GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Efforts to end a week-old convulsion of Israeli-Palestinian violence drew in the world's top diplomats on Tuesday, with President Barack Obama dispatching his secretary of state to the region on an emergency mission and the U.N. chief appealing from Cairo for an immediate cease-fire.
Israel and Gaza's militant Hamas rulers have staked tough, hard-to-bridge positions, and the gaps keep alive the threat of an Israeli ground invasion. On Tuesday, grieving Gazans were burying militants and civilians killed in ongoing Israeli airstrikes, and barrages of rockets from Gaza sent terrified Israelis scurrying to take cover.
From Egypt, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he came to the region because of the "alarming situation."
"This must stop, immediate steps are needed to avoid further escalation, including a ground operation," Ban said. "Both sides must hold fire immediately ... Further escalation of the situation could put the entire region at risk."
A deputy White House national security adviser said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would depart for the Mideast on Tuesday from Cambodia, where she had accompanied Obama on a visit to Southeast Asia. The official said Clinton would begin her Mideast diplomacy by meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, then she would meet with senior officials of the Palestinian government in the West Bank before heading to Cairo to meet with Egyptian leaders.
The U.S. considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide and other attacks, to be a terror group and does not meet with its officials. The Obama administration blames Hamas for the latest eruption of violence and says Israel has the right to defend itself. At the same time, it has warned against a ground invasion, saying it could send casualties spiraling.
The conflict erupted last week, when a resurgence in rocket fire from Gaza provoked Israel to strike back, killing Hamas' military chief in an air attack and carrying out hundreds of assaults on militants' underground rocket launchers and weapons stores.
The onslaught abruptly turned deadlier over the weekend as aircraft were ordered to go after Hamas military commanders and buildings suspected of housing their commands and weapons caches. In the narrow alleys and warrens of crowded Gaza, where militants often operate from residential areas, civilian casualties mounted.
By Tuesday, civilians accounted for 54 of the 113 Palestinians killed since the operation began. Some 840 people have been wounded, including 225 children, Gaza health officials said.
Early Tuesday, Israeli aircraft targeted another Hamas symbol of power, battering the headquarters of the bank senior Hamas officials set up to sidestep international sanctions on the militant group's rule. After Hamas violently overran Gaza in June 2007, foreign lenders stopped doing business with the militant-led Gaza government, afraid of running afoul of international terror financing laws.
The inside of the bank, which was set up by leading Hamas members and describes itself as a private enterprise, was destroyed. Abuilding supply business in the basement was damaged.
Owner Suleiman Tawil, 31, grimly surveyed the damage to his store and six company cars. "I'm not involved in politics," he said. "I'm a businessman. But the more the Israelis pressure us, the more we will support Hamas."
Fuad Hijazi and two of his toddler sons were killed Monday evening when missiles struck their one-story shack in northern Gaza, leaving a crater about two to three meters (seven to 10 feet) deep in the densely populated neighborhood. Residents said the father was not a militant.
On Tuesday morning, the boys' bodies lay next to each other on a rack in the local morgue, wrapped tightly in white burial shrouds. Their father lay in a rack below.
"We want to tell the world which is supporting the state of Israel, what this state is doing," said neighbor Rushdie Nasser. "They are supporting a state that kills children ... We want to send a message to the U.N. and the West: Enough of supporting the Zionists, who are killing children."
Three Israeli civilians have also been killed and dozens wounded since the fighting began last week, the numbers possibly kept down by a rocket-defense system that Israel developed with U.S. funding. More than 1,000 rockets have been fired at Israel this week, the military said, including three that struck schools that had been emptied because of the fighting.
As part of global efforts to end the Gaza fighting, U.N. chief arrived in Cairo on Monday and was to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on Tuesday. In Cairo, Ban said he would also travel to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. With tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers dispatched to the Gaza border, awaiting a possible order to invade, his mission was all the more urgent.
Germany's foreign minister was also headed to the region for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Turkey's foreign minister and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers were to visit Gaza on Tuesday.
Egypt, the traditional mediator between Israel and the Arab world, has been at the center of recent diplomatic efforts involving the U.S., Turkey, Qatar and other nations.
