GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli forces, backed by heavy tank fire and airstrikes, moved deeper into southern Gaza late Friday in search of a soldier apparently captured in a clash with Hamas militants earlier in the day. At least 62 Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers were killed in the fierce fighting that quickly shattered a U.S.-brokered cease-fire.<br />
The truce collapsed less than two hours after it began. The Israeli Cabinet held a rare session after the start of the Jewish Sabbath on Friday evening to weigh options, including whether to expand the 25-day-old operation against Hamas.<br />
In Gaza's southern Rafah area, the military urged residents in phone calls to stay indoors as troops advanced.<br />
"We are under fire. Every minute or so, tanks fire shells," said Ayman al-Arja, 45, a resident of the area.<br />
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon blamed Hamas for violating what was meant to be a three-day humanitarian cease-fire and demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the missing soldier.<br />
Both Israel and Hamas accused each other of breaking the cease-fire, which had been announced by the U.S. and the U.N. and took effect at 8:00 a.m. Friday.<br />
The breakdown of the truce and the apparent capture of the Israeli soldier set the stage for a major escalation. The conflict has already devastated large swaths of the coastal area and killed at least 1,500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to Palestinian officials. Israel has lost 63 soldiers and three civilians.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
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