Israel since June 21st 2014

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Boy killed as Israel sweeps for teens
Weekend Australian
Saturday, June 21, 2014

GAZA: Israeli soldiers killed a 14-year-old Palestinian in the occupied West Bank yesterday as they cracked down on the Islamist movement Hamas in their search for three missing teenagers. Troops also wounded two Palestinians in a refugee camp just outside Jerusalem, medical sources said, as clashes flared during the military operation in which forces have detained 330 Palestinians over the past week.

Israel accuses Hamas of kidnapping two 16-year-olds and a 19-year-old who went missing at a hitchhiking stop in the West Bank, an allegation the Islamist group has dismissed. But Israel seized on the opportunity to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian leadership, who formed a merged administration for the West Bank and Gaza Strip just this month for the first time in seven years.

Palestinian security and medical sources said 15-year-old ­Mohammed Dudin was shot in the chest in a clash that erupted after Israeli soldiers arrived to conduct arrests in the village of Dura, south of the West Bank city of Hebron. Mohammed was taken to hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. The army said villagers had thrown stones and petrol bombs at troops on an arrest mission in Dura, and that soldiers had responded with live fire. A spokeswoman said the army was examining the reports of teen's death. In Qalandia refugee camp just north of Jerusalem, troops shot and wounded two young Palestinians, medics said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, the head of the new unity government appointed on June 2, attended the main weekly Muslim prayers in Hebron later yesterday, but the army prevented him from attending Mohammed 's burial in Dura. Hamas has lashed out at the Palestinian leadership for its decision to maintain security co-ordination with Israel despite the massive wave of searches and arrests.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al Malki accused Israel of an "exaggerated" response, and questioned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's assertion that Hamas was behind the abductions. "He cannot keep blaming one side without showing evidence," Mr Malki said. "Three kids have disappeared, but in exchange for that the Israeli army has taken 300 Palestinians," he said. "Their reaction went beyond logic."

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said, meanwhile, that Israel's "working assumption" was that "the abductees are alive, until proven otherwise". Speaking to security forces in the West Bank, Mr Yaalon said: "We have no intention to sow unrest on the ground — we are acting responsibly."

Israeli troops also carried out search and arrest operations overnight in the Dheisheh refugee camp, near Bethlehem, and in Arura, north of Ramallah, detaining 25 suspects and searching about 200 premises. Troops were faced with "sporadic confrontations" in the form of "rocks, explosives and flammable devices" and responded to "the life-endangering threat with live fire", it said. Since the start of the operation last week, troops have "scanned about 1150 locations in search for the abducted boys and for terror elements". "Approximately 330 suspects were detained, out of which 240 (are) terrorists associated with Hamas," the army said.

On Thursday, the Israeli military also carried out a series of air strikes in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for rocket fire against southern Israel, wounding six people, four of them children, Palestinian medics said.

The missing teenagers are Gilad Shaer, 16, from Talmon settlement near Ramallah, Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon, and Eyal Ifrach, 19, from Elad, both in central Israel. They disappeared from a popular hitchhiking spot in the southern West Bank Gush Etzion settlement late on June 12.

At a meeting with the families of the missing youths, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Israel should pursue its crackdown on Hamas. "We must continue to pressure the terrorists, to remove their sources of funding," he told them in remarks relayed by his office. "Just as there were sanctions against Iran, we must raise the sanctions against any source of terror."

Israeli strikes hit Syrian bases
The Australian
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

QUNEITRA Ten troops were killed in Israel airstrikes against Syrian army positions in the Golan Heights yesterday after a teenager on the Israeli side was killed in an attack from Syria. "The IDF (Israeli army) targeted nine Syrian army positions in response to the earlier attack that originated in Syria killing an Israeli teenager and injuring two other Israeli civilians," an army spokesman said.

The action marked the most serious escalation along the ceasefire line with Syria since the 1973 Middle East War, with Israel's Defence Minister warning that Damascus would pay a "high price" for helping militants bent on harming the Jewish state.

The targeted sites of Israel's retaliatory raids included "Syrian military headquarters and launching positions", and "direct hits were confirmed", said Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, the army's foreign press spokesman. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Israeli strikes destroyed two tanks, two artillery batteries and a brigade headquarters.

The airstrikes came after Mohammed Qaraqra, the 13-year-old son of an Israeli Defence Ministry contractor, was killed on the Golan on Sunday morning. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the deadly attack. "Israel's enemies will stop at nothing," he told the boy's grieving father. "They won't stop at attacking civilians or even murdering children, as happened this morning."

Israel's Defence Ministry said the boy was killed when a blast hit the car he was travelling in with his father and another contractor, both of whom were wounded. Military sources said the vehicle belonged to the Defence Ministry and was being used "as part of construction work on the border".

US Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Paris on Thursday
Source: AP
Israelis offer help against militants
Weekend Australian
Saturday, June 28, 2014

PARIS: Israel has offered to help moderate Arab nations threatened by a lightning offensive by Islamic militants in Iraq, as the country's top diplomat met US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Mr Kerry at a meeting in Paris that "the extremists currently operating in Iraq will try to challenge the stability in the entire Gulf region, first of all in Kuwait", a statement from the Israeli minister's office said. "Israel could provide effective and reliable assistance to moderate Arab states who are dealing with extremists," it said, without going into specific details.

Just a few days after visiting Iraq, Mr Kerry said it was "important that countries in the region stand together against the threat", according to a senior US official. Mr Kerry was holding a series of meetings with Middle East allies in Paris to discuss the crisis in Iraq after visiting both Baghdad and Arbil to press Iraqi leaders to unify against the dangers posed by ISIS.

Mr Lieberman said Israeli interests were converging with moderate Arab nations "with both sides dealing with the threat of Iran, world jihad and al-Qa'ida, as well as the spill-over of conflicts in Syria and in Iraq to neighbouring countries". "Today, there is a basis for the creation of a new diplomatic-political structure in the Middle East," his office said.

The offer came as the White House yesterday asked lawmakers for $US500 million ($531m) to train and equip vetted Syrian rebels, in what would be a significant escalation of US involvement. Following several signals in recent weeks by President Barack Obama's administration — and months of pressure from legislators such as Senator John McCain — the White House said it intended to "ramp up US support to the moderate Syrian opposition". The request is part of a $US1.5 billion regional stabilisation initiative.

The proposed funding would serve "vetted elements of the Syrian armed opposition to help defend the Syrian people, stabilise areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement", the White House said. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the funding "would build on the administration's longstanding efforts to empower the moderate Syrian opposition".


Same day
The Mahdi Army attracts eager recruits as all-out Shia-Sunni conflict draws nearer
John Lyons in Baghdad

THEY can't get to war quickly enough. Even for a country traumatised by decades of conflict, the men and boys of Iraq are answering the call to holy war. It matters not that they are being asked to confront the most brutal terrorist group of our time, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Shia clerics of Iraq have declared a fatwa: it's time for war.

Carpenter Ayad Selim, 41, is answering the call. As he welcomes us to his Baghdad home, his five children run amok. In a corner of his lounge room his sixth child, a one-month-old girl, sleeps. In another corner are his battle fatigues, neatly folded after years in storage, and his Kalashnikov. "The leader Moqtada al-Sadr has ordered us to come together and defend our land and our shrines," he says. Selim tries on his fatigues — he jokes that they're a bit tighter than last time he wore them in 2006.

He is part of the militia of Shia cleric al-Sadr — the Mahdi Army, or Sadrists. They fought against the US army after the 2003 invasion and Selim spent 16 months in a US prison in Iraq. He hopes that his four sons will also fight in the Mahdi Army — he has even named one of his sons Moqtada after "our leader".

It was not just the Americans who came to fear the Mahdi Army but the Sunnis as well. After al-Qa'ida in Iraq — now called ISIS — attacked a Shia holy shrine in 2006, the Sadrists reacted with fury. Many of the worst images of Iraq's civil war — the butchered bodies — came after the Mahdi Army rampaged through Baghdad's Sunni suburbs in revenge. As Iraq sinks further into chaos, it looks like it may all happen again. Selim, like many Iraqis, has seen the ISIS videos of its atrocities in parts of Iraq. "When I see the videos of ISIS, it makes me want to go and fight," he says.

A short drive away someone much younger is also preparing for war — Moqtada Hatem, 16. He's also training for the Mahdi Army. Every evening from 7 to 11 at his school he's learning "close combat", how to use a Kalashnikov and "how to look for cover". In 2005, as a seven-year-old, Moqtada carried equipment to help the Sadrists against US troops. This time he's old enough to fight. What would he do if he came across an ISIS fighter ? "I would kill him," he says. Isn't his mother worried about him going to war ? "She's encouraging me," he says.

His friend Murtdala Kamel, 15, says he's prepared to sacrifice himself "to defend our land". Who would he be sacrificing himself for ? "Allah first and Moqtada al-Sadr second."

The Middle East is heading towards yet another religious war between the two main versions of Islam — Sunni and Shia. The region has been rocked in the past three weeks since ISIS launched its blistering offensive in Iraq. Within 48 hours it captured Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, as Iraqi soldiers, aware of ISIS's reputation, abandoned their posts.

You realise before you even land in Baghdad that this is an unusual place — planes stay high until over a secure area near the airport and then make a sharp corkscrew descent. Iraq is on the brink of war because old hatreds have been stirred up. After a few years of relative harmony, Sunnis are angry over what they see as the brutality and discrimination of the government run by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

It's not just the purging of Sunnis and Kurds from the government that has caused anger. What has pushed many Sunnis to take up arms is Maliki's policy of integrating Shia militias into the army. For the past year, such paramilitary groups have roamed Baghdad, killing Sunnis with impunity.

ISIS has found a receptive Sunni community desperate to remove Maliki. What ISIS represents is not new; so horrific were the actions of al-Qa'ida in Iraq during 2006-08 that fellow Sunnis chased it out of Iraq — the so-called "Sunni awakening". But the jihadists have come back to Iraq with enormous resources and a leader who is clearly a shrewd military tactician, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Before seizing Mosul, in Iraq's north, ISIS outfoxed the Iraqi army by massing in various spots along the border, making the Iraqis think the group was preparing to attack Baghdad, further south, so they left Mosul largely unprotected. Iraq's million-strong army, on which the US spent $US25 billion, has melted away in many parts.

At least two divisions of soldiers were reported to have fled when faced with ISIS. Jane's Defence Weekly has suggested the army is losing as many as 300 soldiers a day from desertions, deaths and injuries. Soldiers deserting Mosul have cited snipers, suicide bombers, scarce ammunition and even hostile residents as reasons for leaving the city," the magazine says. Asharq al-Awsat newspaper quotes one Iraqi soldier, who survived the ISIS attack on Mosul, as saying: "Our commanders abandoned us while we were sleeping at night, and fled by helicopter. "When we woke up in the morning, there were no (military) officials at the post."

Consulting group Global Security reports defence experts as saying about 60 of the 243 Iraqi combat battalions cannot be accounted for and all their equipment is lost. It cites US officials as saying that five of the Iraqi army's 14 divisions are "combat ineffective". But most of the areas conquered by ISIS have been Sunni, making it relatively easy for the armed group.

ISIS will face more resistance near Baghdad, a Shia stronghold bristling with would-be martyrs. The army appears to have decided it cannot recapture areas taken by ISIS and will instead fortify Baghdad and the four holy Shia shrines. The shrines, where major figures of Islam are buried, are at Najaf, Karbala, Samarra and Kadhimiya. The shrines are a red line for the government — should ISIS damage these, as it has promised to do, it would almost certainly kindle an all-out war.

The only army that seems a match for ISIS is the Kurdish forces, the peshmerga. The semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the few winners in this conflict — it has expanded its territory. When the army fled, the Kurds seized Kirkuk, which will vastly increase their wealth. They will earn more from Kirkuk's oil than under current financial arrangements with Baghdad.

The militia recruitment — including teenagers — is causing concern. Kurdish leader Abdul Razak Fatah tells The Weekend Australian: "This is a big problem — to recruit young people, train them, give them weapons. We consider the militarisation of society very dangerous." The Kurds are rejecting dialogue with ISIS. "We are not ready to open dialogue with terrorists," Fatah says.

Recent victories by ISIS give it three fronts on which to attack Baghdad. To the north, ISIS controls Mosul, Tal Afar, Tikrit and the Ajeel oil facility. It is trying to take Baquba, 60km north of Baghdad, which would give it a staging post for an assault. To the west, ISIS controls most of Anbar — the largest province — including crossings with Syria. Any push from the west is likely to come from Falluja, 43km from Baghdad airport. To the south, ISIS is targeting Babil province.

The brutality of ISIS, while savage and filmed, is not unmatched on the other side. The Iraqi army this week paraded ISIS fighters it had killed on the bonnets of military vehicles.

ISIS's offensive took the West by surprise but it should not have. The US embassy in Baghdad has about 5000 employees, including a strong CIA presence. It would have been worth one of those 5000 subscribing to The New Yorker for an article in April by Dexter Filkins on why Iraq was set to explode. Filkins demonstrates how the US bungled — yet again — by anointing Maliki as PM. He reveals how Maliki had helped former US administrator Paul Bremer purge the government and military of anyone with a connection to Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist party — so as PM he was bound to inflame hatred. Filkins quotes a former CIA officer as saying the US had been given specific reports about "the darkest aspects of Maliki's past".

But that made no difference — "All we knew was that he was not a super-duper bad guy," one US diplomat is quoted as saying. It seems that because Maliki has failed to find any common ground among Iraqis, the real "super-duper bad guys" — ISIS — are now winning.

Israelis gather for a candlelit vigil after learning that the bodies of the teenagers had been found. Source: AP
Israel vows revenge as bodies found
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: Agencies
Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ISRAEL and Hamas last night were braced for a major escalation of hostilities after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found more than two weeks after they went missing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed "Hamas will pay" while Hamas said any new attack would "open the gates of hell".

"They were abducted and murdered in cold blood by human animals," Mr Netanyahu said. Israelis were devastated by the news, having held scores of prayer vigils and rallies calling for their safe return. Only the night before they were found the mothers of the three teenagers attended a large prayer vigil in Tel Aviv.

After an 18-day search across the West Bank, or Palestinian territories, the three bodies were found under rocks in a pit near Hebron, a 10-minute drive from where they were kidnapped. The leader of the Shas religious party, Arye Deri, said: "All of Israel is mourning tonight with the three bereaved families who showed us all what faith and strength through Judaism means." The case has dominated Israel's news and public discussion since the disappearances on June 12.

Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were kidnapped while trying to get a ride at a popular hitchhiking spot near the settlement of Gush Etzion. They had been studying at their yeshivas in the West Bank and trying to return to their homes in Israel. One managed to make a call to police saying he had been kidnapped but the operator thought it was a hoax and ignored it. Hamas has denied any involvement but Mr Netanyahu insists he has evidence that they were involved. "Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay," he said.

Last night the Israeli army planted explosives around the home of one of the men they said was responsible and destroyed it. The IDF also bombed 34 targets in the Gaza Strip — which is controlled by Hamas — but said this was in response to rocket fire, not the kidnappings.

The discovery of the bodies inflamed tensions in Jerusalem. Israeli army radio reported that a Palestinian youth was attacked by a group of Jews in the centre of Jerusalem and that a Palestinian taxi driver was attacked with tear gas.

US President Barack Obama condemned "this senseless act of terror against innocent youth". Israeli Defence Forces spokesman Brigadier General Moti Almoz said: "We are determined to strike at Hamas and to attack any target connected to Hamas and to reach the kidnappers and their helpers."

