By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller
GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Israel bombed Palestinian militant targets in the Gaza Strip from air and sea for a fifth straight day on Sunday, preparing for a possible ground invasion while also spelling out its conditions for a truce.
Palestinian fire into Israel subsided during the night but resumed in the morning, with rockets targeting the country's commercial capital Tel Aviv for a fourth day. The two missiles were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome air shield.
Speaking shortly after the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to widen its offensive.
"We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organisations and the Israel Defence Forces are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation," he said at a cabinet meeting, giving no further details.
Some 51 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 14 children, have been killed since the Israeli offensive began, Palestinian officials said, with hundreds wounded. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three civilians and wounding dozens.
Israel unleashed intensive air strikes on Wednesday, killing the military commander of the Islamist Hamas movement that governs Gaza and spurns peace with the Jewish state.
Israel's declared goal is to deplete Gaza arsenals and press Hamas into stopping cross-border rocket fire that has bedevilled Israeli border towns for years and is now displaying greater range, putting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the crosshairs.
Air raids continued past midnight into Sunday, with warships shelling from the sea. Two Gaza City media buildings were hit, witnesses said, wounding six journalists and damaging facilities belonging to Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV as well as Britain's Sky News.
An employee of Beirut-based al Quds television station lost his leg in the attack, medics said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman said the strike had targeted a rooftop "transmission antenna used by Hamas to carry out terror activity". International media organisations demanded further clarification.
Three other attacks killed three children and wounded 14 other people, medical officials said, with heavy thuds regularly jolting the small, densely populated coastal enclave.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said in Cairo, as his security deputies sought to broker a truce with Hamas leaders, that "there are some indications that there is a possibility of a ceasefire soon, but we do not yet have firm guarantees".
Egypt has mediated previous ceasefire deals between Israel and Hamas, the latest of which unravelled with recent violence.
A Palestinian official told Reuters the truce discussions would continue in Cairo on Sunday, saying "there is hope", but that it was too early to say whether the efforts would succeed.
At a Gaza news conference, Hamas military spokesman Abu Ubaida voiced defiance, saying: "This round of confrontation will not be the last against the Zionist enemy and it is only the beginning."
Israel's military also saw action along the northern frontier, firing into Syria on Saturday in what it said was a response to shooting aimed at its troops in the occupied Golan Heights. Israel's chief military spokesman, citing Arab media, said it appeared Syrian soldiers were killed in the incident.
There were no reported casualties on the Israeli side from the shootings, the third case this month of violence that has been seen as a spillover of battles between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels trying to overthrow him.
With tanks and artillery poised along the Gaza frontier for a possible ground operation, Israel's cabinet decided on Friday to double the current reserve troop quota set for the offensive to 75,000. Some 30,000 soldiers have already been called up.
"If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack," Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon wrote on Twitter.
Israel's operation so far has drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called its right to self-defence, but there was also a growing number of appeals from them to seek an end to the hostilities.
Netanyahu, in his comments at Sunday's cabinet session, said he had emphasised in telephone conversations with world leaders "the effort Israel is making to avoid harming civilians, while Hamas and the terrorist organisations are making every effort to hit civilian targets in Israel".
Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza in 2005 and two years later Hamas took control of the slender, impoverished territory, which the Israelis have kept under blockade.
PRESSURE ON SIDES TO "DE-ESCALATE"
British Prime Minister David Cameron "expressed concern over the risk of the conflict escalating further and the danger of further civilian casualties on both sides", in a conversation with Netanyahu, a spokesperson for Cameron said.
Britain was "putting pressure on both sides to de-escalate," the spokesman said, adding that Cameron had urged Netanyahu "to do everything possible to bring the conflict to an end."
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said the United States would like to see the conflict resolved through "de-escalation" and diplomacy, but also believed Israel had the right to self-defence.
Diplomats at the United Nations said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to visit Israel and Egypt in the coming week to push for an end to the fighting.
A possible move into the Gaza Strip and the risk of major casualties it brings would be a significant gamble for Netanyahu, favoured to win a January election.
The last Gaza war, a three-week Israeli blitz and invasion over the New Year of 2008-09, killed 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict.
The current flare-up around Gaza has fanned the fires of a Middle East ignited by a series of Arab uprisings and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spread beyond its borders.
One significant change has been the election of an Islamist government in Cairo that is allied with Hamas, which may narrow Israel's manoeuvring room in confronting the Palestinian group. Israel and Egypt made peace in 1979.
