Israel Dramatically Escalates Air Strikes On Gaza

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KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Al Haj family never heard it coming: An Israeli missile smashed into their home in the middle of the night, destroying the structure and killing eight relatives in a matter of seconds. A survivor said all the dead were civilians.

As Israel intensified its bombardment Thursday of the Gaza Strip in an offensive against the Hamas militant group, with more than 900 targets attacked so far, it said it was doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties in the crowded urban landscape. The risk of more civilian deaths will remain high, especially if Israel moves in with ground forces.

More than 85 people have been killed, including dozens of civilians, and over 300 wounded since the offensive began Tuesday, Palestinian medical officials said.

Undeterred, Hamas militants have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, including salvos Thursday at the country's two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, that were intercepted by the rocket-defense system known as the Iron Dome.

President Barack Obama called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and lent his support to Israel's efforts to defend itself from the rocket fire, but he also urged both Israel and the Palestinians to protect civilians and restore calm. The White House said the U.S. was willing to "facilitate a cessation of hostilities," potentially along the lines of a 2012 cease-fire that Egypt and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton helped broker.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed deep concern about the threats to civilians in Israel and Gaza, and urged an immediate cease-fire.

"It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next aerial attack," Ban said. "My paramount concern is the safety and well-being of all civilians, no matter where they are."

He condemned the "indiscriminate" rocket fire at Israel. "But I am also concerned at the many Palestinian deaths and injuries as a result of Israeli operations," he said. "Once again, Palestinian civilians are caught between Hamas' irresponsibility and Israel's tough response."

Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, pulled out a cellphone during the meeting and played a recording of an air-raid siren as he described the difficult circumstances of people living within rocket range. His Palestinian counterpart, Riyad Mansour, decried the Israeli "barrage of death, destruction and terror."

Ban has been a key player in diplomatic efforts to halt the hostilities. Egypt, historically a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, has said it is in touch with both sides.

Neither side has shown much interest in halting the fighting. With rockets continuing to fly, Israel has been massing forces along the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

"So far the campaign is going as planned," Netanyahu said in a statement broadcast on national television. "But we are expecting more stages later. So far we have severely hit Hamas and other terrorists and we will deepen the strike against them as long as the campaign continues."

He said Israel was making "every effort" to avoid harming civilians and accused Hamas of endangering the Palestinian public by "hiding behind Palestinian civilians."

Residents in the crowded Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza were at a loss to explain why the Al Haj family home was targeted in the attack just before 2 a.m. Thursday. The blast killed Mahmoud Al Haj, his wife, Basmah, and six of their children.

Yasser Al Haj, who was not at home in the refugee camp, was the only relative to survive.

"I want to see my family," he wailed. "Where is the house? Where is my family?"

Neighbor Iyad Hamad decried the deaths of "children, women and old people."

"There can't be more oppression than this in the world," he said. "Can't they see what is happening to the people here?"

It was not clear who was the target of the airstrike, or whether the family had been warned.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said the incident was under investigation.

Israel has been taking precautions to protect civilians. He said when Israel identifies a home used by Hamas as a "command and control center," it calls the inhabitants and orders them to leave. It then fires a "non-explosive munition" at the roof as a warning and looks for people to leave. Only then does it destroy the structure.

But he said if a militant is actively using a house to carry out attacks, he becomes a legitimate target. "If you use civilian premises to perpetrate attacks, you are putting yourself and the people around you in a state of danger," Lerner said.

Israel says Hamas intentionally uses civilian areas, including homes, mosques and schools, for cover during fighting. "Hamas ... intentionally embeds itself in civilian populations," Lerner said.

A number of the nearly 30 women and children to die in the offensive are believed to have been killed along with relatives who were targeted by Israel.

Israel uses electronic surveillance, a network of informants and other techniques to keep tabs on wanted militants in Gaza. It has a long history of killing senior militants in airstrikes. But mistakes can happen.