Several groups in Israel warned against collective punishment. Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said collective punishment had been employed by Israel during the search for the perpetrators — which included the killing of five Palestinians. The leader of the Meretz party, Zahava Gal-On, said: "There should be a distinction between the perpetrators, who should be punished to the full extent of the law, and the moderate forces in the Palestinian Authority."

Israeli security forces and a Palestinian man clash in the *Shuafat neighbourhood in Arab East
Jerusalem yesterday after a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and murdered. Source: AFP

* Shuafat — Five kilometres north of the Old City (and the Wailing Wall) on the main road to Ramallah — Editor

Arab boy's murder unleashes fury
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Friday, July 4, 2014

VIOLENT clashes rocked Jerusalem yesterday following the discovery in a forest of the charred body of a 16-year-old Arab boy. The riots were fuelled by a belief among many Arabs — articulated by the boy's father — that Israeli authorities were not making sufficient efforts to find the boy's killers. "If things were different and an Arab kidnapped an Israeli, it would have been uncovered in moments," the father said. The firing of tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets echoed across the city through the night as parts of East Jerusalem became battlegrounds.

Emotions in Jerusalem — a mixed Jewish and Arab city — were already high following Tuesday's funeral of three Israeli teenagers found dead after an 18-day search. Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Sha'er, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were found on Monday dumped in a pit near Hebron in the West Bank after being kidnapped on June 12.

The Arab teen, Mohamed Abu Khdeir, was forced into a car about 4am on Wednesday as he walked to a mosque opposite his house in the suburb of Beit Hanina (eight kilometres north of the old city) to attend early prayers for Ramadan. His body was so badly burnt that it was impossible for the family to identify him — forensic experts needed to take a DNA sample from his mother and compare that to the body they found.

Police did not allow Mohammed's family to see his body, which his father, Hussein Abu Khdeir, said was not fair. He said the family was disappointed with the lack of police response. "We notified the police of the incident when it happened but until now they haven't moved a muscle or arrested the kidnappers, despite their clear appearance in the surveillance cameras," he told the Maan news service. He has pictures on his mobile phone from surveillance cameras mounted at nearby shops of two young men who he said abducted his son.

Also fuelling anger in the Arab community in East Jerusalem were reports that people from the same car used to abduct Mohammed were witnessed the previous day trying to force a 10-year-old boy into it, but the boy's family fought them off. Witnesses were quoted as saying they had written down the registration of the car and passed it on to police but police said they did not receive any such report. The Israeli police are being criticised by both sides — one of the three Israeli teenagers had made a call saying he had been kidnapped but a police operator assumed it was a hoax.

Mohammed's cousin, Majdi Abu Khdeir, said the kidnappers should suffer the same fate as the kidnappers of the three Jewish teenagers, whose houses in Hebron have been destroyed with explosives. "The Israeli police and Israeli government should do the same as they have done in Hebron — demolish and blow the settler houses who have done this crime," he told CNN. He described Mohammed as "so small and so gullible, he believes anything you tell him". Despite the family's anger at the police response, Mr Abu Khdeir urged an end to rioting.

The family of Naftali Fraenkel condemned Mohammed's murder. "There is no difference between blood and blood," Naftali's uncle, Yishai Fraenkel, said. "There is no justification, no forgiveness and no atonement for any murder." The kidnapping came amid a wave of "price tag" attacks against Palestinians by Jewish extremists.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn the kidnapping "just as we condemned the kidnapping and murder of the three settlers: it is incumbent upon Israel to take measures on the ground to stop the settler attacks and the chaos that was left in the aftermath of Israel's acts of escalation".

As rioting escalated, Mr Netanyahu described Mohammed's murder as "reprehensible" and called "on all sides not to take the law into their own hands". But key figures in Israel's media criticised the country's leadership. Journalist Nadav Eyal wrote: "Our top leadership has been deeply tainted — perhaps in hope of concealing its own failures — with an effort to make people's blood boil. If that blood does boil, it will boil on all sides and then it will be spilled."

Israel, Hamas on the brink of full-scale war as attacks intensify
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ISRAEL and Hamas have moved closer to full-scale war after both sides escalated attacks across their common border. Israel's security cabinet authorised a major new air offensive following several days of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel. And last night Israeli media reported that Israel's cabinet had authorised the military to call up 40,000 reservists for a possible assault on the Gaza Strip.

The moves came during the most serious flare-up over Gaza since November 2012 as Palestinian militants rain rockets into southern Israel and Israeli warplanes pounded the territory, killing nine Palestinians. The announcement of "Operation Protective Edge" came after Hamas fired at least 80 rockets into Israel in a 24-hour period.

Shortly before Israel announced the offensive, Hamas intensified the attacks — including one night-time barrage of about 30 rockets in 30 minutes. One rocket landed as far north as Gan Yavne. In response, Israel hit Gaza from both the air and sea.

Israel Radio News reported that Israel had attacked about 50 targets in Gaza, three from sea. It quoted a military source as saying the Israeli Defence Forces had hit 10 infrastructure targets, 24 launching sites and four houses. It said the IDF's chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz had authorised plans for ground forces.

In a statement, Hamas said the targeting of the four houses "exceeded all red lines" and it threatened to respond by "broadening the range of our targets".

For several days the Israeli cabinet has debated the appropriate response to the rocket attacks, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu clashed with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Mr Lieberman accused Mr Netanyahu of not acting harshly enough against Hamas. Following that accusation, Mr Lieberman yesterday ended the unity ticket that his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, had with Mr Netanyahu's Likud.

"It is no secret that there had been disagreements with the Prime Minister that do not allow continuing the framework of Likud Beiteinu," Mr Lieberman said. "The connection didn't work during the (2013) election or after. There was no point in hiding it any more." However, Mr Lieberman said there was no reason for his party to withdraw from the coalition, and shortly after his announcement he pledged support for the government's budget plan.

A decision by Israel to send ground troops into Gaza would be significant given how densely populated the Gaza Strip is. It means Israeli soldiers fighting in an urban setting and the risks of casualties on both sides are high. Israel sent ground troops into Gaza in 2009 but refrained from doing so in the nine-day war of 2012.

Some in the Israeli cabinet — such as Mr Lieberman and the Minister for the Economy, Naftali Bennett — argue that without ground troops Israel is not able to destroy any of Hamas' military infrastructure. They argue that when Israel uses only airstrikes it finds itself in the same position two or three years later, dealing with a new wave of rockets from Gaza.

Meanwhile, riots continued in East Jerusalem and several other places after the murder of 16-year-old Arab Mohammed Abu Kdheir. Three of the six Jewish youths arrested for the murder admitted to it under questioning. Yesterday, they were taken to the spot where his body was dumped to perform a re-enactment for police. An autopsy has shown that the boy was burnt alive. It appears his kidnapping was a revenge attack for the murder of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped on June 12, and whose bodies were found dumped in a pit near Hebron.

Israeli artillery strikes a Hamas police building during an airstrike in Gaza City,
in which up to 25 Palestinians, including eight children, were killed.Source: AFP
Extract — Crisis escalates as Israel strikes Gaza
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: Agencies
Thursday, July 10, 2014

AT least 41 Palestinians, including eight children, have been killed by a massive Israeli bombing offensive on the Gaza Strip. As hostilities between Israel and Hamas dramatically escalated, Palestinian officials said 17 of those killed were civilians and the rests were Hamas fighters. Israeli jets and naval boats hit about 160 targets in Gaza as Hamas fired about 130 rockets into Israel. Air-raid sirens sounded in several cities in Israel, including Jerusalem.

Most of the rockets fired by Hamas were intercepted by Israel's "Iron Dome" — a sophisticated antimissile system that detects missiles within seconds of being fired and then fires its own missile to obliterate the incoming missile. Public bomb shelters were opened in most cities and there were no known Israeli casualties.

Hamas's rocket attacks appeared more organised than in previous wars with Israel — they fired rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem simultaneously. It appeared that the long-range rockets being used by Hamas were M-75 missiles — Gazan-made versions of the Iranian Fajr-5 missiles. Four M-75 missiles were fired towards Tel Aviv and were all intercepted. One missile travelled as far as Hadera, about 100km from Gaza — the furthest ever recorded for a rocket from Gaza.

Israel continued to prepare for a possible ground invasion of Gaza, with about 40,000 reservists having been called up. In an address to Israelis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was not eager for battle but the security of its citizens took precedence over all else. "From the perspective of the terrorist organisations all of Israel is part of one front, and all Israeli citizens are targets," he said.

In the past Mr Netanyahu has been reluctant to authorise a ground invasion of Gaza as inevitably it would result in more casualties than would air strikes. Gaza is densely populated and would allow Hamas to engage in urban warfare and the heavy use of snipers. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to pressure Israel to stop the Gaza offensive. The Defence for Children International organisation said the death and injury to children in Gaza showed Israel's "serious and extensive disregard of fundamental principles of international law."

Many on the right of Israeli politics, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are urging a ground invasion as they say Israel did not "finish the job" of destroying Hamas and its infrastructure in previous wars. But centrist members of the cabinet, such as Finance Minister Yair Lapid, are warning that there may be worse alternatives than Hamas — an apparent reference to various Salafist groups in Gaza. "Hamas is weak on such a level that we have to also examine all the possible scenarios in the event that Hamas falls and someone fills the vacuum that is created," Mr Lapid said.


Same Day
Israel faces calls to halt raids, rockets

AMMAN: One of just two Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel demanded Wednesday an immediate halt to deadly Israeli air raids against the Gaza Strip, condemning the raids as "barbaric" and calling for international intervention. Jordan "condemns the military aggression that Israel has launched in the Gaza Strip" and calls for "its immediate halt", said government spokesman Mohammad Momani. "Jordan demands Israel stop all forms of escalation".

"The international community should actively intervene to stop the Israeli aggression," Mr Momani said. "The Israeli actions violate international laws and obstruct peace efforts in the region."

Meanwhile, the US condemned Israel's rocket fire as the "deliberate targeting of civilians" by militants. The European Union also denounced the "indiscriminate" fire from Gaza and the "growing number of civilian casualties … caused by Israeli retaliatory fire" and demanded an immediate ceasefire.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged Hamas to halt its attacks, while Turkey called for an immediate end to the Israel assault. The Arab League, meanwhile, called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on the crisis. An official said the league's UN representative had been instructed "to initiate urgent consultations" to this end.

Israel bombed from Lebanon
Weekend Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: agencies
Saturday, July 12, 2014

ISRAEL has engaged in artillery fire across its northern border with Lebanon in what could be an attempt by Hezbollah to join Hamas's war with Israel. After a projectile fired from Lebanon landed in the Upper Galilee, Israel responded with artillery. The Israeli army was not certain what the projectile was or who fired it but they had soldiers on alert should Hezbollah decide to begin a war on Israel's northern border while Hamas is fighting on the southern border.

Despite mounting international pressure for a ceasefire, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel's Gaza offensive would continue and expand. At least 100 Palestinians have been killed and about 600, mostly civilians, have been injured since the offensive began on Monday. In the same period, Israel has attacked 930 targets in Gaza and 500 rockets from Gaza have been fired at Israel, with 88 of them intercepted. The UN says at least 21 children have been killed. Nine people watching the World Cup in a cafe in Gaza were killed when a missile hit and a five-year-old boy was killed in a separate attack.

Israel yesterday suffered its first casualty. A 70-year-old woman died while trying to make her way to a bomb shelter in Haifa.

Yesterday US President Barack Obama spoke to Mr Netanyahu and "called for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians," according to the White House, which said the US was willing to "facilitate a cessation of hostilities," potentially along the lines of a 2012 ceasefire the US helped broker. Appeals for a truce also came from UN chief Ban Ki-moon at an emergency meeting of the Security Council, saying a ceasefire was "more urgent than ever". Russian President Vladimir Putin also spoke to Mr Netanyahu and reportedly expressed concern about the deaths of civilians.

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem called on Israel to cease bombing residential properties. "These houses are not legitimate military targets, and attacking them is a grave violation of international humanitarian law," B'Tselem said. "The gravity of the violation is compounded when uninvolved civilians are injured."

The UN says the targeting of residential buildings is the main reason for civilian deaths. Israel says it is common for Hamas to have command centres embedded with civilian infrastructure. Mr Netanyahu says this means Hamas is committing "a double war crime" — firing rockets at civilians in Israel while using their own civilians as "human shields."

Hamas yesterday fired about 140 missiles into Israel; about 40 of them were intercepted by the "Iron Dome" anti-missile system, which fires rockets costing about $US100,000 ($106,000) each, at incoming missiles. It is usually activated only if a rocket is directed towards a populated area. Many of the rockets from Gaza have fallen in open areas. One rocket hit a petrol station in Ashdod, southern Israel, causing injury to one person. Israeli media said the US was trying to prevent an Israeli ground invasion.

Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer for Palestine at the UN, told an emergency session of the UN Security Council that Palestinians needed the help of the international community. He said Palestinians were "enduring yet another barrage of death, destruction, trauma and terror, which is being perpetrated wilfully and maliciously against them by the Israeli occupying forces before the eyes of the world as it persists with its nearly five-decades long belligerent military occupation."

The key strategic decision now for Israel is whether to proceed with a ground invasion. Israeli defence correspondent Alex Fishman said any ground invasion would have "modest and achievable" goals. "Israel is not entering this battle in optimal condition," he wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth. "It does not have much intelligence or knowledge of what is going on in the Gaza Strip, especially below ground."

Extract — Israel ramps up ground assault
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Monday, July 14, 2014

GAZA CITY: In advance of a major new aerial offensive, Israel called for a mass evacuation of Palestinians from their homes in northern Gaza. Israel's Army Radio reported that the Israeli Defence Forces had dropped leaflets and sent text messages to residents of Beit Lahiya and surrounding areas warning them to leave.

"The IDF called on the inhabitants to evacuate south of Jabalya, and then a few hours later, according to a decision, the air force will attack the northern Gaza Strip intensively in the (rocket) launching areas," Army Radio reported. "This aerial stage will actually be an intermediate step prior to a ground operation." The leaflets said civilians were requested to evacuate their residences "immediately". The UN said about 4000 Gazans had fled their homes following the warnings.

As world powers prepared to meet in Vienna over the escalating conflict, the Palestinian death toll from Israel's air campaign hit 165 following the bloodiest day yet, which left 56 people dead in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed that "no international pressure" will halt the campaign against Hamas.


Last night, news emerged of the first limited ground operation by Israeli navy commandos who attacked a rocket-launching compound in northern Gaza. The IDF reported that four commandos were lightly injured by a Hamas response to the attack but that the operation was successful. The ground operation came hours after the UN Security Council unanimously urged Israel and Hamas to return to the ceasefire agreement that ended their last round of fighting in November 2012.

Israel's air campaign claimed its highest toll on Saturday, with strikes hitting a centre for the disabled, and another that killed two nephews of Gaza's former Hamas premier, Ismail Haniya. The Israeli army says it has hit at least at least 1320 targets in Gaza.

Hamas has fired more than 800 missiles towards Israel. Air raid sirens sounded yesterday across southern and central Israel with several missiles fired towards Tel Aviv being intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system. To date Israel has sustained injuries but no fatalities.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper said 14 elderly patients in Gaza's Al Wafa rehabilitation hospital were unable to move even though Israel had fired warning shots. Israel has a system called "a knock on the roof" under which they fire a missile without a warhead at a building they intend to demolish with follow-up bombs.

The paper said while other patients had been moved, the 14 remaining patients were either immobile, being fed intravenously or could not find an alternative hospital. It said that apart from the two warning missiles, an Israeli army official had telephoned the hospital as part of the warning process before a bombing.