In attacks on Saturday, Israel destroyed the house of a Hamas commander near the Egyptian border.
Casualties there were averted however, because Israel had fired non-exploding missiles at the building beforehand from a drone, which the militant's family understood as a warning to flee, witnesses said.
Israeli aircraft also bombed Hamas government buildings in Gaza on Saturday, including the offices of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and a police headquarters.
Israel's "Iron Dome" missile interceptor system has destroyed more than 200 incoming rockets from Gaza in mid-air since Wednesday, saving Israeli towns and cities from potentially significant damage.
However, one rocket salvo unleashed on Sunday evaded Iron Dome and wounded two people when it hit a house in the coastal city of Ashkelon, police said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during her talks in Israel this week not to take any extreme actions in response to the Palestinian move in the United Nations for recognition as a non-member state. Clinton said such steps against the Palestinian Authority could bring about its collapse. The Palestinians are planning to ask the United Nations General Assembly to vote on upgrading its status from non-member entity on the symbolic date of November 29.
The day after the cease-fire with Hamas took effect, Israel is preparing for the next crisis with the Palestinians, which is scheduled for six days from now. November 29th is the anniversary of the United Nations vote on accepting the Partition Plan in 1947, which led to the founding of the Jewish Sate. It is also the United Nations' International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Read more here.
From the Jerusalem Post:
Washington is urging Israel not to allow construction in the area known as E-1 between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim as a possible response to the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition next week at the UN, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Building in E-1, which would create contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim to the northeast beyond the Green Line, is something various Israeli governments have long wanted to do, but which US opposition has prevented.
Read more here.
The New York Times' Jodi Rudoren chronicles displays of pride and sacrifice:
Inside a courtyard, there are faded remnants of “Congratulations from the uncles,” from the April wedding of a son of Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, whose assassination last week was the beginning of the latest round of intense battle between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
On the wall outside, the colorful Arabic script reads “Welcome hajji, Abu Muhammad,” a reference to Mr. Jabari’s return from a pilgrimage to Mecca last month. Nearby, the freshest paint pronounces a message from the troops: “Rest in peace. The mission has been accomplished.”
Read the full story at the New York Times.
An underground tunnel connecting through which I got into Gaza from Egypt. Israel has repeatedly targeted the tunnel network, trying to hinder flow of goods and weapons into the strip. (Photo by Mosa'ab Elshamy via Flickr)
16 soldiers spelled out 'loser' with their bodies to critique Netanyahu and show frustration at not going into battle.
The Economist discusses how the ceasefire was achieved and whether it could lead to lasting peace in the region.
Among others coming and going were the UN secretary-general, the American secretary of state and the foreign ministers of Turkey and Germany. But the real bargaining took place behind closed doors at the headquarters of General Muhammad Shehata, Egypt’s intelligence chief. There, in separate rooms, the Egyptians haggled with a legal adviser to the Israeli prime minister, and with representatives from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza, and a smaller, more radical Palestinian faction, Islamic Jihad.
From the Associated Press:
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's army spokeswoman says an Israeli Arab who is a member of Hamas has been arrested for Wednesday's bus bombing in Tel Aviv.
The bombing injured 27 people near Israel's military headquarters and threatened to scuttle efforts to broker a cease-fire to end fighting between Israel and Gaza.
Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich reported Thursday on Twitter that authorities had arrested the man who planted the bomb on the bus and identified him as an Arab Israeli from the village of Taybeh. She said he was a member of Hamas.
