I have much less work," said Habani, who is an actress. "I am sad and upset but I am trying to get on with my life. Yes, it's not comfortable, and we suffer, and we have to get up at weird hours because of missile alerts, but here in Tel Aviv we should not complain too much because people in the south are much worse."
Contributing: Victor Kotsev in Istanbul; the Associated Press