The UN Security Council is to hold an emergency meeting at 2.30am to discuss the situation in Gaza.

Diplomats said the meeting was requested by Jordan following a request from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for an immediate session of the council, as the Palestinian death toll on the 13th day of Israel's Gaza offensive rose to 438. 

"I am calling for an urgent session tonight of the UN Security Council," he said in a televised speech from the Qatari capital Doha.

"The situation is intolerable," he said, describing the Israeli attacks as "crimes against humanity". 

The Arab League has described Israeli attacks on Gaza that have killed at least 100 Palestinians today as a "war crime".

Nabil el-Araby, the head of the Cairo-based Arab League, considers Israeli shelling and ground attacks in Shejaia in northeast Gaza a "war crime" against Palestinian civilians which Israel is responsible for.

Palestinian witnesses and officials said at least 62 Palestinians were killed in shelling of the Gaza neighbourhood that left bodies strewn in the streets and thousands fleeing for shelter.

The Palestinian leadership also condemned the blistering Israeli attack. 

In a statement, the newly-inaugurated Palestinian government described the attack as a "war crime" which required immediate international intervention.  

"The Palestinian consensus government condemned in the strongest terms the heinous massacre committed by the Israeli occupation forces against innocent Palestinian civilians in the neighbourhood of Shejaiya," it said. 

The office of president Mahmud Abbas also issued a similar statement condemning the attack as a "massacre."

A spokesperson for the armed wing of Hamas has claimed that an Israeli soldier has been captured during fighting.

The claim was made on a Hamas television station. There has been no immediate Israeli comment.

Earlier, Israel's military said 13 soldiers were killed in a series of attacks in Gaza, the heaviest Israeli death toll in a single day of battle in years.

Hamas militants said they had ambushed Israeli troops and detonated explosives around their vehicle in the Palestinian territory.

Other Islamist militants said they had attacked soldiers in a house in Gaza.

A further eight people have reportedly been killed in air strikes on Gaza's Rimal district.

The death toll following the single bloodiest day in Gaza in five years has now reached 438.

UN Secretary General calls for Israeli 'restraint'

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged Israel to "exercise maximum restraint" and spare the lives of civilians in its campaign in Gaza.

He also condemned the "atrocious action" of Israel in Shejaia, near Gaza city.

"While I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children had been killed in Israeli military strikes in Shejaia. I condemn this atrocious action," he told a press conference in Doha, his first stop on a regional trip aimed at bringing an end to the fighting.

"Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians," he said, adding that it also "must respect the humanitarian law," as it pressed on with its major military campaign that began on 8 July.

US's Kerry defends Israeli attacks

The United States believes Israel has a right to defend itself from rockets fired from Gaza and from attacks launched from cross-border tunnels, US Secretary of StateJohn Kerry said.

"You have a right to go in and take out those tunnels," Kerry told Fox News.

"We completely support that. And we support Israel's right to defend itself against rockets that are continuing to come in."

Israel, which has accused Palestinian militant group Hamas of using civilians as human shields by launching rockets from residential areas, sent ground forces into the Gaza Strip on Thursday after 10 days of air, naval and artillery barrages failed to stop the salvoes.

Kerry called on Hamas to consider a ceasefire.

"It is important for Hamas to now step up and be reasonable and understand that (if) you accept the ceasefire, you save lives," he said.

In a separate interview on CNN, Kerry said President Barack Obama will ask him to go to the Middle East soon to aid in efforts to secure a ceasefire.