Robbie Sabel, a former legal adviser for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said international laws of war prohibit deliberate targeting of civilians, but take into account that civilians may be hit in attacks on military targets as long as the response is "proportionate." Beyond the legal issues, however, is the matter of public perception.

"The moment you see a picture in The New York Times of an injured child, it's horrific. And there's no way you can come up with a legal explanation that will help us," he said.

The number of civilian casualties is sure to rise if Israel decides to launch a ground invasion. During a ground incursion in early 2009, hundreds of civilians were killed. Israel accused Hamas of putting people in harm's way, but the heavy death toll drew war crimes accusations against Israel in a U.N. report.

The report also accused Hamas of committing war crimes by firing indiscriminately at Israeli population centers. The current wave of rocket fire has placed an estimated 5 million Israelis in range, disrupting life across the country.

The Iron Dome defense system has intercepted more than 100 of the projectiles destined for major cities. The system is designed to shoot down rockets headed toward populated areas, while allowing others to fall where they can do no harm.

In southern Israel, the area hit hardest by the rockets, people have been ordered to stay within close range of shelter. Summer camps have been canceled, motorists have been forced to jump out of their cars, and high school students took their final exams in bomb shelters. Many people are using a smartphone application that alerts them to incoming rockets when they can't hear air-raid sirens.

Lian Assayag had planned a big wedding in the southern city of Ashkelon. But her special day was dashed due to the rocket fire. She decided instead to get married Thursday night inside a bomb shelter at a synagogue in nearby Ashdod.

"I have mixed feelings. Everything got messed up," she told Channel 10 TV. "It'll be OK."

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Yousur Alhou and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Josh Lederman in Washington contributed to this report.

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From Reuters:

The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.

"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.

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Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.

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The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

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From Reuters:

Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.

"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."

Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.

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Reuters reports:

Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

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A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.

The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.

For more, click here.

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From Reuters:

Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.

Hamas had no immediate comment.

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ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.

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08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT
Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect

Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.

Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.

Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.

The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.

The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.

Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.

Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.

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India's NDTV has released footage that appears to show three Palestinian militants setting up a rocket launching site in a crowded area of Gaza. The rarity of the video is remarkable, as militants in the enclave are notoriously covert in their launching operations.

NDTV journalist Sreenivasan Jain describes the scene from his neighboring balcony, narrating as blurred figures move in and out of the suspected rocket site.

Read more here.

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In an interview with HuffPost UK, former British Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi explained why she dramatically quit the government on Tuesday.

Speaking exclusively to The Huffington Post UK in her first interview since resigning on Tuesday morning, the Tory peer accused the coalition of failing to act as an "honest broker" in the Middle East and called for an immediate arms embargo against Israel.

"The British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker," the former Foreign Office minister said, "and at the moment I do not think it is."

Read the full story here.

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From the Associated Press:

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Jordan has circulated a revised U.N. resolution calling for a durable cease-fire in the Gaza war and condemning "all violence and hostilities against civilians."

Jordan's new U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar said the draft resolution was submitted to the Security Council on Tuesday in a form that could be put to a vote.

"We are in consultation with all council members and we hope by the next day or two that we come with a product," she said.

The draft resolution calls for "the sustained reopening" of crossing points into Gaza and calls on the U.N. to establish a mechanism to monitor implementation of a cease-fire agreement.

It makes no mention of Hamas or its rocketing of Israel and is likely to face an uphill struggle winning U.S. approval.

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Agence France Presse reports on an initial assessment of the cost of damage to the Gaza Strip after weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Palestinian deputy economy minister Taysir Amro said "direct damages" will cost Gaza at least -6 billion in damage, and that the number will rise once further assessment of the full scale of damage is possible, according to the news agency.

Read the full story here.

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From Reuters:

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said there was "clear evidence" of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court prosecutors on Tuesday to push for an investigation.