US warns Israel on Gaza assault
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: agencies
Tuesday, July 15, 2014

THE US has warned Israel against a ground invasion of Gaza, citing the high number of civilian deaths it will cause. Israel's Maariv newspaper reported that US President Barack Obama had urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease hostilities with Hamas. It said during a phone conversation between the leaders, Mr Obama referred to photos of Palestinian children vacating their homes after being warned the Israeli Defence Forces were preparing an escalation. "Obama stressed to Netanyahu that the diplomatic path was preferable to massive bombing of the Gaza Strip, which would elicit a harsh international response," it said.

At least 172 Palestinians have been killed and 1200 injured since the conflict between Israel and Hamas began a week ago, Palestinian medical authorities said yesterday. About 70 per cent of the dead and injured are believed to be civilians and one-third of them children.

The IDF dropped thousands of leaflets across northern Gaza warning residents of an imminent bombing offensive and urging them to leave. Thousands acted on the warnings, fleeing to other parts of the Gaza Strip. But Israel did not proceed with the bombings — possibly because of Mr Obama's phone call. Israel says it was planning the offensive because most of the rockets launched at Israel by Hamas originate from this part of the enclave.

Hamas continued to fire rockets but the Iron Dome system ensured that Israel had yet to suffer casualty. Israel said it had also intercepted a drone that came into its territory and which they believed had come from Gaza.

US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel to consider a ceasefire, as Egypt's new President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, revealed he had been approached by Mr Obama to mediate an end to hostilities. Israel's largest-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, quoted an Egyptian presidential adviser as saying Mr Sisi was in no hurry to assist and "as far as he (Mr Sisi) is concerned, Israel can continue crushing Hamas". Mr Sisi was chief of Egypt's armed forces until recently. In this capacity he led a coup against president Mohamed Morsi, who was leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Sisi has since banned the Brotherhood and imprisoned thousands of its supporters — Hamas is an offshoot and ideological ally of the Brotherhood.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian psychologist warned of the effect of the war on Gazans. Rana Nash­ashibi told Ma'an news agency that not knowing when, or how, you could die amid widespread carnage had a deliberate disempowering effect on Gazans, part of "the psychological warfare" waged by Israel. In contrast, there is a strong sense among Israelis that they have won the latest war. Columnist Sima Kadmon wrote that Israel had achieved the two things it wanted — deterrence against future rockets and a severe blow to Hamas. "They are already begging (for a ceasefire) — we have won."

Bombing of Gaza intensifies
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: agencies
Thursday, July 17, 2014

ISRAEL has intensified its bombing of the Gaza Strip and appears to be preparing for "a limited ground operation". Hours after Hamas rejected an Egypt-brokered ceasefire proposal, Israel's Army Radio reported that it appeared a limited ground operation in Gaza would soon be approved. It quoted army spokesman Brigadier General Moti Almoz saying: "We are prepared for such a scenario."

On the Palestinian side, Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was to fly to Cairo to meet his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to resuscitate Egypt's ceasefire proposal. Mr Abbas is leader of the Palestinians' Fatah faction but with the recent formation of a unity government between the two factions he may be able to broker an agreement between Hamas and Israel.

The Israeli military issued a new warning to 100,000 Palestinians in the north and east of Gaza to evacuate their homes and move towards Gaza City due to an imminent attack. Recorded phone messages were left by the Israeli army, urging residents to move to a safer location.

Hamas suggested it had been ambushed by the ceasefire proposal and expected to make a decision on it without seeing it. Its military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said "to avoid confusion and to be clear with our people, al-Qassam Brigades confirm that we haven't been contacted by any official or unofficial entities about terms of this alleged initiative".

Hamas leaders are in various locations — some are in hiding in Gaza, knowing they are targets for Israeli airstrikes while others are in neighbouring countries. At least 203 Palestinians have now been killed and about 1500 injured — the majority of them believed to be civilians. Hamas has fired about 1200 rockets while Israel has made about 1750 airstrikes on Gaza.

Israel suffered its first fatality yesterday when a 37-year-old civilian was hit by a mortar shell as he tried to take food to soldiers at the major crossing into Gaza, Erez. The newspaper Haaretz named him as Dror Khenin, a resident of the central Israeli town of Beit Areyeh. About 60 Israelis have been injured in the current conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a ceasefire along the lines of the Egyptian proposal but Hamas continued to fire about 40 rockets. After six hours of holding fire, Mr Netanyahu then ordered a renewed bombing. "Hamas chooses to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision," he said.

Meanwhile, 41 international organisations have warned of the health crisis in Gaza. A joint letter said that over the past eight days at least 138 civilians had been killed in Gaza and more than 1000 injured.

A doctor was among the dead and 19 paramedics had been injured. The organisations said four ambulances and six health centres had been damaged and one home for the disabled destroyed. Oxfam said 36 schools in Gaza had been hit by airstrikes.

Gaza's water and sanitation system has largely been destroyed. An Israeli shell also damaged Gaza's only rehabilitation centre, Wafa, but none of its 14 residents was injured. Foreign volunteers are remaining at the centre to try to deter Israel from bombing it.

Extract: Israel launches ground operation in Gaza
Hamas says Israel to 'pay a heavy price'
By Ralph Ellis, Ben Wedeman and Michael Pearson, CNN
Friday, July 18, 2014 — Updated 9:35am (AEST)

Gaza City (CNN) The Israeli military launched a ground operation into Gaza late Thursday and called an extra 18,000 reservists into the conflict with Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon ordered the ground action to destroy tunnels from Gaza into Israeli territory, according to a statement from Netanyahu's media adviser. Thirteen Hamas militants used a tunnel earlier Thursday to launch an attempted attack in Sufa, near an Israeli kibbutz, but were stopped by Israeli soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces reported.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Mark Regev, Netanyahu's spokesman, whether Israel planned to occupy Gaza for a long time. Regev didn't answer directly, but said Israel's goals are to "diminish" the Hamas military force and to show Hamas it cannot attack Israel with impunity. "We have hit Hamas hard, and we will continue to hit Hamas hard," the Israel Defense Forces tweeted.

Hamas immediately condemned the Israeli operation. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told CNN that "the beginning of the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is a dangerous step with unknown consequences. Israel will pay a heavy price for it." Later, appearing on Aqsa TV, Barhoum said, "the resistance will confront the Israeli ground invasion and will defend the people of Gaza." He said Hamas military forces are "far stronger" than in 2009 and 2012, when Hamas and Israel clashed. Militants are prepared to capture Israel soldiers and use them to trade for some of 5,000 prisoners in Israeli jails, Barhoum said.

CNN's Palestinian security sources said Israeli tanks have reached Abu Holeh and that Israeli troops are clashing with Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters along the Kissufim road. Abu Holeh is about in the center of Gaza, said CNN reporter Ben Wedeman. If Israeli forces go from there to the sea they can split Gaza as they did during the 2009 ground operation, Wedeman said. Wedeman said Israeli forces struck near a mosque in Gaza City's Zaitoun neighborhood, which has been pounded since start of bombing, with many casualties reported. Before this incursion, the IDF dropped leaflets in 14 areas of Gaza, urging residents to temporarily leave their homes.

That fighting began after a temporary cease-fire ended earlier in the day. Israel and Hamas had agreed to a five-hour United Nations brokered "humanitarian" pause Wednesday in order to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. In a statement Wednesday, the Israeli military had said it would hold its fire for five hours starting at 10:00am local time on Thursday under a plan to allow Palestinians to restock food, water and other necessities, The Associated Press reported. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Gaza militants decided to respect the pause and would refrain from firing rockets during that time.

Egypt, which had been trying to broker a permanent cease-fire, said Thursday, "If Hamas had accepted the truce Palestinian lives could have been saved." Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al-Arabi had held talks in Cairo aimed at reaching a permanent cease-fire agreement.

During Thursday's temporary cease-fire, Gaza banks opened for the first time in 10 days. Residents poured into the streets. Red Cross officials visited hospitals and damaged houses to assess medical needs, and worked with local officials to fix water pipelines. Some work was also done to repair power lines, the United Nations said. At least 10 to 15 trucks entered Gaza through the Karem Shalom border crossing once it opened at 1pm (8pm AEST), according to Ra'ed Fatooh, the Palestinian official in charge of the crossing in Gaza. Goods were limited to medical supplies and basic foodstuffs such as rice, sugar, oil, canned food, flour and other basic goods, he said.

Fallout continued from the deaths the day before of four cousins ages 9 to 11 who died in an Israeli military strike on a Gaza beach. The results of a preliminary investigation suggests the deaths were the result of a "a tragic misidentification of the target," Regev told CNN. "We didn't want to kill those four boys. That was not our intention," Regev said. "I'd even say the opposite is true. Had we known that that missile was aimed at four young men like that we would have not sent the missile."

A Hamas official called the killings a "war crime." "Those children were not firing rockets, they were just playing," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri told reporters Wednesday. Regev, however, said a legitimate Hamas target was nearby, highlighting what he called a "complex combat environment" in crowded Gaza City and surrounding areas. Israeli officials say militants often use mosques, schools and other crowded places to hide rockets and other weapons.

Extract: As death toll rises, fighting between Israel and Hamas lights up Gaza skies
By Michael Martinez and Ben Wedeman, CNN
Saturday, July 19, 2014 — Updated 4:56pm (AEST)

Gaza City (CNN) — The death toll in Israeli military operations in Gaza rose to 307 people on Saturday, a Palestinian health official said. The night skies had been illuminated Friday by clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas militants throughout the 27-mile-long Palestinian territory.

With fighting reported all along the coastal enclave, casualties poured into Gaza City's Shifaa Hospital, including children, after Israeli artillery shelled east of the city, physicians told the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV. Children comprise 72 of the dead, said Gaza health ministry spokesman Dr. Ashraf al-Qedra. More than 2,250 people have been injured in Gaza since Operation Protective Edge began last week, he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that ground troops are prepared to expand an offensive against Hamas militants.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will travel Saturday or Sunday to Qatar, "where we're exerting every possible effort in order to do one thing: stop this bloodshed," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. "In the last 24 hours, 68 Palestinians have been killed, the infrastructure has been destroyed, more than 20,000 homes have been damaged or totally destroyed. This madness must stop," Erakat told CNN in phone interview from Turkey in the early hours of Saturday. Abbas was meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and spoke earlier with Pope Francis about the conflict.

Israeli tanks and soldiers are plunging deeper into Gaza, and the fighting against Hamas led to a high toll of casualties and a doubling of displaced Palestinians to 40,000. That prompted a UN relief agency to seek $60 million, authorities said.

President Barack Obama said Friday he spoke with Netanyahu and restated US support for Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas rockets being fired from Gaza. "In fact, while I was having the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, sirens went off in Tel Aviv," Obama said. Those sirens sounded in response to a Hamas rocket attack on the coastal Israeli city, an Israeli government spokesman said. But Obama also said he hoped Israel's ground assault on Gaza would continue to take an approach that "minimizes civilian casualties." "I also made clear that the United States and our friends and allies are deeply concerned about the risks of further escalation and the loss of more innocent life," Obama said.

The Israel Defense Forces are targeting tunnels used by Hamas and others to slip into Israel and to smuggle in weaponry and supplies. The Israeli military conducted at least four ground incursions into Gaza and about 90 airstrikes, said Jeffrey Feltman, the UN undersecretary general for political affairs, in a briefing Friday to the UN Security Council.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was scheduled to travel to the region Saturday in an effort to "end the violence and find a way forward," Feltman said. Most of the casualties have been civilians, according to the United Nations.

The IDF said early Friday that one Israeli soldier was killed by friendly fire in northern Gaza, the second Israeli fatality of the conflict. Seven soldiers were wounded. The IDF said its troops had killed at least 17 fighters and captured 13, in addition to uncovering 13 tunnels.

Hamas senior official Ghazi Hamad was asked in a CNN interview on why the militants wouldn't agree to a cease-fire and whether their refusal would amount to a death sentence for many Palestinians in the face of Israel's superior military. "Look, we have some demands. … They should listen to us," Hamad said. "We are not against this cease-fire. We want to live. We want to be also in a good situation."

Hamas leaders had rejected an earlier Egypt-backed cease-fire proposal, saying they had not been consulted on the deal and complaining that it did not address their broader demands, such as opening Gaza border crossings and freeing some Palestinian prisoners. Hamas' Al Qassam Brigades claimed that "we are winning this battle with the grace of God and with the resolve of our people in Gaza," spokesman Abu Obadiah told Al-Aqsa TV. "We are ready for a long, drawn-out battle with the enemy," he added.

Before the incursion, the IDF dropped leaflets in 14 areas of Gaza, urging residents to temporarily leave their homes. "The IDF is a moral army, and it does not aspire to harm even one single innocent person," Netanyahu said Friday. "Not a single one. We are only operating against terrorist targets." But many residents of Gaza have said they have nowhere to go in the small, impoverished strip of land. Border crossings with Israel and Egypt are closed.

"Since the Israelis started this 11 days ago, they have been telling us to leave. Where our we supposed to go — to the Gaza Sheraton ? Or take a hike in the forest ?" said Al Madhoun, the resident of northern Gaza.

Extract: Gazans flee shelling as Israel expands ground incursion
By Ben Brumfield, Ben Wedeman and Michael Martinez, CNN
Sunday, July 20, 2014 — Updated 4:49pm (AEST), 9:49am (Israel time)

Gaza City (CNN) — Hundreds of Palestinians fled in panic into Gaza City on Sunday, as Israeli troops focused their firepower on the nearby town of Shaja'ia. The shelling and bombing killed 13 people, Hamas' health ministry reported. A towering column of black smoke rose from Shaja'ia and live video showed a helicopter gunship chopping by overhead. Ambulances rushed up to take the wounded to hospitals, where moments later, they were rolled into triage. The attack wounded another 200 people, Gaza health minister Dr. Ashraf al-Qedra said in a tweet.

The Israel Defense Forces announced that it is expanding its ground offensive into Gaza on Sunday. It is adding more troops to the incursion it began on Thursday after more than a week of airstrikes. As the battle between Israel and Hamas militants grows, the death toll in Gaza is rising at an accelerated clip. On Saturday, 62 Palestinians died, according to Gaza health officials, as clashes between Israeli soldiers and Hamas Islamist fighters intensified, and Israeli tanks shelled targets in northern Gaza.

The overall death toll in Gaza has reached at least 386 since the Israeli military operation Protective Edge began July 8. The battlefield has widened, as Hamas Islamist fighters have infiltrated nearby parts of Israel via underground tunnels. They continued the attacks on Saturday and clashed with Israeli troops after surfacing.

Earlier in the day Hamas militants slipped out of a tunnel from central Gaza and fired at Israeli soldiers, killing two of them, Israel's Channel 10 said. It brings the number of troops killed amid the ground operation to five. Another two Israeli soldiers were severely wounded. The Hamas gunmen disguised themselves in uniforms belonging to the Israel Defense Forces, the military said. One of the Hamas gunmen was killed on Israeli soil, and the rest fled back to Gaza and were killed by a helicopter gunship, Channel 10 said. Hamas reported more infiltrations, claiming to have killed half a dozen Israeli soldiers.

Residents have quickly learned how to recognize the differences in gunfire — and which means a better chance of survival. In his Gaza home, Ramez al-Madhoun listened Saturday to the thunder of Israeli tank shells battering the neighborhood — some a little less than a mile away, some closer. A few miles south of him, militants' rockets streamed into the sky — about seven in 15 minutes — toward Israel. The tanks were gunning for tunnels leading into Israel and the Gazan attack squads that use them.

Al-Madhoun said he felt safer during Israeli airstrikes. "If it was an airstrike, it would be more of a precision strike, but the tanks shells are more dangerous. They are destroying more than the airstrikes," he said. Every 30 seconds to a minute, a shell landed in or around Beit Lahya. The local imam has told residents to stay home and pray, because the shelling has made it too dangerous to go outside.

