GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli aircraft struck crowded areas in the Gaza Strip and killed a senior militant with a missile strike on a media center Monday, driving up the Palestinian death toll to 100, as Israel broadened its targets in the 6-day-old offensive meant to quell Hamas rocket fire on Israel.
The New York Times reports that the top leader of Hamas dared Israel on Monday to launch a ground invasion of Gaza and dismissed diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire in the six-day-old conflict.
Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal told a news conference: "If you wanted to launch it, you would have done it." He suggested that the Israeli infantry mobilization on the border with Gaza was a bluff.
Escalating its bombing campaign over the weekend, Israel began attacking homes of activists in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. These attacks have led to a sharp spike in civilian casualties, killing 24 civilians in just under two days and doubling the number of civilians killed in the conflict, a Gaza health official said.
The rising toll came as Egyptian-led efforts to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas got into gear.
While Israel and Hamas were far apart in their demands, both sides said they were open to a diplomatic solution - and prepared for further escalation if that failed.
The leader of Hamas took a tough stance, rejecting Israel's demands that the militant group stop its rocket fire. Instead, Khaled Mashaal said, Israel must meet Hamas' demands for a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.
"We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he told reporters in Egypt. "We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands."
An Israeli official said Israel hoped to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis as well and signaled Egypt was likely to play a key role in enforcing any truce.
`'We prefer the diplomatic solution if it's possible. If we see it's not going to bear fruit, we can escalate," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomatic efforts under way.
The official said Israel doesn't want a "quick fix" that will result in renewed fighting months down the road. Instead, Israel wants "international guarantees" that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt's neighboring Sinai peninsula for militant activity.
Overall, the offensive that began Wednesday killed 100 Palestinians, including 53 civilians, and wounded some 840 people, including 225 children, Gaza heath official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
On the Israeli side, three civilians have died from Palestinian rocket fire and dozens have been wounded. A rocket-defense system has intercepted hundreds of rockets bound for populated areas.
Hamas fighters have fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel in the current round of fighting, including 95 on Monday, among them one that hit an empty school in the coastal city of Ashkelon. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 29 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile battery. Rockets landed in open areas of Beersheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and caused damage in a number of areas.
Schools in southern Israel have been closed since the start of the offensive on Wednesday, and large police units deployed in the area to respond to any potential damage and injuries from rockets.
A poll published in the Haaretz daily on Monday showed widespread support in Israel for the offensive. It said that 84 percent of the public supports the operation, with 12 percent opposed. At the same time, it said just 30 percent of the public supports a ground invasion of Gaza. The poll, conducted by the Dialog agency, surveyed 520 people and had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
In Monday's violence, an Israeli airstrike on a high-rise building in Gaza City killed Ramez Harb, a senior figure in Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al Quds Brigades, the group said in a text message to reporters. A number of foreign and local news organizations have offices in the building, which was also struck on Sunday. A passer-by was also killed, medics said.
Thick black smoke rose from the building. Paramedics said several people were wounded.
Islamic Jihad, a smaller sister group to Hamas, said it believed Harb was the target of the strike.
Israel has killed dozens of wanted militants in surgical strikes throughout the operation, the result, officials say, of intelligence gathered from its collection of high-flying drones overhead and a network of informants.
Before dawn Monday, a missile struck a three-story home in the Gaza City's Zeitoun area, flattening the building and badly damaging several nearby homes. Shell-shocked residents searching for belongings climbed over debris of twisted metal and cement blocks in the street.
The strike killed three adults and a 2-year-old boy, and wounded 42 people, al-Kidra said.
Residents said Israel first sent a warning strike around 2 a.m., prompting many to flee their homes. A few minutes later, heavy bombardment followed.
Ahed Kitati, 38, had rushed out after the warning missile to try to hustle people to safety. But he was fatally struck by a falling cinderblock, leaving behind a pregnant wife, five young daughters and a son, the residents said.
Sitting in mourning with her mother and siblings hours after her father's death, 11-year-old Aya Kitati clutched a black jacket, saying she was freezing, though the weather was mild. "We were sleeping, and then we heard the sound of the bombs," she said, then broke down sobbing.
Ahed's brother, Jawad Kitati, said he plucked the lifeless body of a 2-year-old relative from the street and carried him to an ambulance. Blood stains smeared his jacket sleeve.
Another clan member, Haitham Abu Zour, 24, woke up to the sound of the warning strike and hid in a stairwell. He emerged to find his wife dead and his two infant children buried under the debris, but safe.
In another area of Gaza City, the patriarch of the Daloo family, Jamal, sat in mourning for 11 members of his family killed in a missile strike on his home Sunday. Among the dead were his wife, his son, daughter-in-law, his sister and four grandchildren. He embraced relatives and neighbors paying their condolences, his face swollen from crying. He disputed Israel's initial claim that a senior Islamic Jihad operative was hiding in his house.
The mourners sat in plastic chairs just meters away from bulldozers clearing the ruins of Daloo's home. His 16-year-old daughter Yara was still missing and believed under the rubble, family members said.
Egypt is trying to broker a cease-fire with the help of Turkey and Qatar. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers were expected in Gaza on Tuesday.
A senior Egyptian official told The Associated Press that Hamas and Israel were each presenting Egypt with their conditions for a cease-fire.
"I hope that by the end of the day we will receive a final signal of what can be achieved," said the official, who is familiar with the indirect negotiations. He said Israel and Hamas are both looking for guarantees to ensure a long-term stop to hostilities. The official says Egypt's aim is to stop the fighting and "find a direct way to lift the siege of Gaza."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the indirect negotiations.
U.N. Security General Ban Ki-moon also arrived in Cairo to appeal for an end to violence.
The rising toll was likely to intensify pressure on Israel to end the fighting. Hundreds of civilian casualties in an Israeli offensive in Gaza four years ago led to fierce international condemnation of Israel.
But Mashaal said Gazans were prepared to keep fighting.
`'Gaza's demand is not a halt to war. Its demand is for its legitimate rights," including a stop to Israeli attacks, assassinations and a lifting of the blockade, Mashaal said.
Israel has been jittery that a second front along its northern border could be opened, either by militants in Lebanon or from spillover from the Syrian civil war.
Lebanese military experts dismantled two Katyusha rockets Monday that were equipped with timers and ready to fire at Israel, a senior Lebanese security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.
Associated Press writers Hamza Hendawi and Maggie Michael in Cairo and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.
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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.