THE WORLDPOST
07/19/2014 10:49 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2014

Israel Expands Gaza Ground Offensive With No Sign Of Truce

MAHMUD HAMS via Getty Images

* Palestinians say 345 killed in fighting; 7 Israelis dead

* Israel says half of Hamas's rockets used or destroyed

* U.N.'s Ban to meet Abbas in Qatar, tour region in truce bid (Adds military says expanded offensive, strike on Hamas leader's house, updates Israeli, Palestinian deaths)

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell

GAZA/JERUSALEM, July 20 (Reuters) - Israel said on Sunday it had expanded its ground offensive in Gaza and militants kept up rocket fire into the Jewish state with no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough to end the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas in two years.

Gaza residents said land and naval shellings were the heaviest in 13 days of fighting. Explosions rocked the coastal enclave overnight and shells fired by Israeli naval forces lit up the sky.

Israeli tank shelling killed one Palestinian and hit houses in the northeastern Shejaia district, where residents called radio stations pleading for evacuation.

An Israeli air strike there on the house of senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya killed his son and daughter-in-law and two children, hospital officials said. Near the southern town of Rafah shelling killed four Palestinians, health officials said.

In Israel, sirens sounded in towns near Gaza, warning of approaching rockets.

Israel sent ground forces into Hamas-dominated Gaza on Thursday after 10 days of heavy air and naval barrages failed to stop rocket fire, some of which reached deep into Israel, from the Palestinian territory.

The military said in a statement on Sunday it had sent additional forces into the Palestinian enclave. Israel has vowed to destroy a network of tunnels out of Gaza and hunt down the militants' stockpiles of missiles.

Gaza officials said at least 345 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed in the 13-day conflict. On Israel's side, five soldiers and two civilians have died.

Diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire involving, among others, Egypt, Qatar, France and the United Nations, have failed to make headway.

Qatar was due to host a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday, a senior Qatari source told Reuters. Ban was due during the week to travel to Kuwait, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan, a U.N. statement said.

The Qatari source said Abbas was also due to meet Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

Western-backed Abbas in April struck a deal with Islamist Hamas that led to the formation of a Palestinian unity government, seven years after the group seized control of Gaza from Abbas's Fatah party.

FAILED EFFORTS

Hamas has rejected Egyptian efforts to end fighting, saying any deal must include an end to a blockade of the coastal area and a recommitment to a ceasefire reached after an eight-day war in Gaza in 2012.

Egypt said on Saturday it had no plans to revise its ceasefire proposal. A Hamas source in Doha said the group has no plans to change its conditions for a ceasefire.

Israel is wary of mediation by Qatar, which hosts a large number of exiled Islamists from across the Middle East including Meshaal, and Israeli officials have said Egypt must be a party to any ceasefire deal.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who flew to Israel after meetings in Egypt and Jordan, said on Saturday efforts to secure a ceasefire had failed.

"On the contrary, there's a risk of more civilian casualties that worries us," Fabius said, after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

Hostilities between the two sides escalated following the killing last month of three Jewish students that Israel blames on Hamas. Hamas neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

The apparent revenge murder of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem, for which Israel has charged three Israelis, further fueled tension.

Israeli bulldozers and engineers worked along a 1.5-km-wide (one-mile-wide) strip of Gaza's eastern frontier, uncovering 13 tunnels, at least one of them 30 meters (90 feet) deep, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.

About 95 rocket launchers were also found and destroyed in the sweep, he added.

Searches were continuing in what he described as an open-ended mission that had "severely impeded Hamas capabilities".

Israel says more than 1,700 rockets have been fired out of Gaza during this month's fighting, and between 3,000 and 4,000 destroyed in military strikes - together almost half of the militants' original estimated arsenal.

Hamas says it is continuously replenishing its stock of weapons and is ready for a prolonged conflict.

The Israeli death toll has been kept low due to the rockets' relative inaccuracy, a network of air raid sirens and shelters and the Iron Dome rocket interceptor's 90 percent success rate.

The Israeli military urged Palestinians to flee a growing area of Gaza ahead of further military action in the Mediterranean enclave. Residents say about half of the territory's 1.8 million population have been told to move.

With both the Israeli and Egyptian borders sealed off, Gazans say they have few places to escape to.

The largest U.N. agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said about 61,500 people had sought refuge in its buildings, mainly schools - more than in any previous conflict there between Israel and Islamist militants. (Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Robert Birsel)

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.

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)

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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