Extract: Kerry to push for cease-fire as Gaza death toll spikes
By Jethro Mullen and Karl Penhaul, CNN
Monday, July 21, 2014 — Updated 5:09pm (AEST), 10:09am (Israel time)

Gaza City (CNN) — US Secretary of State John Kerry is due to arrive in Egypt on Monday to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas after the death toll from the Gaza conflict rose above 500. Speaking to CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, the deadliest day of the war so far, Kerry said that the United States supports Egypt's initiative for a truce and "will work for a fair cease-fire."

The United States has "shown our willingness to try to deal with the underlying issues," but Hamas "must step up and show a level of reasonableness," he said. "No country, no human being, is comfortable with children being killed, with people being killed, but we're not comfortable with Israeli soldiers being killed either or with people being rocketed in Israel," Kerry said.

In a meeting late Sunday, UN Security Council members expressed "serious concern about the growing number of casualties," according to the body's president, Ambassador Eugene-Richard Gasana of Rwanda. The members urged "an immediate cessation of hostilities" based on the cease-fire that stopped the 2012 conflict between Israel and Hamas, he said.

But as clashes continued Monday, there was no sign that either side would heed the world body's calls. The death toll climbed sharply after Israel's thunderous assault Sunday on the town of Shaja'ia near Gaza City, which sent hundreds of panic-stricken people fleeing into Gaza City. Scores of Palestinians were killed during heavy shelling of Shaja'ia, bringing the total number killed since the start of Israel's military operations against Hamas to 501, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 3,000 have been wounded. Extensive fighting continued in Shaja'ia overnight into Monday, the Israeli military said.

Israel said 13 soldiers were killed Sunday, bringing the total killed during the Gaza conflict to 18, in addition to two civilians. At a news conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed the country's "deep pain" at the loss of the soldiers. "We're doing everything we can not to harm the people of Gaza," Netanyahu said. "Hamas is doing everything they can to make sure the people of Gaza suffer."

Israel on Sunday denied Hamas' claim of capturing Israeli soldier during fighting. Hamas' military wing said Sunday it had taken the soldier during an early morning operation. But Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, later dismissed the claim. "There's no kidnapped Israeli soldier, and those rumors are untrue," he told reporters at the United Nations in New York.

Having originally billed the incursion as a targeted operation against Hamas' network of tunnels, the Israel Defense Forces said Sunday it was expanding the offensive. It said the goal is "to strike a significant blow to Hamas' terror capabilities and to restore security and stability to Israel's residents and citizens." Israel is still "early on in the mission," IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Sunday. "You can't erase 10,000 rockets overnight," he said of Hamas' estimated arsenal.

Extract: Kerry seeks Gaza cease-fire amid rising casualties
By Jethro Mullen and Ian Lee, CNN
Tuesday, July 22, 2014 — Updated 4:30pm (AEST), 9:30am (Israel time)

Gaza City (CNN) — The death toll continues to mount on both sides of the Gaza conflict as the United States pushes for a halt to fighting between Hamas and Israel. So far, 583 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,600 wounded since Israel began its Operation Protective Edge two weeks ago, Gaza Health Ministry officials said Tuesday. It's unclear how many of the dead were militants, but the United Nations has estimated that between 70% and 80% are civilians, including at least 120 children.

Israel has reported that its forces have killed more than 180 militants. In total, 27 Israeli soldiers have died — more than double the number killed in the war with Hamas in 2008 and 2009. Two Israeli civilians have also been killed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Monday and said the United States would provide $47 million in humanitarian assistance to Gaza. He and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are expected to hold talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday. US President Barack Obama said Monday that he has instructed Kerry to "push for an immediate cessation of hostilities." Talks should focus on a return to the cease-fire deal that stopped the conflict between Israel and Hamas in November 2012, the President said at the White House. "We don't want to see any more" civilian deaths in Gaza or Israel, he said.

But some observers say the chances of a breakthrough remain slim. "It is going to be very difficult to get a cease-fire right now, you see the objectives of both sides have changed a little bit over the last few days," said David Tafuri, a former US State Department and UN official. "Hamas is now using tunnels to make ground attacks in Israel — clearly they feel like they haven't done enough damage with the rockets," said Tafuri, who now works for the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs. "Israel is now focused on destroying those tunnels. Israel says it needs more time to get all of the tunnels."

The Israeli military on Monday killed more than 10 Hamas fighters who entered the country through tunnels "to attack two different kibbutzim," or communal areas, "where farmers are trying to conduct their daily lives," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN. Four Israeli soldiers were killed in the clashes, the IDF said.

Uncertainty remained over Hamas' claim Sunday that it had captured an Israeli soldier. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations had said late Sunday that the claim was "untrue," but the Israeli Defense Forces later said it couldn't confirm or deny it. "It could just be Hamas bravado. We're looking into it," Regev said Monday.

Senior Hamas political figure Izzat Risheq in Qatar told CNN on Monday that Hamas is not speaking directly with Egypt, but several other nations are involved: Turkey, Qatar, and Kuwait. Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal traveled from Qatar to Kuwait on Sunday, Risheq said. Hamas postponed a scheduled news conference, at which Meshaal was going to speak, due to ongoing talks, Risheq said.

Extract: UN shelter in Gaza hit, 16 dead
By Karl Penhaul, Ed Payne and Ashley Fantz, CNN
Friday, July 25, 2014 — Updated 1:08pm (AEST), 6:08am (Israel time)

Gaza City (CNN) — At least 16 people were killed and many more were wounded when a UN shelter in northern Gaza was hit during Thursday's fighting, officials said. John Ging, director of the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, confirmed to CNN's Christiane Amanpour that 16 died in the strike. Numbers were still coming in as to how many people were wounded, he said. A Palestinian government statement condemned the incident, calling it "Israeli brutal aggression that targeted" Gaza's displaced. It demanded an end to the "Israeli war machine." The strike wounded more than 200, most of them women and children, the statement said. It also said the death toll was 16.

It's unclear who was behind the incident. The Israeli military said it could have been a rocket fired from Gaza that fell short of Israel and exploded.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Cairo, was irate. "I am telling to the parties — both Israelis and Hamas, Palestinians, that it is morally wrong to kill your own people," he said. "Whole world has been watching, is watching with great concern. You must stop fighting. And enter into dialogue. "Whatever grievances you may have, this is wrong. Why are you continuing to kill people ? There are many other ways to resolve this issue without killing each other."

An Israel Defense Forces statement said militants had shot at the Israeli military and the IDF responded with "fire toward the origins of the shooting." The IDF said it had told people at the school to evacuate because of the fighting in the area and given a four-hour window to get people out. Israeli officials told CNN they had warned UN officials for three days to evacuate.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which is helping shelter Palestinians displaced by the conflict, said that 140,000 residents have taken refuge in 83 schools in Gaza that are serving as shelters

On Wednesday, Ban announced he was ordering a review of incidents where rockets were placed at United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools. Ban demanded that militants stop endangering civilians by putting rockets at the shelters.

News of Thursday's hit on the shelter also comes as the Israeli military said the number of airstrikes it was launching had been lowered. Israel Defense Forces said it hit 35 terror targets overnight. A day earlier, the number was 187. The Israeli military also reported a sharp fall in the number of rockets fired from Gaza early Thursday, although as the day wore on, more rockets were lofted toward Israel, some in the direction of the international airport in Tel Aviv.

At least 797 people have been killed and more than 5100 wounded since the start of an Israeli operation on Gaza, said Dr. Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry. On Thursday, 107 people were killed, he said. An Israeli military representative said Thursday that the violence has killed 32 soldiers and three civilians.

Two Palestinian men were shot and killed during a demonstration in the West Bank in support of residents of Gaza, Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti said. He said more than 15,000 people were marching when Israeli soldiers fired. More than 100 people were wounded, he said. The health minister in Ramallah said 185 of the wounded were brought there for treatment. Mosques using loudspeakers called for people to donate blood at hospitals, Palestinian television reported.

Protesters were "throwing rocks, firebombs and fireworks" at Israeli security forces, the Jerusalem Post reported. The newspaper, which put the size of the demonstration at 10,000 people, said 13 Israeli police officers were injured.

Kerry was back in Cairo, continuing his shuttle diplomacy to forge a truce a day after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as Secretary-General Ban. "Over the last few days, Secretary Kerry has been engaged with the Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Europeans, the UN, the Arab League, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to determine how to achieve an end to the current violence and build a process that can create a sustainable path forward," White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said.

The diplomatic effort wasn't solely limited to the United States, as several Middle Eastern nations worked to try to win Hamas' agreement for an Egyptian-led cease-fire. Hamas said Turkey and Kuwait were also involved.

Hamas, Israel announce 12-hour lull but US-led efforts to broker longer truce stall
By KARIN LAUB and IAN DEITCH, Associated Press
Saturday, July 26, 2014 — Updated 10:32am (AEST), 3:30am (Israel time)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after US Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel's defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation "significantly."

Hours after the US-led efforts stalled, the two sides agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire to begin Saturday. However, the temporary lull was unlikely to change the trajectory of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the Gaza war is spilling over into the West Bank.

In a "Day of Rage," Palestinians across the territory, which had been relatively calm for years, staged protests against Israel's Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there. In the West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.

The latest diplomatic setbacks, after several days of high-level diplomacy in the region, signaled that both sides are digging in and that the fighting in Gaza is likely to drag on.

Israel wants more time to destroy Hamas military tunnels and rocket launching sites in Gaza, while the territory's Hamas rulers want international guarantees that a Gaza border blockade will be lifted before they cease fire.

The Israeli military said in a statement that Saturday's 12-hour pause in fighting would start at 8am. But it warned that the military "shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit" the lull to attack Israeli troops "or fire at Israeli civilians." The military also said that "operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue."

A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said earlier Friday that the group had agreed to the 12-hour lull, intended to allow civilians to receive aid and evacuate to safer areas. Civilians on both sides have been hardest hit over the past 18 days.

In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes and tank shelling have killed more than 860 Palestinians, wounded more than 5,700, displaced tens of thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes, Palestinian officials said. In dozens of cases, Israeli attacks killed three or more members of the same family, according to UN figures, and civilians make up three-quarters of the dead.

Gaza militants have fired close to 2,500 rockets at Israel since July 8, exposing most of Israel's population to an indiscriminate threat that has killed three civilians. Thirty-six soldiers have also been killed in battle in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Friday that Israel's military would continue to strike Hamas hard, in order to deter it from firing rockets at Israel in the future. "At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future," Yaalon was quoted as telling soldiers manning an Iron Dome anti-missile battery. "You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will order the military to significantly broaden ground activity in Gaza."

"Hamas is paying a very heavy price and will pay an even heavier price," he said, according to a statement by his office.

The warning came shortly after Kerry announced in Cairo that he had been unable to broker a weeklong truce during which both sides were to talk about security arrangements and a possible easing of Gaza's border blockade.

For days, Kerry had been moving between the Egyptian capital, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and talking to officials from Qatar, who are in contact with Hamas. More meetings with his counterparts from European Union nations, Turkey and Qatar were scheduled for Saturday in France.

Speaking alongside UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the Egyptian foreign minister, Kerry insisted there was a general agreement on the "concept" of a truce but that both sides had concerns over details of carrying it out.

Israel resumes Gaza assault after truce
Sunday, July 27, 2014 — Updated 6:48pm (AEST), 11:48am (Israel time)

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) — Israel resumed its devastating military assault on Gaza after "incessant" rocket fire from Palestinian militants killed another soldier, ending an extended humanitarian ceasefire that had been rejected by Hamas. The renewed strikes came 10 hours after Israel said it would observe a truce for another 24 hours, but the move was not reciprocated by Hamas, which continued firing over the border. The moves came after world powers met in Paris to mull ways of ending 20 days of bloodshed raging in and around Gaza which has claimed the lives of more than 1000 Palestinians and 46 people in Israel.

Following a late-night decision by the Israeli security cabinet to extend the pause in fighting for another 24 hours in line with a UN request, Gaza residents enjoyed their first quiet night in three weeks. But Hamas said it would not halt its fire without Israeli armour first withdrawing from the Palestinian enclave. "No humanitarian ceasefire is valid without Israeli tanks withdrawing from the Gaza Strip," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said.

Both Israel and Hamas had respected a 12-hour lull on Saturday, but shortly afterwards, Hamas militants fired a barrage of rockets and mortars, one of which killed a soldier, the army said. And the rocket fire carried on overnight, with at least eight striking southern Israel after midnight (2100 GMT) while another two were shot down, the army said, stressing there had been no military response in over 12 hours. "We will continue to respect the humanitarian pause. There has not been any Israeli raids despite the rocket fire," a spokeswoman said, indicating the last response was a burst of artillery fire at 1900 GMT.

Shortly afterwards, however, Israel said it was resuming its military operations. "Following Hamas' incessant rocket fire throughout the humanitarian window, which was agreed upon for the welfare of the civilian population in Gaza, the IDF (army) will now resume its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip," a statement said. The Palestinian death toll, which had soared to more than 1000 on Saturday, rose again on Sunday, with shell fire killing three people in central and southern Gaza, medical officials said.

As well as one mortar shell killing an Israeli soldier, the army announced the deaths of two more soldiers who had succumbed to wounds sustained earlier in the week. The latest deaths raised to 43 the number of Israeli troops killed in the past nine days.

In Gaza, the 12-hour lull in fighting allowed medical teams to dig out at least 147 bodies from under the rubble of destroyed buildings hit in Israel's military bombardment which began on July 8. World leaders had urged the two sides to build on Saturday's truce to enable negotiations for a longer term ceasefire, with Israel's security cabinet to again discuss the matter on Sunday.

In Paris, US Secretary of State John Kerry met European and Middle Eastern foreign ministers Saturday to push both sides to extend the temporary cessation of hostilities. "We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire," France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after meeting with Kerry and counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Qatar and an EU representative.

The situation in Gaza has also created tension in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where protests erupted after Friday prayers and again Saturday, with eight Palestinians shot dead by Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Extract: US ups pressure on Israel as UN demands Gaza truce
By Jonah Mandel, Yahoo News, AFP
Monday, July 28, 2014 — Updated 4:30pm (AEST), 9:30am (Israel time)

Jerusalem (AFP) — The UN Security Council Monday joined US President Barack Obama in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, after Israel and Hamas ignored calls for a truce despite mounting civilian casualties. The Security Council resolution came during a lull in fighting in Gaza early Monday, the beginning of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival, after a day of strikes and counter-strikes.

A military spokeswoman told AFP that since midnight no Gaza rockets had hit Israel, and the Jewish state had carried out no strikes in the Palestinian enclave.

The 15-member Council released a statement urging a truce during Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. It expressed "strong support" for an "immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire". It also voiced "grave concern regarding the deterioration in the situation as a result of the crisis related to Gaza and the loss of civilian lives and casualties". At least 1,032 Palestinians have died in the fighting as well as 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians.

Obama, too, voiced concern at the civilian toll, in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday in which he urged an immediate ceasefire. According to a White House statement, the US president "made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement" brokered by Egypt. He also stressed the need to "ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarisation of Gaza," while reiterating "serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives."

The two sides had observed a 12-hour humanitarian pause on Saturday, giving Gaza medics a chance to pull bodies from rubble they had not been able to reach under fire. But Hamas rocket fire prompted Israel to abandon an extension of that truce Sunday, and subsequent Hamas calls for another ceasefire were ignored by both sides. During Sunday, fighting renewed apace, as Israel pounded Gaza with aerial, naval and artillery bombardments and Hamas rained more rockets down on Israeli territory.