On Monday, Egyptian intelligence officials met separately in Cairo with an Israeli envoy and with Khaled Mashaal, the top Hamas leader in exile, to try to bridge the considerable differences.
Israel demands an end to rocket fire from Gaza and a halt to weapons smuggling into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt. It also wants international guarantees that Hamas will not rearm or use Egypt's Sinai region, which abuts both Gaza and southern Israel, to attack Israelis.
Hamas wants Israel to halt all attacks on Gaza and lift tight restrictions on trade and movement in and out of the territory that have been in place since Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Israel has rejected such demands in the past.
Mashaal told reporters Monday that Hamas would only agree to a cease-fire if its demands are met. "We don't accept Israeli conditions because it is the aggressor," he said. "We want a cease-fire along with meeting our demands."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel prefers to end this round of violence through diplomacy but insists the outcome would guarantee Israel long-term quiet along its border with Gaza.
"The declared purpose of this operation was to make rockets stop, once and for all, or at least for a very long time," he said Tuesday, without specifying a timeframe. "All instruments have their limitations. But if the diplomatic path proves itself unuseful, then the only path that will be left is the military. But we hope to explore the diplomatic path to its full extent."
Successive Israeli governments, meanwhile, have struggled to come up with an effective policy toward Hamas, which is deeply rooted in Gaza, a densely populated territory of 1.6 million.
Neither Israel's economic blockade of the territory nor bruising military strikes have cowed Gaza's Islamists, weakened their grip on the Palestinian strip their ability to fire rockets at the Jewish state.
An Israeli ground invasion would risk Israeli troop losses, and it could send the number of Palestinian civilian casualties ballooning - a toll Israel could be reluctant to risk just four years after its last invasion drew allegations of war crimes.
Still, with Israeli elections just two months away, polls show Israeli public sentiment has lined up staunchly behind the offensive Netanyahu's government has launched.
Israel and Gaza's militants have a long history of fighting, but the dynamics have changed radically since they last warred four years ago. Though their hardware is no match for the Israeli military, militants have upgraded their capabilities with weapons smuggled in from Iran and Libya, Israeli officials claim.
Only a few years ago, tens of thousands of Israelis were within rocket range. Today those numbers have swollen to 3.5 million, as the militants' improved weapons allowed the unprecedented targeting of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week.
Hamas, a branch of the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, is also negotiating from a stronger position than four years ago, when Israel launched a three-week war on the militants in Gaza. At that time, Hamas was internationally isolated; now, the Muslim Brotherhood is in power in Egypt and Tunisia, and Hamas is also getting political support from Qatar and Turkey.
At home, too, the military offensive has shored up Hamas at a time when it was riven by internal divisions over its direction and the new Egyptian government's refusal to lift the blockade it imposed along with Israel after Hamas seized the territory in 2007.
This newfound backing contrasts radically with the loss of stature the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has endured as Palestinians lose faith in his ability to bring them a state through negotiations with Israel.
Teibel reported from Jerusalem. AP writer Ibrahim Barzak contributed from Gaza City.
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Hamas Leader Khaled Meshaal
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
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US & Egypt Announce CeaseFire
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Israeli Soldiers Pray
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Soldiers Take Cover
Israeli soldiers take cover during a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on Nov. 21, 2012 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Despite widespread rumours of a ceasefire militants in the Gaza Strip continue to fire rockets and Israel continues it's bombardment. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Israel to support and encourage a peace deal being brokered by Egypt. (Uriel Sinai, Getty Images)
Protesters Chased By Soldiers
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A Palestinian Holds Stones
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Israel House Bombed
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Israeli Soldier Evacuates Girl From Site Hit By Rocket
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UN Supplies in Palestine
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House Bombed in Israel
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Israelis Take Cover During Air Raid Sirens Sound
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Kids Play During Lull In Rocket Fire
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Israeli Air Force Leaflet Dropped In Gaza City
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Israeli Security Forces Examine Palestinian Rocket Site
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Israeli Security Forces
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Israeli Bomb Shlelter
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Gaza City tower hosting media
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Palestinian Woman Mourns
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Israeli Border Guards
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A rocket is launched from Gaza as seen from near Sderot on November 17, 2012 in Israel. At least 39 Palestinians and three Isreali's have died since conflict began four days ago. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
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.