|@ haaretzcom : BREAKING: #Israel security forces arrest suspects in #TelAviv bus blast http://t.co/91fS0v48|
A Palestinian boy and militants of the Izzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, attend funerals of five Hamas militants in Mugharka village, central Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Five Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli air strike yesterday, Palestinian health officials said. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
While the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Gaza on Wednesday brought an end to the rockets and airstrikes, the political fallout is just beginning. The Associated Press offers a breakdown of who won and who lost as a result of the truce agreement:
Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel secured an agreement to stop the persistent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel without launching a ground invasion into Gaza or losing the support of its international allies. Netanyahu's bid for re-election in January could be vastly strengthened by the operation and by the killing of Hamas militant leader Ahmed Jabari on the first day of fighting. Netanyahu got the backing of President Barack Obama during the fighting, a significant achievement after their already shaky relationship grew colder when Netanyahu was perceived to favor Republican nominee Mitt Romney during the recent U.S. election. Israel also secured a commitment from the U.S. to help stop weapons smuggling into Gaza. Caption: <em>Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the national police headquarters on November 22, 2012 in Jerusalem, Israel.</em> (Gali Tibbon-Pool/Getty Images)
The Islamic militant group that rules Gaza gained significant international credibility, with Arab and Turkish diplomats pouring into the Palestinian territory to show support. Though it has been branded a terror group by Israel and the United States, it was treated as an equal partner with Israel during indirect cease-fire talks in Egypt. In those talks, it secured a commitment for the freer movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Hamas also proved its ability to fire rockets as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem despite being battered with airstrikes. As the Arab Spring brings Islamists to power across the region, Hamas' influence is on the rise. Caption: <em>A Hamas militant talks during a press conference in Gaza City, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012.</em> (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah
Abbas, who lost control of Gaza to Hamas five years ago, might be the biggest loser. He had no seat in the cease-fire negotiations and was largely sidelined during the crisis. Hamas' ability to stand up to Israel and survive could also diminish Palestinians' patience with their president's so far fruitless efforts to push for a negotiated solution to the conflict with Israel. Abbas' Western-backed government only rules in the West Bank, and his dreams of reconciling the rival Palestinian territories seems more elusive than ever. Caption: <em>Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. </em>(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi: The former Muslim Brotherhood leading figure emerged from his first major international crisis with enhanced prestige and proved his government can mediate between the two sworn enemies, something the United States cannot do because it considers Hamas a terrorist organization and doesn't allow contacts between its members and American officials. Egypt's sponsorship of the cease-fire ensures Morsi a central role in the future of the region. Caption: <em>In this Friday, July 13, 2012 photo, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaks to reporters during a joint news conference with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, unseen, at the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt.</em> (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
The United States
While the Obama administration has sought to refocus its foreign policy on Asia, the Gaza fighting forced it to turn back to a conflict it has sought to move past. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's last-minute shuttle diplomacy might have strengthened a U.S.-Egyptian partnership that has been strained in the 21 months since Egyptians toppled autocratic ruler Hosni Mubarak. After a first term characterized by repeated failures in forging Israeli-Palestinian peace, the U.S. role in supporting the cease-fire could signal renewed American engagement in the region. A U.S. commitment to help stop arms smuggling to Gaza may also help repair Obama's strained relationship with Netanyahu. Caption: <em>U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wave as they arrive at Yangon International Airport in Yangon, Myanmar, on Air Force One, Monday, Nov. 19, 2012.</em> (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Read the full story on HuffPost World.
HuffPost Live's Ahmed Shihab-Eldin moderates a panel of bloggers and journalists and looks at whether members of the media have been targeted during the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Statement From the U.S. State Department:Question: Have the United States and Israel spoken specifically about the importance of safety for journalists covering the ongoing conflict in Gaza?
Answer: U.S. officials discussed a range of issues with their Israeli counterparts with respect to the conflict in Gaza, including our concerns for the safety and security of civilians in both Israel and Gaza, which includes journalists in Gaza. In any armed conflict, journalists must be respected and protected from any form of intentional attack. Appropriate measures should be taken to ensure the safety and security of journalists as much as possible.
— Joshua Hersh
|@ haaretzcom : Israel's FM Avigdor Lieberman: We didn’t negotiate cease-fire with #Hamas, we negotiated with #Egypt http://t.co/91fS0v48 #Gaza|
A Gaza man hugs a Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant after a press conference in Gaza City, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Gazans are celebrating a cease-fire agreement reached with Israel to end eight days of the fiercest fighting in nearly four years constricting the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
|@ alextomo : #c4news #gaza Nature does it better: flashes of white light and rolling thunder as a storm piles in over Gaza AND Israel|
|@ NadimJBaba : #Gaza City's got a thunderstorm, windows at Jazeera office still to be replaced after blast damage. Many families in same boat tonight|
|@ AymanM : Pouring down rain in #gaza, eating dinner, loud thunder heard, everyone starts clapping & laughing thinking it was an airstrike #onlyingaza|
|@ haaretzcom : Do you think the recently achieved #Gaza cease-fire could lead to a broader agreement with the #Palestinians? http://t.co/Krn55GvI|
Citing a human rights group, the Maan News Agency reports that Israel has transferred to administrative detention approximately 30 Palestinians from the West Bank who were involved in solidarity events for Gaza.