A controversial incident on Thursday when a UN school acting as a shelter was shelled, killing 15 people, drew fierce condemnation from Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA. The Israeli army confirmed on Sunday it had hit the school, but said it was a "single errant mortar" round, denying that people were killed "as a result of (army) operational activity".

Meanwhile Obama's Secretary of State John Kerry was still working for Israel and Hamas to agree to further halts in the bloodshed ahead of hoped for Egypt-led peace talks, a US official said. Israel rejected a Kerry-proposed ceasefire last week and Hamas has resisted truce efforts by Cairo after the army ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and banned the Muslim Brotherhood, a Hamas ally.

Israel Steps Up Airstrikes in Gaza as International Cease-Fire Efforts Stumble
The New York Times
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 — Updated 3:30pm (AEST), 8:30am (Israel time)

Jerusalem — As Israel intensified its aerial assaults on Tuesday against symbols of Hamas rule in Gaza and other targets, new efforts were underway to forge a cease-fire, though they were mired in confusion and mixed signals after 22 days of fighting. The renewed diplomatic push came after what Palestinians said was a devastating hit on the only electricity plant in the Gaza Strip, which set off a huge fire and threatened to create a major humanitarian crisis, with the Palestinian enclave lacking the means to operate the water and sewage systems as well as hospitals.

After increasingly urgent international calls for a halt in the hostilities, the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, announced that Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main Palestinian factions fighting in Gaza, were ready for an immediate 24-hour truce, and that a Palestinian delegation was planning to head to Cairo for broader cease-fire talks.

In a statement from the West Bank city of Ramallah, the leadership said that it had held intensive consultations with leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and that a request by the United Nations to extend the truce to 72 hours was being considered favorably.

But Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, immediately responded in a text message that the announcement of a unilateral 24-hour truce was "incorrect and has nothing to do with the positions of the resistance." He added: "When we have an Israeli commitment with an international obligation of a humanitarian cease-fire, we will study it. But declaring a unilateral truce while the occupation kills our children, this will never happen."

Later on Tuesday, Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas's military wing who lives in hiding, said there would be no cease-fire until Israel stopped its attacks and the blockade on Gaza was lifted. "We will not accept any middle-ground solutions at the expense of the resistance and our people's freedom," he said in a two-minute audio recording on Hamas's Al-Aqsa television station, which resumed broadcasting a few hours after Israeli airstrikes on its headquarters in Gaza City early Tuesday.

The Israeli leadership did not publicly respond to Mr Abbas's initiative. A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said Israeli forces were continuing operations in Gaza "to deal with the tunnels, to address the rockets and to strike at Hamas's infrastructure." But he said he had "no confirmation" that the military had struck the power plant and said that in any case the plant "was not a target."

Militants from Gaza fired rockets toward Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on Tuesday night, and the Gaza Health Ministry reported that 13 people had been killed in Israeli shelling of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip.

More than 1,200 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its offensive on July 8, most of them civilians, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. On the Israeli side, 53 soldiers have been killed since the army sent ground forces in on July 17, and three civilians have been killed by rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.

A senior Palestinian official with knowledge of the latest cease-fire contacts said that internal Palestinian talks were continuing. Speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate diplomacy, he said that Khaled Meshal, the exiled Hamas political leader who is based in Qatar, had agreed to a truce, but that there seemed to be disagreement or problems of coordination with some Hamas officials in Gaza. The Palestinian official added that the strike on the power plant might be an additional factor pushing the sides toward a cease-fire, in order to avert a crisis. The plant had been Gaza's main source of electricity in recent days, after eight of 10 lines that run from Israel were damaged.

The Palestinian announcement seemed to be part of a larger effort involving Egypt, an important participant in any cease-fire deal for both Israel and Mr Abbas. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Mr Abbas had initiated a proposal to bring representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas and Islamic Jihad to Cairo for another round of cease-fire talks, which Egypt supports. Regarding the talks, Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official in Beirut, said: "On principle, we have no objection and accept. A delegation will be formed, and we might leave for Cairo soon."

Israel favors Egypt as a broker, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described Egypt's original proposal for a cease-fire, which Israel accepted and Hamas rejected, as "the only game in town."

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry signaled Tuesday that the Obama administration had not abandoned its hope of arranging a cease-fire. Mr Kerry emphasized that Mr Netanyahu had told him on Monday that he might accept a truce if it would allow Israeli forces to continue to operate against Hamas's tunnels, some of which run under the border into Israeli territory and have been used for attacks.

"Last night we talked, and the prime minister talked to me about an idea and a possibility of a cease-fire — he raised it with me, as he has consistently," Mr Kerry said at a news conference with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin. "He has consistently said that he would embrace a cease-fire that permits Israel to protect itself against the tunnels and obviously not be disadvantaged for the great sacrifice that they had made in order to be able to protect themselves thus far."

Humanitarian cease-fire set in Mideast conflict, but will the peace last ?
By Greg Botelho and Karl Penhaul, CNN
Friday, August 1, 2014 — Updated 12:13pm (AEST), 5:13am (Israel time)

Gaza City (CNN) — After weeks of fighting and hundreds of deaths, some semblance of peace may be coming to the Middle East — at least temporarily. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry announced Thursday that an unconditional humanitarian cease-fire will begin at 8am Friday in Gaza (4pm AEST). It will last 72 hours — or three days — "unless extended," the United Nations and United States said in a joint statement. "During this time, the forces on the ground will remain in place," the statement said. Israel has accepted the cease-fire, officials in its prime minister's office texted CNN. So, too, has Hamas, a spokesman for the militant fundamentalist Islamic organization texted.

The cease-fire is meant to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians in Gaza caught up in the violence, some of whom have seen their neighborhoods hit hard and loved ones killed, hurt or displaced. The aid will include food, care for the injured and burial of the dead. As all this is going on, Israeli and Palestinian officials should be meeting in Cairo to try to reach "a durable cease-fire," the UN and US statement said. "The parties will be able to raise issues of concern in these negotiations."

Will they be able to reach a breakthrough ?

The past doesn't suggest that is likely, at least anything that will lead to a solution to issues that Israelis and Palestinians have been grappling with for decades. And the animosity between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, runs especially deep, with both sides accusing each other of putting each others civilians at risk.

Kerry called the talks — to be mediated by Egypt and to include a small American delegation — "a lull of opportunity … to try to find a way to … obtain a sustainable cease-fire," while admitting there are "no guarantees." As Kerry noted, "Everyone knows it has not been easy to get to this point, and everyone knows it will not be easy to get beyond this point."

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat offered similar sentiments on the new talks, which he said will include "all Palestinian factions" — not just Hamas. "It's a difficult road," said the longtime Palestinian official. "I am hoping against hope that we can (make) every possible effort, with the help of everyone out there, (to) reach a permanent cease-fire."

UN official alludes to potential war crimes

The latest round of violence, which started earlier this summer, has been particularly bad. At least 1,452 people have been killed in Gaza, and 8,360 wounded, during the current conflict, Gaza Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said. That's more than the 1,417 Palestinians that the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said died in the 22 days of Israel's Operation Cast Lead, which spanned 2008 and 2009. Those killed in the ongoing hostilities — which are tied to the Israeli military's Operation Protective Edge — include 327 children and 166 women, the Gaza health ministry reports.

The bloodshed prompted the United Nations' top human rights official to warn that war crimes may have been committed, accusing Israel of "deliberate defiance of obligations (to) international law." UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay referred to the shelling of homes, schools, hospitals and UN "premises," while insisting, "We cannot allow this impunity, we cannot allow this lack of accountability to go on." "None of this appears, to me, to be accidental," Pillay said.

The scale of the violence, as well as the international condemnation of it, could drive both sides to peace. But even if it does, some Palestinians — like Samy Bahraqe, who is in a UN camp after her home was destroyed — aren't looking forward to the future. "Life is meaningless," Bahraqe said. "… What dreams in life can we have now that everything is ruined ?"

More Israeli reservists called up

News of the cease-fire didn't stop the violence. Almost immediately afterward, warning sirens went off around Israel — with its military announcing later it had intercepted one rocket from Gaza, while two others landed in the Mediterranean Sea. Israel has been protected very effectively from Hamas rockets by its Iron Dome defense system, though a few have hit land. That includes a rocket that struck a neighborhood Thursday in Qiryat Gat, about 20 miles from Gaza, seriously injuring a man and setting a car afire, Israeli spokesman Mikey Rosenfeld said.

Three civilians have been killed in Israel since the conflict began, while many more have been forced to take shelter as rockets rained overhead. But the brunt of the conflict has been born by Israel's military, with 61 of its soldiers dying in recent weeks, with five of those deaths occurring Thursday evening.

They will get help soon, with Israel Defense Forces announcing the call-up of 16,000 reservists. That will bring the total number of reservists activated since the start of the operation to 86,000, a military spokeswoman said.

Israel has accused Hamas of hiding weapons, including rockets, in schools and launching attacks from near shelters — a fact that, it says, has contributed to civilian deaths. Many outside Israel aren't convinced. Chile, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador have pulled their ambassadors out of Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli offensive. Even the United States — an erstwhile ally of Israel — believes "the Israelis need to do more" to prevent civilian deaths, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters.

Still, such calls haven't stopped the United States from agreeing to Israel's request to resupply it with several types of ammunition, a US defense official told CNN on condition of anonymity. It's not an emergency sale, the official said. The items being bought include tank rounds and illumination rounds, the Pentagon said.

Nor will a cease-fire stop Israel's attempts to destroy Hamas' network of tunnels that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says is the first phase of the demilitarization of Gaza. While "neither side will advance … Israel will be able to continue its defensive operations for those tunnels that are behind its lines," Kerry explained.

Meanwhile, Gaza is reeling. More than 219,000 Palestinians are packed into 86 shelters across Gaza, the UN said. That works out to about 12% of all of Gaza's population. Clean water is inaccessible for most. And some 3,600 people have lost their homes. "We cannot supply electricity" for hospitals, sewage treatment or domestic use, said Fathi al-Sheikh Khalil, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy Natural Resources Authority in Gaza. "This is a disaster."

Al-Qidra, the Gaza health spokesman, said health care workers are struggling to deal with the relentless stream of dead and wounded. "The hospitals in Gaza yesterday had a very difficult time. All the hospital morgues were flooding with dead bodies, and the injured were laying on hospital floors because of the lack of hospital beds," said al-Qidra. Count Sakher Joham are among those Palestinians hoping, praying that the misery ends. The violence forced him to flee his home, with his five children and "just the clothes on my back". "We are tired, and we have had so much loss of life," Joham, 32, said of himself and fellow Palestinians. "We want to live with our children a life of dignity, like the rest of the world."

Extract: Gaza conflict: Ceasefire crumbles as Israeli, Hamas trade fire hours after agreed 72-hour truce began
Middle East correspondent Hayden Cooper, ABC News Online
Saturday, August 2, 2014 — Updated about 12pm (AEST), 5am (Israel time)

Israel has declared the latest attempted ceasefire in Gaza over, saying Hamas militants breached the fragile truce soon after it took effect. Both the US and the United Nations are also blaming Hamas for ending the 72-hour truce, which was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting amid a rising Palestinian civilian death toll. The plan was designed to give civilians in the Palestinian enclave time to bury the dead, assess the damage, and re-stock food and medical supplies.

But it collapsed after the apparent capture of an Israeli soldier by Hamas, which sparked a major military operation.

The Israeli military says Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23, disappeared when a group of soldiers working to destroy a tunnel in south Gaza was attacked. It says militants emerged from a tunnel and a suicide bomber blew himself up, killing two soldiers while another opened fire with an assault rifle. In the aftermath the soldiers realised Second Lieutenant Goldin was missing.

"They were scrupulously observing the guidelines of the ceasefire," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said. "We were not conducting any offensive operations whatsoever against Hamas targets in Gaza and there was this unprovoked attack on our soldiers, a deadly attack." The military says the attack occurred an hour-and-a-half after the ceasefire came into effect and Palestinian militants resumed firing rockets into Israel around the same time.

Hamas' armed wing says it has no information on the whereabouts of the soldier. "The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades has no information on this soldier," it said in a statement. "We have lost contact with one of our combatant groups, which was fighting in the sector where the soldier went missing and it is possible that our fighters and this soldier were killed."

After the incident in the southern Rafah area Israel's army warned residents to stay in their houses as it "pursued terrorist elements". Gaza officials said Israeli shelling in Rafah killed at least 62 people and wounded more than 350 in the area.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called a special session of his security cabinet, warning Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups they will bear the consequences of their actions.

US president Barack Obama has called for the release of the captured Israeli soldier as a precondition for resolving tensions. "If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible," he told a news conference. "A ceasefire was one way in which we could stop the killing, to step back and try to resolve some of the underlying issues. "Trying to put that back together is going to be challenging, but we will continue to make those efforts."

Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general, echoed the call. "The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the resumption of Israel attacks on Gaza instead of giving both sides, especially Gazan civilians a much need reprieve to let them attend to their injured, bury their dead and repair vital infrastructure, this ceasefire is now leading to renewed escalation," he said.

Extract: Israel declares ‘humanitarian' truce as outrage grows over strike on UN school
The Australian
Monday, August 4, 2014 — Updated 9:53am (AEST), 2:53am (Israel time)

ISRAEL says it will hold its fire in most of the Gaza Strip for a seven-hour "humanitarian window", amid UN and US outrage over a deadly strike near a United Nations school and growing world calls for an end to the bloodshed. The Israeli army said its ceasefire would take place between 5pm (AEST) and midnight (AEST) in all of the Palestinian enclave besides the area east of southern city Rafah, "where clashes were still ongoing and there was Israeli military presence".

Head of the Israeli military activities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, General Yoav Mordechai, warned in the statement that "if the truce will be violated, the army will respond with fire toward the source of the (Palestinian) fire during the declared hudna," or truce.

The announcement was received with suspicion and distrust by the Islamist Hamas movement. "The unilateral ceasefire announced by Israel is an attempt to divert the attention from Israeli massacres," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement. "We do not trust this ceasefire, and call on our people to be very cautious," he said. Israel's move comes after Israel's withdrawal of most of its ground troops from the Gaza strip, in an apparent winding down of the nearly month-long operation against Hamas that has left more than 1800 Palestinians and 60 Israelis dead.

But even as Israel said it was close to completing its mission, heavy fighting raged in parts of Gaza, with at least 10 Palestinians killed in an alleged Israeli air strike near a UN shelter, according to UN and Palestinian officials. The US and the United Nations condemned the attack in unusually strong terms — the US labelling the strike "disgraceful" and UN calling it a "moral outrage".

The strike at the school in the southern city of Rafah, where about 3000 Palestinians made homeless by the violence had been sheltering, was the third such incident in 10 days. "This madness must stop," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as he strongly condemned the shelling, calling it "a moral outrage and a criminal act".

The United States lashed out at its ally Israel over the "disgraceful" shelling of the UN school. In one of the most strongly-worded statements yet from Washington since the conflict began nearly a month ago, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was "appalled" by the attack. "We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties." She noted that the United Nations had "repeatedly" communicated to the Israeli Defence Forces the co-ordinates of the school and the world body's other facilities.

According to witnesses, Israeli strikes hit just outside the main gates of the school. The Red Crescent, a charity, said the attack occurred while people were in line to get food from aid workers. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said in addition to the dead, 35 people were wounded.

Israel's military confirmed it had fired on a target "in the vicinity" of the school. "The IDF targeted three PIJ (Islamic Jihad) terrorists on board a motorcycle in the vicinity of an UNRWA school in Rafah," an army statement said. "The IDF is reviewing the consequences of this strike."

Ms Psaki's statement said the presence of suspected militants near the facility could not excuse the attack, however. "The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians," she said. "We call for a full and prompt investigation of this incident as well as the recent shelling of other UNRWA schools."

