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Hundreds Of Palestinians In Gaza Flee After Israeli Warning

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel and Hamas agreed to a five-hour U.N. brokered "humanitarian" pause to their 9-day-long battle, offering the most encouraging sign yet that the fierce fighting could come to an end.

Israel's bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 200 Palestinians, including four boys struck on a beach Wednesday by shells fired from a navy ship. Israel said it would hold its fire Thursday from 10 a.m. (0700 GMT, 3 a.m. EDT) under a plan to allow Palestinians to restock food, water and other necessities. But it vowed to retaliate "firmly and decisively" if Hamas or other militant groups launch attacks on Israel during that time.

Later, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that following consultations with various factions the Gaza militants had decided to respect the pause as well and would refrain from firing rockets during those hours as well.

Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, had asked Israel to agree to a "unilateral humanitarian pause" so that the supplies can be delivered to Gaza, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Serry will "urge the parties in Gaza to respect that pause," Haq said.

Israel previously had halted its fire for six hours Tuesday after Egypt put forward a cease-fire proposal that unraveled. Abu Zuhri said Wednesday his group had formally rejected the plan, bemoaning what he called little support from the Arab world.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Wednesday in Cairo with a senior official from Hamas to try to salvage the Egyptian proposal.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said the U.S. supports Egypt's continued efforts to restore the 2012 cease-fire and will use all of its diplomatic resources and relationships to secure a deal to end the violence.

Israel's military said its forces bombed at least 150 targets in Gaza on Wednesday. It did not provide more specifics, but the Gaza Interior Ministry's website said 30 houses, including those of senior Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar, Jamila Shanti, Fathi Hamas and Ismail Ashkar, were targeted.

Zahar was a key figure in Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, while the other three were members of the Palestinian parliament elected in 2006. Many Hamas leaders have gone into hiding since Israel began its bombardment July 8 in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said the Palestinian death toll rose to 222, with 1,670 wounded. Only one Israeli has so far died in the conflict — a civilian distributing food to soldiers in southern Israel on Tuesday evening — largely because of the effectiveness of Israel's Iron Dome air defense system in downing incoming rockets.

The four boys, who were cousins aged 9 to 11, were killed on the beach beside a coastal road west of Gaza City, al-Kidra said. Seven others — adults and children — were wounded in the strike, which Palestinian human rights activist Khalil Abu Shamalla and Palestinian health officials said came from an Israeli naval vessel.

Hussam Abadallah, a waiter at the beachside al-Deera hotel, said the strike happened about 4 p.m.

A witness who identified himself only as Abu Ahmed said the boys were scavenging for scrap metal when a first shell hit a nearby shipping container used in the past by Hamas security forces. He said the boys fled but a second rocket "hit all of them."

Abadallah said he saw "white smoke coming from a small room, like a shack, belonging to one of the fishermen not far from the fishing port."

He said he then saw the boys running.

"We started shouting at them, 'Run, run here,' then a shell from the sea landed behind them," Abadallah said.

Some journalists dining at the hotel jumped from the terrace and helped five children bleeding from shrapnel get to safety in the hotel, he added.

"I will never forget these horrible images," he said.

Cellphone video circulated on Facebook showed the small, bloodied bodies in the sand. One dead boy was face down, with his legs at sharp angle.

The Israeli army said in a statement it was "carefully investigating" the matter. It said the target of the naval attack was "Hamas terrorist operatives" and that civilian casualties were "a tragic outcome."

It said the army "has no intention of harming civilians dragged by Hamas into the reality of urban combat."

The boys' uncle, Abdel Kareem Baker, 41, raged at Israel after the attack.

"It's a cold-blooded massacre," he said. "It's a shame who come they didn't identify them as kids with all of the advanced technology they claim they're using."

Israel's security Cabinet approved a call-up of 8,000 additional reservists, according to an Israeli official, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter publicly.

The army said 45,000 reservists have already been summoned — a sign that Israel was ramping up its threat to carry out a ground invasion, although experts have said such an action was highly unlikely.

Abbas met with deputy Hamas chief Moussa Abu Marzouk to discuss the Egyptian initiative. An official with Abbas' Fatah faction told The Associated Press that Abbas and Egypt were trying to get Hamas on board.

Egypt's ambitious cease-fire plan seeks to restore greater authority for Abbas in Gaza and settle rifts between his Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which took control of the seaside territory in 2007, according to a Palestinian official in Cairo. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release information about the closed-door talks.

Under the proposal, a cease-fire would be followed by talks to resolve the rift between Hamas and Abbas over Gaza, including giving control of the border to Abbas, he said. That would presumably allow a greater opening of the borders, one of Hamas' main demands, along with the easing of border closures and the release of former Hamas prisoners who had been freed by Israel in a 2011 prisoner exchange but were rearrested by Israel last month in the West Bank.

The official, who was in Cairo, said Hamas' main objection was the power-sharing arrangement.

The militant group views a significant easing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza as key to its survival, but does not believe Egypt's current rulers — who deposed a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo last year — can be fair brokers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Hamas would pay a high price for rejecting the Egyptian plan.

Al-Kidra, the Gaza health official, said an airstrike in the Gaza neighborhood of Khan Younis killed four members of the Al-Astal family, including a 6-year-old boy, his 4-year-old sister, and a 70-year-old woman.

In a separate airstrike, a woman and a young girl were killed, al-Kidra said.

Israel told tens of thousands of residents of the northern town of Beit Lahiya and the Zeitoun and Shijaiyah neighborhoods of Gaza City, all near the border with Israel, to evacuate their homes by Wednesday morning. The Israeli military said in automated phone calls, text messages and air-dropped leaflets that large numbers of rockets were launched from these areas and that it planned to bomb these locations.

"Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families," the message said.

As a result, hundreds of residents of Zeitoun and Shijaiyah were seen walking in the streets, carrying small bags with belongings.

The Wafa Rehabilitation Center in Shijaiyah, which cares for 15 disabled and elderly patients, received several calls demanding the patients evacuate, said its director, Basman Ashi.

An Israel shell hit near the building, damaging the second floor, but causing no injuries, he said. Ashi added that his patients have nowhere to go.

Four foreign volunteers — from Britain, the U.S., France and Sweden — have set up camp at the rehabilitation center to deter the military from targeting it.

British volunteer Rina Andolini, 32, said the patients range in age from 12 to over 70 and none can walk or move without assistance. She said there are also 17 Palestinian staff members.

The patients are living in constant fear, intensified by the Israeli tank shelling from across the border, she said.

When asked about the situation at the rehabilitation center, the office of the Israeli military spokesman said its residents "have been asked repeatedly to leave."

"There is a rocket-launching site in the area," the military said, adding that Gaza militants use the center to hide "behind civilians."

___

Estrin reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Peter Enav and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo 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.

gaza
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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