Under the policy of administrative detention, Israel can hold prisoners for renewable terms of six months without pressing charges.
Among the prisoners were leaders from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as university students.
|@ blakehounshell : RT @BarakRavid: Behind the scenes of Israel's decision to accept Gaza truce - new post on Diplomania - http://t.co/QC2afTKL|
Ultra-Orthodox Jews of the Bratslav Hasidic sect, that gathered to show support for the forces, dance as they celebrate atop of a tank in southern Israel, close to the Israel Gaza Strip Border, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
On the heels of his crucial role in peace negotiations between Israel and Hamas, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has consolidated power through a series of constitutional amendments and decrees, the Associated Press reports.
Morsi's amendments also call for the re-trial of members of Hosni Mubarak's regime for the killing of protesters during the Arab Spring.
Read the full story on HuffPost World.
A flak jacket hangs on the cannon of a tank as another is guided to a new position at a staging area near the Israel Gaza Strip Border, southern Israel, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Mohammed Badei, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, has come out against Wednesday's peace accord between Israel and Hamas.
"The enemy knows nothing but the language of force," said Mohammed Badei. "Be aware of the game of grand deception with which they depict peace accords."
Badei's comments come in sharp contrast to the peace negotiations by Egypt's President, Mohammed Morsi, who is also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Badei also went on to say that "jihad is obligatory" and called on Muslims to "back your brothers in Palestine."
Read the whole story on HuffPost World.
Paul Danahar, a BBC reporter in Gaza, has been following on Twitter the saga of a doctor at a hospital in the Strip who found himself suddenly treating his own six-year-old child, who later died from injuries sustained during the shelling. There are few details so far, but on Thursday Danahar added one more sorrowful note: the doctor, according to the UN, had been working so hard helping patients from the bombing that he hadn't seen his own family for three days, until suddenly the patient dying on the table before him was his boy.
According to Al Akhbar, a photo uploaded on September 29 to the Facebook profile of the head of the IDF's social media unit shows the lieutenant posing with brown mud on his face under the caption: "Obama style."
Sacha Dratwa, a 26-year old "immigrant from Belgium" as he was described in Tablet magazine, is in charge of the IDF's Facebook, Twitter and very controversial Instagram account.
-- Ahmed Shihab-Eldin
In the midst of the fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, a Palestinian Authority ambassador vented his anger and frustration about the Hamas leadership in a phone conversation with an Israeli diplomat, Haaretz has reported.
The exchange, which was reported by the Israeli diplomat in a cable that was later leaked to Haaretz's Barak Ravid, captures the irritation and, ultimately, the impotence of the Fatah leadership in the West Bank, which found itself sidelined from the diplomatic conversation over a cease-fire in Gaza, despite technically being the appointed representatives of the Palestinian people around the world.
"The Hamas offices that were destroyed are not important," the unnamed ambassador apparently reported, expressing his sense of Hamas's indifference to what happens to their people. "The real offices are the mosques, which are connected to a widespread network of tunnels. Everything happens underground. Hamas has no regrets over the destruction in Gaza. On the contrary. Hamas gets a great deal of economic and political benefit from the terrible destruction because of the large donations that will come from the world and the political image of the organization that stands on the front line against Israel.”
The Israeli diplomat also reported the PA official as decrying his boss, PA president Mahmoud Abbas (informally known as Abu Mazen) for his failure to bring the people of Gaza under his wing:
"Abu Mazen never troubled to bring the residents of Gaza close to him," he reportedly said. He does not like Gaza, and if he could get rid of it, he would be happy to do so.... One way or another, Abu Mazen’s time is more or less up. The problem is who will replace him.
Reading over the exchange, Jeffrey Goldberg, a close Israel watcher, noted, "The difference between Israel and Fatah is that Fatah dislikes Hamas more."
Read the whole report here.
|@ BBCBreaking : Israeli soldier injured by mortar fire on Wednesday dies of wounds - sixth Israeli to die in recent conflict - reports http://t.co/6aUYSUvw|
|@ RichardEngel : #Israeli troops begin leaving border sites with #gaza|
This New York Times graphic not only charts the attacks in Israel and Gaza, but also identifies the different rockets used by Hamas and the neighborhoods affected by Israeli fire.
More important for many, though, is the context for how big Gaza is in comparison to New York City.