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said while Israel was entitled to defend itself, civilian casualties were unacceptable. "Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself and we are Israel's staunchest ally," Ms Jarrett said. "But you also can't condone the killing of all of these innocent children. And so, we're very concerned, we're monitoring the situation closely," Ms Jarrett added, referring to an earlier attack on another school that left 16 people dead.

The strike also came as Palestinian factions gathered for truce talks with Egypt in Cairo and world powers voiced increasingly urgent calls for the laying down of weapons. "The bloodshed needs to stop," said a statement signed by the European Union and the European Commission presidents on behalf of the bloc's 28 member states. "We deplore the terrible loss of lives, including innocent women and children," it said, condemning the "intolerable violence" being suffered by Gaza residents.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, confirmed the bulk of ground troops had been pulled out of Gaza after the military concluded it had destroyed most of the tunnel network. He said Israel had detected some 30 tunnels that were dug along the border for what he called a "synchronised attack" on Israel. "We've caused substantial damage to this network to an extent where we've basically taken this huge threat and made it minimal," he said. Col Lerner said, however, that the operation was not over and that Israel would continue to target Hamas' rocket-firing capabilities and its ability to infiltrate Israel.

Israeli officials said the military would reduce its ground activities in Gaza but would respond to continued attacks from Gaza with air strikes. "It's not a withdrawal," said Israeli Cabinet minister Amir Peretz told Channel 10 TV. "It's setting up a new line that is a more controlled line with the air force doing its work."

In Gaza, Hamas officials said they would not halt the rocket fire without an end to an Israeli blockade of the territory that has devastated the local economy. Israel imposed the blockade in 2007, saying the measures are needed to keep Hamas from arming. "If Israel stops unilaterally, Hamas will declare victory and will not grant any security or truce to Israel," said one senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Hamas deliberations. "In this case, we are going to live under a war of attrition until a political solution is found."

Meanwhile, the Israeli military death toll rose to 64 after Israel announced that Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old infantry lieutenant feared captured in Gaza, was actually killed in battle. Some 15,000 people attended his funeral yesterday. Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon revealed on his Facebook page that he is a distant relative of Goldin and had known him his whole life. The information was previously kept under wraps while Goldin was feared abducted.

Extract: Gaza conflict: Israel and Hamas 'agree ceasefire'
BBC News
Tuesday, August 5, 2014 — Updated 2:34pm (AEST), 7:34am (Israel time)

A 72-hour truce between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza is due to come into force shortly. The ceasefire, brokered by Egyptian mediators late on Monday, will start at 08:00 local time (05:00 GMT). Meanwhile, Israeli media reports quote military sources as saying they have achieved the main aim of the conflict — to destroy militants' tunnels. Gaza officials say the four-week conflict has killed 1,800 Palestinians. Some 67 Israelis have also died. A Thai national working in Israel was also killed.

There have been several truces called during the conflict but few have lasted, with each side accusing the other of violations. The latest was discussed on Monday by various Palestinian groups in Cairo, although Israel did not attend. But all sides said they would respect the ceasefire.

Egypt negotiated a similar truce earlier in the conflict that was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas. The new agreement proposes that delegations from all sides then attend further talks in Cairo. The main Palestinian demands remain on the table, notably a full Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza, the end of the blockade of the territory and the opening of border crossings.

US Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken welcomed the ceasefire but told CNN that it was up to Hamas to maintain the truce. "This is a real opportunity. We strongly support the initiative," he said. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also welcomed the ceasefire, and he called on both sides to hold talks in Egypt to begin as soon as possible. Meanwhile, in Washington, President Barack Obama approved legislation to provide a further $225m to help Israel run its "Iron Dome" anti-missile shield.

The BBC's Mark Lowen, in Cairo, says that news of the latest ceasefire came against expectations as there was little optimism in Egypt that any deal could be struck. Our correspondent says there are many pitfalls before any long-standing agreement can be thrashed out.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said again on Monday that Israel's main goal was to "return quiet and security to the citizens of Israel". Speaking after a seven-hour truce ended on Monday, he also said that the military operation would not end until all tunnels used by militants to infiltrate Israel were destroyed.

Israel's seven-hour "window" generally slowed the violence on Monday, although Palestinian officials said Israel broke it shortly after it began by hitting a house in Gaza City. A young girl was killed and at least 15 other people injured, many of them women and children. Israel said a number of rockets were fired from Gaza during the window.

And in Jerusalem, a construction vehicle driven by a man, identified by police as a Palestinian from east Jerusalem, overturned a bus in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood. A passer-by was killed and several people were injured before police shot dead the driver. Later a soldier was seriously injured in a suspected drive-by shooting in Jerusalem's Mt Scopus area.

Gazans pick through war debris as Israel, Hamas prepare for Egypt talks
The Australian online
Wednesday, August 6, 2014 — Updated 6:11am (AEST), 11:11pm Tuesday (Israel time)

A 72-HOUR truce has taken root in Gaza, as Israeli and Palestinian delegations travelled to Cairo to try to extend the ceasefire and families picked through the debris of war. The guns fell silent on Tuesday after 29 days of fighting, bringing relief to millions as both sides counted the cost from a conflict that killed 1875 Palestinians and 67 people in Israel. Officials on both sides confirmed they had sent small delegations to Cairo for talks aimed at securing a permanent ceasefire after the three-day window closes.

The US said that it also expected to participate in the Cairo talks. But there is an uphill diplomatic battle ahead. Negotiators in the Egyptian capital will likely confront conflicting demands on both sides. The Palestinians insist Israel end its eight-year blockade of Gaza and open border crossings, while Israel wants Gaza fully demilitarised.

"The extent to which we are going to be ready to cooperate with the efforts to have better access and movement in Gaza will deeply depend on the kind of arrangements that would secure our peace and security," said Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior official in Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry.

Hamas, in turn, has signaled flexibility on ceding some authority to Abbas in Gaza, but insists on having a say on reconstruction and that it will not disarm. Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official, said disarming isn't up for discussion. "We'd take the life of anyone who tries to take the weapons of resistance," he said.

Despite such tough talk, Hamas is in a position of relative weakness.

The Islamic militant group's fortunes changed dramatically last year after the Egyptian military deposed a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and began closing hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. The closures deprived Hamas of a key source of revenue — the taxation of goods brought through the tunnels — and prevented weapons and cash destined for Hamas from flowing into Gaza.

Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas used the opportunity of a cash-strapped Hamas to negotiate a reconciliation deal under which an Abbas-led government was to run both the West Bank and Gaza, though thorny issues were put off, including Hamas' insistence that it retain control over its security forces. The unity government was stumbling by the time Israel-Hamas fighting erupted on July 8. Abbas now aims to oversee rebuilding and reassert his authority in the territory, lost to Hamas in 2007.

Even before the war, Gaza was in bad shape because of the prolonged blockade. Unemployment in the impoverished territory of 1.8 million people had risen well above 50 per cent, in part because of Egypt's tunnel closures. Only half of Gaza's electricity needs were being met, and the closure prevented most Gaza residents from travel.

After four weeks of intensive fighting, including close to 5000 Israeli strikes on Gaza targets, the devastation is widespread. According to initial figures from Gaza's main UN aid agency, some 10,000 homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Gaza's only power plant was forced to shut down last week after being shelled by Israel, and repairs will take months, Gaza officials said. One of the hardest-hit areas was the southern town of Rafah, where intense shelling over the weekend appeared to have spared little. Mosques, homes, offices, stores and at least one school either lay in ruins or were badly damaged, hit by shrapnel or gunfire.

But after the longest period of quiet since fighting began, Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki said he expected "the ceasefire to expand into another 72 hours and beyond". In Gaza City, people came out in numbers, children played on the street and the beach, and some shops reopened for the first time in days. Others ventured home for the first time only to witness scenes of devastation.

Just minutes before the truce took hold, sirens wailed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as Hamas fired 16 rockets over the border, while Israeli warplanes carried out at least five strikes on Gaza. It is the second time in four days the two sides had agreed to observe a 72-hour humanitarian truce. The last attempt on August 1 — brokered by Washington and the UN — was shattered within just 90 minutes.

As the new truce went into force, Israel withdrew its troops, ending the ground operation aimed at destroying tunnels Gaza militants use to attack its territory. Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said troops would be "deployed in defensive positions" outside Gaza and would respond to any truce violations. The quiet allowed emergency workers to move into previously inaccessible areas, with the worst devastation near the southern city of Rafah, which had been flattened in a massive Israeli assault that began Friday.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, deputy economy minister Taysir Amro said the 29-day war had caused damage of up to $US6 billion ($6.5 billion).

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at his Jerusalem offices,
where he launched a vigorous defence of Israel's month-long conflict in Gaza as "justified"
and "proportionate". Source: AFP
Israel and Hamas at odds over an extension to the 72-hour Gaza truce
The Australian online
Thursday, August 7, 2014 — Updated 6:22am (AEST), 11:22pm Wednesday (Israel time)

ISRAEL and Hamas appear to be at odds over prolonging the 72-hour Gaza ceasefire, with Jerusalem proposing an unconditional extension but the Palestinian militant organisation resisting the proposal.

Guns fell silent in the tiny Palestinian enclave on Tuesday morning, allowing millions of people on both sides to breathe a sigh of relief after the deaths of 1875 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.

With the truce due to expire at 3pm AEST on Friday, Egyptian mediators shuttled between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo, conveying conflicting demands for a long-term calm. "Israel has no problem extending the ceasefire unconditionally," an Israeli official told AFP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

However, while Hamas fighters have vowed to uphold the truce, they deny any agreement to an extension. The Palestinians' main demand is the lifting of the Israel blockade that has kept a stranglehold on the territory for the last eight years. Ismail Haniya, Hamas top official in Gaza, insisted the Palestinians would "not yield on any of our demands." Abu Laith, a Hamas commander, told The Times: "We are prepared for a long battle. We can target cities we have not even hit in this war. We can penetrate the Israeli border again."

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army confirmed earlier that 27,000 reservists called up for the conflict had been sent home, leaving a force of 55,000 still on active duty, in another sign of growing hopes for long-term quiet.

In the battered Gaza strip, shops, banks and markets have reopened, and people crowded into the streets. Emergency services cleared rubble and searched for bodies in worst-hit areas, among them Tuffah and Shejaiya near Gaza City, Khuzaa and an area east of Rafah on the southern border with Egypt. In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a vigorous defence of the conflict in the face of international criticism over heavy Palestinian civilian casualties.

"I think it was justified. I think it was proportionate and that doesn't in any way take away the deep regret we have for the loss of a single civilian casualty," Netanyahu said in his first public remarks since the ceasefire came into effect. Israel had faced growing international, including US criticism, over the heavy number of Palestinian civilian casualties.

UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon warned that after three wars in Gaza in six years, international patience with both sides was being tested. He opened a special meeting of the UN General Assembly with an appeal for a lasting peace. "The senseless cycle of suffering in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as in Israel, must end," he said.

In Jerusalem, Netanyahu showed reporters aerial images of homes and of a UN-run school, from which he said Hamas fired mortars and rockets. He accused the armed faction of deliberately increasing the death toll by using human shields and called on the international community to ostracise the group "for its callous abuse of civilians." "Every civilian casualty is a tragedy, a tragedy of Hamas's own making," he added.

Extract: Israel carries out strikes on Gaza after rocket fire resumes
By Jethro Mullen, John Vause and Matthew Chance, CNN
Friday, August 8, 2014 — Updated 8pm (AEST), 1pm (Israel time)

Gaza City (CNN) — For residents of Gaza and southern Israel, the fleeting period of calm is over. The Israeli military said it carried out strikes on militant targets in Gaza on Friday in response to a barrage of rocket fire after a three-day truce in the region came to an end without a longer-term agreement. More than 33 rockets were fired at Israel after the cease-fire expired Friday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said. Most of the rockets hit unpopulated areas, but one moderately injured a civilian and lightly injured a soldier, the IDF said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon ordered the military to respond forcefully to the resumption in rocket fire, Israeli officials said. The IDF said it "targeted terror sites across the Gaza Strip." Several explosions were heard in Gaza City as Israeli fighter jets flew overhead. Local media reported airstrikes elsewhere in the territory. One strike in Gaza City killed a 10-year-old boy, said Ashraf el-Qedra, a spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Hamas, the Islamic militant group that holds power in Gaza, said that Palestinian officials at peace talks in Cairo hadn't agreed to extend the truce but would continue negotiations. But Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN that the resumption of rocket fire means Hamas has "broken the fundamental premise of the talks in Cairo."

Roughly three hours before the truce was due to end, the IDF said two rockets fired from Gaza had hit southern Israel, without causing any casualties. "Terrorists have violated the cease-fire," the IDF wrote on Twitter. It was unclear who in Gaza, where multiple militant factions are active, launched the two rockets, which landed near Eshkol in southern Israel. Hamas denies responsibility for the rockets fired before the cease-fire ended, said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the group. The allegations "are based on Israeli reports aimed at confusing the situation," the Gaza-based spokesman said.

Two militant factions — Islamic Jihad and the Al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades — who have fought alongside Hamas in Gaza under the banner of "the resistance" said they had fired rockets at Israel on Friday. "The enemy ended the cease-fire when he refused to accept the demands of the resistance and he bears responsibility for the consequences of that," the military wing of Islamic Jihad said in a statement.

The reports of rocket fire came as hopes faded for an agreement to extend the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, which began Tuesday. Under the truce, Israeli and Palestinian delegations held indirect talks in Cairo through Egyptian go-betweens. But the two sides appeared to be too far apart in their positions.

The cease-fire that ended the bloodshed — at least temporarily — expired at 8 am Friday (3pm AEST). Israel, which withdrew its ground forces from Gaza on Tuesday, is willing to extend the truce unconditionally, Dore Gold, a senior foreign policy adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told CNN on Thursday.

Officials from Israel and the Palestinian side — including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Organization — are communicating through Egyptian intermediaries in an effort to reach agreement on extending the truce. "We are working so hard now," said Saeb Erakat, a longtime negotiator for the PLO. "We're trying to sustain the 72 hours, and we're working now to extend the 72 hours," he told CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday.

A Palestinian official said Thursday morning that there has been progress in the talks so far but declined to give any details. "I am not sure how or when it will come, but we hope for a breakthrough," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. The warring sides are far apart.

Gold told "New Day" that the border restrictions and Gaza's economic and redevelopment needs can't be separated because they are "intimately linked." "If you want cement for building homes or schools, you've got to make sure the cement goes there and not rebuilding attack tunnels that go into Israel," he said. He also said Hamas' demands for a Mediterranean Sea port raise serious security concerns for Israel. "We're of course concerned if something like that occurs, that the Iranians or others will bring missile boats into the Mediterranean and to that Gaza port," Gold said. "So it's not so simple as to say, 'Give them a port.' "

One proposal under discussion, a German diplomatic source told CNN on Wednesday, would be to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt under the auspices of a European Union mission. EU officials operated a similar mission from 2005 to 2007, when Hamas assumed power in Gaza.

Egypt closed the Rafah crossing after the country's military ousted Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsy. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt's new government has declared a terrorist group.

US officials said they will have representatives in Cairo but won't take part in the talks. President Barack Obama said Wednesday he was pleased by the cease-fire. "The question now is, how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way ?" he said. Both Israel and the United States consider Hamas to be a terrorist group, but Obama said the issue goes beyond that organization. "I have no sympathy for Hamas," Obama said. "I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza."

On Thursday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health issued new casualty numbers — 1,888 deaths, including 446 children, and 9,804 injured. It's unclear how many of the Palestinian dead were militants.