Malki visited The Hague shortly after Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza entered a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt in an effort to pave the way for an extended ceasefire.

Malki said the Palestinian Authority wanted to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes by all sides and had discussed a timeline with prosecutors to join the court. He did not provide details.

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08/05/2014 6:35 AM EDT
Gaza, Post-Offensive
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Sayeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at the British Foreign Office, has tendered her resignation because she can "no longer support" the country's policy on Gaza, BBC News reported.

Warsi took to Twitter to confirm the news:

Click here for more.

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08/05/2014 2:23 AM EDT
72-Hour Cease-Fire Takes Effect
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A spokesman for Hamas told Reuters that the Islamist group also agrees to a Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

"Hamas told Egypt a short while ago of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

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An Israeli official says Israel has agreed to a temporary Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Reuters reports.

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Egypt is urging senior Israeli and Palestinian delegations to join in talks on a permanent ceasefire for Gaza in the Egyptian capital, Reuters reports. Cairo also calls on Palestinians and Israelis to accept a proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire that would start tomorrow morning.

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08/04/2014 3:29 PM EDT
Ceasefire Agreement?

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the Palestinian factions have agreed to an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire that would start tomorrow morning. While Palestinians officials have said Israel agreed to the truce as well, there is no official response from the Israeli government yet.

Read more here.


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Britain is investigating the possible death of one of its citizens in Gaza, Reuters reports on Monday. The country's Foreign Office said it had received reports a British national was killed in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday.

More from Reuters:

(Reuters) - Britain is "urgently" investigating reports that a British national was killed in Gaza over the weekend, a spokesman for the British government said on Monday.

Britain sought to establish the man's fate as a brief Israeli truce to allow aid to reach Palestinians ended amid accusations of strikes by both sides, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash against the war in Gaza.

Citing friends of the man, British media reported that an aid worker from Rochdale in northern England had been killed on Sunday during an Israeli strike on Rafah while he was delivering supplies for a hospital.

"We are aware of the reports of the death of a British national in Rafah and are urgently looking into them," a spokesman for the Foreign Office said.

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The number of displaced Palestinians seeking shelter at UN facilities has topped 270,000.

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08/04/2014 11:48 AM EDT
Report: Israel Is Resuming Strikes

A spokesperson for the Israeli army reportedly told Agence France Presse that Israel is resuming its airstrikes in Gaza.

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In a statement released on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused Israeli troops of having opened fire and killing several fleeing civilians in the town of Khuza'a in southern Gaza. The international human rights group says the incidents took place between July 23 and July 25.

Human Rights Watch investigated several incidents between July 23 and 25 when, local residents said, Israeli forces opened fire on civilians trying to flee Khuza’a, but no Palestinian fighters were present at the time and no firefights were taking place.

On the morning of July 23, Israeli forces ordered a group of about 100 Palestinians in Khuza’a to leave a home in which they had gathered to take shelter, family members said. The first member to leave the house, Shahid al-Najjar, had his hands up but an Israeli soldier shot him in the jaw, seriously injuring him.

Israeli soldiers detained the men and boys over age 15 in an area close to the Gaza perimeter fence. Based on statements from witnesses and news reports, some were taken to Israel for questioning. Israeli forces released others that day, in small separate groups. As one group walked unarmed to Khan Younis, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing one and wounding two others.

Read the briefing here.

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A gunmen opened fire near Jerusalem's Hebrew University, hitting a soldier in the stomach. It was the second incident in the Israeli capital this morning. Earlier, a man drove a construction vehicle into a bus.

Haaretz reports:

According to a preliminary investigation of the Mt. Scopus incident, a man dressed in black shot a 20-year-old soldier in the stomach, wounding him seriously, got on a motorcycle that was waiting for him and fled the scene. A security guard standing nearby shot at the suspect, but failed to hit him. Security forces are attempting to apprehend the attacker.

Read the full story here.

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