Israel Widens Gaza Bombing Targets, Deploys Ground Troops

07/12/2014 04:06 pm ET | Updated Sep 11, 2014
THOMAS COEX via Getty Images

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Ignoring international appeals for a cease-fire, Israel widened its range of Gaza bombing targets to civilian institutions with suspected Hamas ties and deployed ground troops inside Gaza for the first time early Sunday to raid a rocket launching site in the Palestinian territory. More than 156 Palestinians have been killed. The United Nations estimates that 77 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians.

Four Israeli soldiers were hurt in clashes during the brief incursion to destroy a rocket launching site in northern Gaza, the military said. It said the troops later returned to Israeli territory.

It was the first time that Israeli ground troops are known to have entered Gaza in the current offensive. But the operation was carried out by special forces and did not appear to be the beginning of a broad ground offensive.

Israeli airstrikes pounded targets in Gaza, with one hitting a center for the disabled and killing two patients and wounding four people, Palestinians. In a second attack Saturday night, an Israeli warplane flattened the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50, officials said.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council called unanimously for a cease-fire, but so far, neither Israel nor Gaza's Hamas rulers have signaled willingness to stop.

Israel has carried out more than 1,200 air strikes over the six-day offensive to try to diminish Hamas' ability to fire rockets at Israel. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, has fired nearly 700 rockets and mortars at Israel this week.

Israel's chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, said Saturday there would be more strikes, especially in northern Gaza near the Israeli border. Late Saturday, the military said it was ordering Palestinians in northern Gaza to evacuate "for their own safety."

Gaza's Interior Ministry urged residents in the area to ignore Israel's warnings and to stay in their homes, saying the announcement was Israeli "psychological warfare" and an attempt to create confusion.

In a sign that the conflict might widen, Israel fired into Lebanon late Saturday in response to two rockets fired from there at northern Israel. There were no injuries or damage, but Israel fears Lebanese militant groups may try to open a second front.

Israel has said it's acting in self-defense against rockets that have disrupted life across much of the country. It also accuses Hamas of using Gaza's civilians as human shields by firing rockets from there.

Critics say Israel's heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, "this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well."

The Israeli military has said it has targeted sites with links to Hamas, including command centers, and that it issues early warnings before attacking. But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following Israeli warnings.

An army statement said that from Friday morning to Saturday morning, Israel targeted 158 targets "affiliated with Hamas terrorism" in Gaza, including dozens of rocket launchers and a mosque where Hamas stored rockets and weapons.

Israel also targeted several civilian institutions with presumed ties to Hamas, widening its range of targets. Palestinian officials said this included a technical college, a media office, a small Kuwait-funded charity and a branch of an Islamic bank.

The Israeli military did not mention these institutions in its statement Saturday, saying only that in addition to the military targets, it struck "further sites."

Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra said the death toll there reached more than 156, with over 1,060 wounded. Among the dead was a nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas leader, who was killed in an airstrike near his home, Hamas officials said.

Though the exact breakdown of casualties remains unclear, dozens of the dead have been civilians. Israel also demolished dozens of homes it said were used by Hamas for military purposes.

"Am I a terrorist? Do I make rockets and artillery?" screamed Umm Omar, a woman in the southern town of Rafah whose home was destroyed in an airstrike. It was not immediately known why the building was targeted.

The "Iron Dome," a U.S.-funded, Israel-developed rocket defense system, has intercepted more than 130 incoming rockets, preventing any Israeli fatalities so far. A handful of Israelis have been wounded by rockets that slipped through.

On Saturday, air raid sirens went off in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel's two largest cities, both located nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Gaza. Most of the rockets were intercepted or fell in open areas.

The frequent rocket fire has disrupted daily life in Israel, with most staying close to home. Israeli airstrikes meanwhile have turned bustling Gaza City into a virtual ghost town during the normally festive monthlong Muslim holiday of Ramadan, emptying streets, closing shops and keeping hundreds of thousands of people close to home.

The offensive marks the heaviest fighting since a similar eight-day campaign in November 2012 to stop Gaza rocket fire. The outbreak of violence follows the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, and the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack.

At the United Nations, a Security Council statement approved by all 15 members called for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm, and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

The statement also called for "the reinstitution of the November 2012 cease-fire," which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.

The statement, which is not legally binding, is the first response by the U.N.'s most powerful body, which has been deeply divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Arab League meanwhile said foreign ministers from member states will hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Monday about the offensive.

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Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank. Associated Press writers Karin Laub in the West Bank and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

08/08/2014 2:47 PM EDT

White House Concerned By Renewed Fighting

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.

08/08/2014 1:42 PM EDT

Official: 5 Palestinians Killed In Gaza

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)

08/08/2014 9:23 AM EDT

Palestinian Delegation Says Gaza Talks Will Continue

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.

08/08/2014 9:13 AM EDT

Egypt: Agreement Close In Gaza Talks

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.

08/08/2014 3:58 AM EDT

Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Resume

08/08/2014 3:02 AM EDT

Cease-Fire Ends With New Rocket Attacks

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.

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08/06/2014 2:46 PM EDT

Official: Israel Agrees To Extend Ceasefire

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.

08/06/2014 2:12 PM EDT

IDF: Rocket Sirens Were False Alarm

08/06/2014 1:18 PM EDT

Report: Rocket Sirens Sound At Gaza Border

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.

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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