Extract: Life stirs in Gaza as new 72-hour truce takes hold
By Adel Zaanoun, Yahoo News
Monday, August 11, 2014 — Updated 6.30pm (AEST), 11.30am (Israel time)

Gaza City (AFP) — A 72-hour ceasefire took hold in Gaza Monday, as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators headed to Cairo in search of a long-term solution to end over a month of deadly fighting. The truce which began just after midnight (7:01 am AEST on Monday) was the fruit of days of Egyptian-brokered mediation to stem more than four weeks of violence which has killed 1,939 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side since July 8.

Ten hours into the truce, the skies over Gaza remained calm, with no reports of violations on any side and signs of life emerging on the streets of the wartorn coastal enclave which is home to 1.8 million Palestinians. As the sun rose on Gaza City, shops and businesses began opening their doors and a handful of people could be seen doing their early shopping. Outside a UN-run school, a clutch of cars and donkey carts waited to take some of the refugees back to homes they had fled during the fighting.

"We want to go back to see what happened to our house," said Hikmat Atta, 58, who had piled his family into a small cart and was heading back to his home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya which they had left in the first days of the war. But with the truce still in its early stages, he was not taking any chances. "We're just going back for the day, at night we'll come back here," he told AFP.

Egypt urged the warring sides to use the three-day lull to reach "a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire," after efforts to extend a similar truce last week collapsed into a firestorm of violence. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it would give the two sides "another chance to agree on a durable ceasefire" while stressing the importance of addressing "the underlying grievances on both sides."

Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza, has conditioned its agreement for any permanent agreement on Israel lifting its eight-year blockade on Gaza. "We insist on this goal," Hamas's exiled leader Khaled Meshaal told AFP in an exclusive interview in Doha on Sunday. "In the case of Israeli procrastination or continued aggression, Hamas is ready with other Palestinian factions to resist on the ground and politically."

Veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat arrived in Cairo late Sunday for talks with Egyptian and Arab League officials on behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas, an airport official said. Meanwhile, an Israeli team arrived in Cairo on Monday, an Israeli official told AFP.

The team was to resume Egyptian-mediated talks it had abandoned on Friday after Hamas refused to extend an earlier truce and resumed its fire on southern Israel. Israel had pledged to send its negotiating team back when the truce took hold.

Palestinian delegates in Cairo said they would be happy for Abbas's Palestinian Authority to take over the reconstruction of Gaza and execute any agreement reached in Cairo. Israel has no direct interface with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

"The national unity government and the Palestinian Authority will take over the execution of all that will be agreed upon during the truce talks," Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Palestinian delegation, told reporters. "We are backing the setting up of a national body to be formed by President Abbas, which will take over the reconstruction (of Gaza)," said senior Hamas official Ezzat al-Rishq. "The president of the body should be professional, credible and one who will be accepted internationally."

The new truce deal followed a similar arrangement last week which had brought relief to millions on both sides of the border.

Extract: Truce holds as Cairo talks turn to Gaza blockade
By Hazel Ward, Yahoo News
Tuesday, August 12, 2014 — Updated 6.30pm (AEST), 11.30am (Israel time)

Jerusalem (AFP) — The skies over Gaza remained calm on the second day Tuesday of a 72-hour truce as negotiators in Cairo prepared to tackle the thorny issue of the Israeli blockade.

As Gaza's residents ventured out to try to piece together their battered lives, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to sit down for a second day of indirect talks aimed at finding a durable end to the five-week confrontation. But a senior Israeli official said there had been no progress so far, telling AFP there was still a long way to go to reach an agreement to end the conflict. "The gaps are still very wide. There has not been progress in the negotiations," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A first day of talks on Monday had lasted nearly 10 hours, a Palestinian official told AFP in Cairo, describing the negotiations as "serious" but saying Tuesday's meetings would be crucial. Israel had insisted on the demilitarisation of Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza, but the Palestinians had refused, he said. "(Tuesday's) meeting should be the most important," he said, adding that the talks would tackle core issues such as Israel's eight-year blockade of Gaza, which the Palestinians want lifted.

Talks are expected to resume around noon (1900 AEST) and last into the evening, another Palestinian official said. Hamas wants Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on Gaza in 2006 before it will stop rocket attacks. Israel has said it will only facilitate Gaza's reconstruction if the enclave is fully disarmed.

Egypt, which brokered the three-day truce, has urged the warring sides to make every effort to reach "a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire".

(Israeli) Finance Minister Yair Lapid told AFP he was pushing for an international conference on Gaza's future that would involve regional players as well as Washington, the European Union and moderate Arab states such as Saudi Arabia. "We think that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas should take control of Gaza and be active in its reconstruction," the minister told AFP.

Meanwhile, Israel lashed out after the UN Human Rights Council named three experts who would be involved in an inquiry into its Gaza offensive. Canadian international lawyer William Schabas, who will head the commission, is widely regarded in Israel as being hostile to the Jewish state over reported calls to haul Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the International Criminal Court. "This commission's anti-Israeli conclusions have already been written, all it needs is a signature," railed foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Extract: Egypt presents proposal to end war in Gaza
By Mohammed Daraghmeh, Yahoo News
Associated Press writers Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014 — Updated 9.30am (AEST), 2.30am (Israel time)

Egypt presented a proposed cease-fire to Israel and Hamas aimed at ending the monthlong war, Palestinian officials said early Wednesday after negotiators huddled for a second day of Egyptian-mediated talks meant to resolve the crisis and bring relief to the embattled Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials told The Associated Press early Wednesday morning that Egypt's proposal calls for easing parts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, bringing some relief to the territory. But it leaves the key areas of disagreement, including the Islamic militant group Hamas' demand for a full lifting of the blockade and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm, to later negotiations.

If the sides accept the proposal it would have a significant impact on Palestinians in Gaza as it would improve the movement of individuals and merchandise to the West Bank, the officials said. Gaza exports and other businesses have been hit hard by restrictions imposed on the territory by Israel and Egypt after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

One of the Palestinian officials who spoke to AP said that according to the Egyptian proposal the blockade would be gradually eased. He said it would stipulate that Israel would end airstrikes on militants, and a 500-meter (547-yard) buffer zone next to the Gaza and Israel frontier would be reduced over time, he said.

The Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams retired after 10 hours of discussions and will resume the talks later Wednesday, about 12 hours before the current cease-fire is set to expire at midnight, the officials said. It was not immediately clear if either side would accept the deal.

The Palestinian officials spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the negotiations with the media.

With the truce set to expire, Egypt pressed the sides hard to reach a deal. "The talks are difficult but serious," Moussa Abu Marzouk, head of the Hamas delegation, wrote on his Facebook page. "The delegation needs to achieve the hopes of the people."

Any deal will almost certainly include an increased role by Abbas. The Palestinian leader recently formed a unity government backed by Hamas, ostensibly putting him in charge of Gaza. But in reality, Hamas, with its thousands of fighters and arsenal of rockets, remains the real power.

Another member of the Palestinian delegation reported some progress, saying Israel had offered a number of gestures aimed at improving life for Gaza's 1.8 million residents. They included an increase in the number of trucks permitted to deliver goods into the territory from Israel each day, and the transfer of funds by Abbas' Palestinian Authority to Hamas-affiliated government employees in Gaza. The cash-strapped Hamas has been unable to pay the salaries of its employees for months. Also included in the purported Israeli package, the official said, was an eventual quadrupling — to 12 miles (19 kilometers) — of the sea area in which Gaza fishing vessels are permitted to operate.

But the official said Israel was linking progress on the Palestinians' biggest demands — to reopen the territory's sea and airport — to Hamas disarming. The group has rejected this demand. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing ongoing negotiations. Palestinian officials said they were open to extending the talks if progress was being made.

Israeli officials declined comment on the negotiations. But in a possible sign of progress, the Ynet website said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been speaking to senior Cabinet ministers about an emerging agreement. It said the deal would include a softening of the blockade to allow the entry of construction materials for rebuilding Gaza under strict international supervision. Israel has limited the flow of goods like concrete and metal, saying Hamas would use them for military use.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said he did not know if there would be a deal by Wednesday night's deadline, and warned that fighting could resume. "I don't know if we should extend negotiations. It could be that fire erupts again," he said. "We must be on alert and ready all the time."

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva this week formed a commission to look into possible war crimes violations during the Gaza fighting. Israel has not said whether it will cooperate with the investigation. But the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it believes the commission, and its chief investigator, Canadian law professor William Schabas, are biased against Israel. Israel's Foreign Ministry called the commission a "kangaroo court" whose verdict is "known ahead of time."

Meanwhile, the world's largest bloc of Islamic nations called for an international donors conference for Gaza. The 56-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation also expressed its disappointment at the failure of the U.N. Security Council "to assume its responsibilities" of maintaining peace and security. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal said his country would work with other donors to finance $500 million for the reconstruction of houses and facilities in Gaza. He did not elaborate. Officials have said at least $6 billion is needed.

Extract: Gaza Truce Extension Fans Hope of Cairo Talks Deal
By Mohammed Daraghmeh, ABC News
Associated Press
Thursday, August 14, 2014 — Updated 5.18pm (AEST), 10.18am (Israel time)

CAIRO: A five-day extension of a Gaza truce appeared to be holding despite a rocky start on Thursday, fanning cautious optimism of progress in the Israel-Hamas negotiations underway in Cairo. It's the longest cease-fire yet since the war broke out last month in the Gaza Strip. Violence briefly spiked as the extension of a previous, 72-hour truce was announced shortly before midnight on Wednesday. The extension is to last until midnight on Monday.

Israel's military said eight Hamas rockets were launched at Israel but that the firing stopped in the early hours of Thursday morning. Israel retaliated with airstrikes on rockets and rocket-launching sites in Gaza, the military said. Gaza police said it recorded 17 Israeli strikes but that no casualties were reported.

Palestinian negotiators in Cairo expressed optimism that a deal to create a sustainable roadmap for the war-torn territory could soon be achieved.

In Cairo, Hamas official Izzat al-Rishiq official said agreement on some points in a long-term deal had already been reached, but that additional time was needed to hammer out a comprehensive agreement. "We are holding onto our demands to open the seaport and the airport in Gaza so we can end the blockade once and for all," he said, referring to what has been a key Hamas demand in the talks for two links with the outside world.

Al-Rishiq said Hamas negotiators were leaving Cairo on Thursday for consultations in the Qatari capital of Doha. The tiny Gulf Arab nation of Qatar is seen as a conduit for Hamas demands. It hosts several senior Hamas leaders and has staunchly opposed the Egypt-Israel blockade of the Palestinian coastal strip.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev would not comment on the progress of Cairo talks.

Cease fire talks in Cairo Photo: REUTERS
Draft terms reportedly include agreement to open border crossings, deploy PA security forces in enclave.
The Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
Saturday, August 16, 2014 — Updated 1.17am (AEST), 6.17pm Friday (Israel time)

Details of a framework for a long term cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians, including highly contentious issues such as border crossings and the deployment of Palestinian Authority security forces, were revealed in a report of the Egyptian newspaper A-Shorouk on Friday.

Israel's security cabinet convened in Tel Aviv on Friday morning to discuss the negotiations taking place in Cairo to end the hostilities in Gaza which began at the beginning of July.

On Friday evening, Israeli government officials said that Israel has not yet acceded to any agreement, and that Israel stands firm that understandings will be reached only if its security interests are ensured.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinians have yet responded to Egypt's call to commit to the terms of the truce, according to the report that cited Egyptian sources with insider knowledge of the negotiations.

The sources, who requested anonymity, told A-Shorouk that there has been progress in the talks and the parties were set to discuss the Cairo framework proposals following consultations over the weekend.

The draft cease-fire terms stipulate that Israel will stop its offensive against Gaza from the air, sea, and land and will promise not to enter the territory or harm its citizens. The Palestinian factions will stop their attacks on Israel and will stop digging tunnels outside Gaza's territory in Israel and will promise not to fire rockets at Israel and not carry out border attacks or harm its citizens.

On the issue of the border crossings, the agreement states that they will be "open so that the 'blockade' on the coastal territory will be lifted. The movement of people, goods, and building material between the West Bank and Gaza will flow pursuant to understandings reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority."

Under the reported terms, Israel will coordinate with the PA with regard to the transfer of funds to Gaza, the elimination of Israel's security buffer in the northern and eastern part of the coastal territory, and the deployment of Palestinian Authority security forces beginning in January 2015.

The document also reportedly establishes that there will be a six-mile fishing zone in Gaza's territorial waters that will be expanded to at least 12 miles subject to the future understandings between Israel and the PA.

After the parties sign the draft and following a month where the cease-fire holds, the parties will return to Cairo to conduct broader negotiations which will include talks on prisoner swaps as well as finding a way to establish an airport and a seaport in Gaza.

An Egyptian source told A-Shorouk that when the Palestinian delegation to the talks raised the issue of a Gaza airport, the Israeli delegation demanded the demilitarization of the enclave, and that both issues were subsequently taken off the table for a later stage of negotiations.

Extract: Gaza truce talks break down as Israel, militants trade rocket fire
Associated Press contributed to this report
Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Talks being held in Cairo for a long-term Gaza cease-fire broke down Tuesday as Israel recalled its delegation hours after Palestinian militants broke an earlier truce by launching volleys of rockets. An Israeli official told The Associated Press that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered negotiators at cease-fire talks to return home.

The Israeli military said a total of 10 rockets had fallen Tuesday, including one that damaged a coffee shop in southern Israel. Israel responded to the rockets by launching their own airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian officials in Gaza reported more than two dozen Israeli airstrikes. At least 21 people, including 14 women and children, were wounded in a strike that hit a building housing the offices of Hamas' Al Aqsa TV station in Gaza City.

Israel's civil defense authority, the Home Front Command, ordered authorities to reopen public bomb shelters within a 25-mile range of Gaza. The Israeli moves, coupled with the outbreak of violence, threw Egyptian efforts to arrange a long-term cease-fire into jeopardy.

The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to journalists, said the Egyptian-hosted talks with Hamas militants are based on the "premise" that there will be no violence. The talks faced a midnight deadline. There was no immediate Egyptian comment, but a Hamas official declared the talks over.

In Cairo, the head of the Palestinian delegation, which is comprised of various factions, said no progress had been made in Tuesday's talks, but expressed hope they could still succeed. "We gave the Egyptians our final position. We are waiting for them to come back with a response," said Azzam al-Ahmed, a close aide to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Earlier Tuesday, Israel's military said three rockets launched from Gaza City landed in open fields near the southern city of Beersheba. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But shortly before the launch, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum hinted of more rocket fire, saying: "If Netanyahu doesn't understand … the language of politics in Cairo, we know how to make him understand."

Protesters hold a fake US flag with swastikas and stars of David during a demonstration against the
Israeli offensive in Gaza, in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid. Source: AFP
Extract: Hamas finally comes clean: we kidnapped Israeli teens and triggered this bloody war
The Australian
Saturday, August 23, 2014 — Updated 12.00am (AEST), 5.00pm Friday (Israel time)

A SENIOR Hamas leader has admitted the terror group carried out the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June — the first time anyone from the Islamic militant group has said it was behind an attack that helped spark the current war in the Gaza Strip.

Saleh Arouri told a conference in Turkey that Hamas's military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, carried out what he described as a "heroic operation" with the broader goal of sparking a new Palestinian up­rising. "It was an operation by your brothers from the al-Qassam Brigades," he said, saying Hamas hoped to exchange the youths for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Hamas has repeatedly praised the kidnappings, but Mr Arouri, the group's exiled West Bank leader, is the first member to claim responsibility.

The claim emerged as three senior Hamas commanders and four children were among 24 Palestinians killed in Gaza yesterday as Israel stepped up airstrikes on day 45 of the bloody conflict. Aside from the 24 people killed in airstrikes, rescue workers also found the body of a child under the rubble who had been killed on Tuesday and a man died of his injuries sustained earlier in the conflict, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Their deaths raised the overall toll in Gaza to 2075, with more than 10,310 wounded, he said. Of 67 Israelis killed, three were civilians. Since violence resumed following the collapse of a truce agreement on Tuesday, 58 people have been killed. The leaders in the al-Qassam Brigades were among at least 10 people killed when Israeli missiles destroyed a four-storey home in the southern city of Rafah before dawn. The brigades, the military wing of Hamas which holds de facto power in Gaza, identified the three as Mohammed Abu Shamala, Raed al-Atar and Mohammed Barhum.

The deadly raid came 36 hours after the wife and infant son of the brigades' top military leader, Mohammed Deif, were killed in an Israeli strike on Gaza City. Rescue workers yesterday also pulled the body of Deif's three-year-old daughter Sara from the ruins, Mr Qudra said. During the morning, two strikes hit people in the street in the northern town of Beit Lahiya and in Gaza City, killing seven, four of them children.

Israel had accused Hamas of orchestrating the June kidnappings and identified two operatives as the chief suspects. The two men remain on the loose.

Mr Arouri told the conference that Hamas "did not have the intention at this time to ignite a large battle". He said Hamas did not believe Israel wanted a war either. "But Allah has chosen and willed that a large battle would be ignited," he said.

Mr Arouri, one of Hamas's most senior figures, founded Hamas' military wing in the West Bank two decades ago and now commands the group's operations in the area from exile in Turkey. He was deported several years ago in a deal that freed him from an Israeli prison.

Also, the armed wing of Hamas has executed three Palestinians and arrested seven others for allegedly collaborating with Israel during the Gaza war, a website close to the movement reported yesterday. No date was given for the executions or the arrests. Under Palestinian law, collaborating with Israel, murder and drug trafficking are punishable by death.

A ball of fire rises in Gaza City following an Israeli airstrike at the weekend targeting office and apartment buildings.
Source: AP
Israeli jets level Gaza high rises
The Australian
Monday, August 25, 2014 — Updated 12.00am (AEST), 5.00pm Sunday (Israel time)

AN Israeli airstrike on Gaza killed two Palestinians and wounded five yesterday, as a series of attacks signaled a new tactic in the seven-week conflict. The strike hit the western side of Gaza City about 5am (12pm AEST), a day after Egypt called for an open-ended ceasefire to enable new truce talks. Hours earlier a seven-floor office building was levelled and a two-storey shopping centre seriously damaged.

On Saturday Israel bombed an apartment tower in Gaza City, collapsing the 12-storey building that housed 44 apartments.

The targeting of large buildings appears to be part of a new military strategy by Israel. Over the weekend the army began warning Gaza residents in automated phone calls that it would target buildings harbouring "terrorist infrastructure" and that they should stay away from those areas. A senior military official confirmed Israel had a policy of striking at buildings containing Hamas operational centres or those from which military activities were launched. The official said each strike required prior approval from military lawyers and was carried out after the population was warned. However, he said, there was now a widening of locations that the military could target.

Meanwhile, Gaza militants continued to fire rockets and mortar shells at Israel, the military said. Elsewhere, five more rockets were fired from Syria and fell in open areas in northern Israel. It was not immediately clear whether they were fired by pro-government forces or rebel groups.

Amid persistent violence, Egypt has urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume indirect talks in Cairo on a durable ceasefire, but stopped short of issuing invitations. Several rounds of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas have collapsed, along with temporary ceasefires that accompanied them. The gaps between Israel and the Islamic militant group on a new border deal for blockaded Gaza remain vast, and there's no sign either is willing to budge.

In the town of Rafah, Israeli aircraft bombed the seven-storey Zourab building which houses an office of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry. Witnesses said the building was levelled and that the strikes caused serious damage to nearby shops, homes and cars. Another strike hit a nearby shopping centre with dozens of shops, sparking a fire that gutted the two-storey building.

After daybreak yesterday smoke was still rising from the site as shop owners inspected the damage. Windows and doors had been blown out in nearby buildings. The military said the two buildings were attacked because they housed facilities linked to militants, but did not provide details. The Gaza City apartment tower that was toppled was targeted because a Hamas command centre operated from there, the army said.

The UN estimates more than 17,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair since the war began on July 8. In some of the attacks, homes with three or four floors were pulverised. However, the weekend strikes marked the first time large buildings were toppled.

Since the fighting began, Israel has launched 5000 airstrikes, while Gaza militants have fired close to 4000 rockets and mortars, according to the Israeli military. More than 2100 Palestinians, including almost 500 children, have been killed, according to Palestinian health officials and UN figures. Israel has lost 64 soldiers and four civilians. The UN says about three-quarters of the Palestinians killed were civilians.

'Permanent' ceasefire deal reached in Gaza
Celebrations on the streets of Gaza after an Egypt-brokered ceasefire agreement is reached between Israel
and the Palestinians.
Extract: Gaza ceasefire holding: crowds celebrate
Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday, August 27, 2014 — Updated 9.21am (AEST), 2.21am (Israel time)

A ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians aimed at ending their seven-week conflict in Gaza appears to be holding as the focus shifts to securing an arrangement for the long term. No clear victor emerged from what had become a war of attrition between the Middle East's most powerful armed forces and the dominant Hamas militant movement in the Gaza Strip.

Exacting a heavy toll in Palestinian lives and property, Israel said it dealt a strong blow to Hamas, killing several of its military leaders and destroying the group's cross-border infiltration tunnels. But Israel also faced persistent rocket fire for nearly two months that caused an exodus from a number of border communities and became part of daily life in its commercial heartland.

Palestinian and Egyptian officials said the deal, which was mediated in Cairo and took effect on Tuesday evening (2.00am Wednesday morning AEST), called for an indefinite halt to hostilities, the immediate opening of Gaza's blockaded crossings with Israel and Egypt and a widening of the territory's fishing zone in the Mediterranean. A senior official of the Islamist group Hamas, which runs Gaza, voiced willingness for the security forces of Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the unity government he formed in June to control the passage points.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are seeking guarantees that weapons will not enter the territory of 1.8 million people. Under a second stage of the truce that would begin a month later, Israel and the Palestinians would discuss the construction of a Gaza sea port and Israel's release of Hamas prisoners in the occupied West Bank, possibly in a trade for body parts of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas, the officials said.


After the ceasefire began, crowds and traffic filled the streets of Gaza. Car horns blared and recorded chants praising God sounded from mosque loudspeakers. Celebratory gunfire killed one Palestinian and wounded 19 others, hospital officials said. "Today we declare the victory of the resistance, today we declare the victory of Gaza," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Israel gave a low-key response to the truce, saying it would facilitate the flow of civilian goods and humanitarian and reconstruction aid into the impoverished territory if the "open-ended" ceasefire was honoured. "We have no problem with civilian support for Gaza," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "We don't want to see Hamas rebuild its military machine."

Many residents of southern Israel remained sceptical, and some officials recommended against returning home too soon. "We had ceasefires in the past that didn't succeed or work out well, and [Hamas] continued with their terror, destruction, with all their craziness, and we no longer believe them," said Israeli Meirav Danino outside a supermarket in the border town of Sderot that for years has been hit by rockets.

The United States and United Nations urged both sides to comply with the terms of the agreement. "We are all aware that this is an opportunity, not a certainty," said US Secretary of State John Kerry. "We have been down this road before and we are all aware of the challenges ahead."

Extract: Israel and Hamas both claim victory in Gaza war
The Australian
Associated Press
Thursday, August 28, 2014 — Updated 6.14am (AEST)

BOTH Israel's prime minister and Hamas have declared victory in the Gaza war, though their competing claims left questions over future terms of their uneasy peace still lingering. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's comments, delivered in a prime-time address on national television, appeared aimed at countering critics of the war, with both hardliners in his governing coalition, as well as residents of rocket-scarred southern Israel, saying the war was a failure because it did not halt Hamas' rocket attacks or oust the group from power.

Masked Hamas militants carrying heavy weapons gave their own address upon the rubble of one destroyed Gaza neighbourhood, though their own major demands won't be addressed until indirect talks with Israel begin again in Cairo.

"Hamas was hit hard and it received not one of the demands it set forth for a ceasefire, not one," Mr Netanyahu said. He said Israel "will not tolerate" any more rocket fire, and would respond "even harder" if the attacks resume. Addressing the future of Gaza, Mr Netanyahu said that should Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "choose peace," he would be happy for the Palestinian leader to regain control of the coastal enclave, which the Islamic militant group Hamas has ruled since it routed Abbas' forces in 2007.

Mr Netanyahu indicated that so long as Hamas was in power, reaching a negotiated solution to the conflict with the Palestinians was impossible.

Critics have said that Mr Netanyahu did not go far enough to topple Hamas and that the war, meant to end incessant rocket fire on communities in Israel's south, changed little on the ground at the cost of 70 people killed on the Israeli side, all but six were soldiers. The war marked the third round of fighting since Hamas seized power in Gaza. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Mr Netanyahu's main coalition partner, said that violence would continue if Hamas was not toppled and that the ceasefire would allow Hamas to "grow stronger."

Hamas also declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless, according to Palestinian health officials and United Nations figures. Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, stood over an Israeli flag as he addressed the crowd. "Gaza achieved victory because it has done what major armies failed to do. It forced the enemy to retreat," he said. "We must know that no voice is louder than the voice of the resistance."

Life slowly returned to normal in Gaza, as traffic policemen took up their positions in streets overwhelmed by vehicles transporting thousands of people back to the homes they had abandoned during the fighting. Harried utility crews struggled to repair electricity and water infrastructure damaged by weeks of Israeli air strikes.

The United Nations' said that the number of displaced people had decreased significantly. UNRWA, the UN Palestinian refugee agency, said about 53,000 people are still living in shelters, down from almost 290,000 on Tuesday.

Israeli cabinet splits over ceasefire
Lieberman attacks Netanyahu for ending war in Gaza
The Australian
John Lyons, Middle East Correspondent
Additional reporting: Agencies
Friday, August 29, 2014

A SPLIT has emerged in the Israeli government between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and key ministers over the handling of Hamas. A day after Mr Netanyahu personally decided on a ceasefire with Hamas, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel should not have ended the war in Gaza.

The split comes as an opinion poll shows that 54 per cent of Israelis believe neither side won the war. Mr Lieberman branded Hamas "worthless murderers" who should not be negotiated with.

Mr Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire in the 50-day war with Hamas on Wednesday. He did not take the decision to his cabinet for approval — possibly because he did not think he could get majority support for it. A significant section of the cabinet believes Israel should have continued the war until Hamas was destroyed. Others in the cabinet, including Mr Netanyahu, are known to believe that a seriously weakened Hamas, whose tunnel network has been destroyed, is preferable to one of the other groups in Gaza that could replace Hamas.

Within Gaza, Hamas is having an ongoing power struggle with Islamic Jihad and five other Salafist groups. One of the problems for Israel, and Hamas, is that while there may be a ceasefire agreed between Israel and Hamas, one of these other groups in Gaza is able to decide at any moment to fire rockets into Israel.

Mr Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett are the leaders of the "crush Hamas" faction in cabinet. The issue is tied up with domestic political rivalry — Mr Lieberman and Mr Bennett are known to aspire to the Prime Minister's job and both have been positioning themselves for some time as the real leader of the Right in Israel.

Mr Lieberman recently flagged his hostility to Mr Netanyahu by a scathing attack on him in a cabinet meeting, claiming he was "too soft" on Hamas, before deciding to end a merger between Mr Netanyahu's party, Likud, and his own, Yisrael Beiteinu. Upon dissolving the merger, Mr Lieberman said: "Recently, the differences of opinion between the Prime Minister and myself have become fundamental and over principles."

Yesterday Mr Lieberman made clear his opposition to the ceasefire. Writing on his Facebook page, he said: "Hamas is not a partner for any arrangement, be it diplomatic or security-related. It's impossible and forbidden to rely on worthless murderers. As long as Hamas isn't defeated, the rocket and tunnel threats remain. We must stand firm that Hamas makes no political gains through this ceasefire."

In Gaza, Hamas is presenting the ceasefire as a victory, claiming that Israel has agreed to ease its seven-year blockade of Gaza by opening three more crossings into Israel and extending the fishing zone.

In Israel, Mr Netanyahu said Hamas had been dealt "a heavy blow", but was less confident about whether the war had achieved the aim of calm. "Will we get long-term calm ?" he said. "I think it is too early to tell. But I can say that the blows to Hamas, and our ability to keep them from rearming by supervising the borders, increase the chances that this will be achieved."

He added: "Hamas was hit hard and it received not one of the demands it set forth for a ceasefire, not one." He said Israel "will not tolerate" any more rocket fire, and would respond "even harder" if the attacks resume.

Irish members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force sit on their armoured vehicles
in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. Source: AFP
Extract: Terror groups take UN troops hostage
The Australian AFP
Saturday, August 30, 2014

New York: Syrian armed groups, some of them linked to al-Qa'ida, captured 43 UN peacekeepers on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights yesterday and surrounded 81 others. The 43 peacekeepers from Fiji were forced to surrender their weapons and were taken hostage near the Quneitra crossing, but 81 Filipino blue helmets "held their ground" and refused to disarm, the Filipino Defence Department said. "This resulted in a standoff which is still the prevailing situation, as UN officials try to peacefully resolve the situation," said a statement from Manila.

Fiji army chief Brigadier-General Mosese Tikoitoga said the captured peacekeepers were all safe, and he asked people in the Pacific nation to pray that they are released unharmed. "(The) men are safe and well even, though they are detained by armed rebels in the Golan region," he said in Suva.

Syrian rebels, including fighters from the al-Qa'ida affiliate al-Nusra Front, stormed the crossing at Quneitra on Thursday, sparking an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops. Quneitra is the only crossing between the Syrian and the Israeli-controlled side of the strategic plateau.

The UN Security Council "strongly condemned" the detention of the 43, and the "surrounding of positions" manned by the 81 other peacekeepers, by "terrorist groups and by members of non-state armed groups". The council demanded the "unconditional and immediate release of all the detained UN peacekeepers" and urged countries with influence to help win their release. The 81 Filipino troops were locked in a standoff near Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah, while the Fijian soldiers were taken to the southern part of the buffer zone, UN officials said. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it was unclear which group had staged the attacks. "Some groups are self-identified as affiliated to al-Nusra but we are not able to confirm," he said.

The US State Department pointed the finger at al-Nusra, however. "The US strongly condemns the detention of UN peacekeepers and ongoing violence targeting the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights by non-state armed groups," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. Washington demanded their "unconditional and immediate release".

UN officials noted that peacekeepers monitoring the armistice line between Israel and Syria were detained twice last year before being released safely. In June last year, there was a similar takeover of the crossing by rebel forces, but the Syrian Army managed to regain control.

Six countries contribute troops to the 1200-strong UNDOF: Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, The Netherlands and The Philippines. The Philippines, which has 331 troops serving in UNDOF, announced on Saturday that it would pull out of the peace force, citing security concerns. Filipino defence officials said no fresh troops would be sent once the current soldiers returned from duty in October. Last year, Manila also considered pulling its Golan peacekeepers out after 25 of them were kidnapped but later freed by Syrian rebels. A Filipino soldier was also wounded by a shell last year. Since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, the plateau has been tense, with a growing number of rockets and mortar rounds hitting the Israeli side.

During fighting on Thursday, several mortars landed in or near UN positions. Israel, which has yet to sign a peace deal with Syria, seized 1200sq km of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

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