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Israeli Aircraft Hits Dozens Of Targets In Gaza

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JERUSALEM (AP) — A Hamas rocket exploded Tuesday near Israel's main airport, prompting a ban on flights from the U.S. and many from Europe and Canada as aviation authorities responded to the shock of seeing a civilian jetliner shot down over Ukraine.

Israel declared that Ben-Gurion Airport was safe and said there was no reason to "hand terror a prize" by halting flights.

The rare flight ban came as Israel grappled with news that a soldier went missing after an attack in the Gaza Strip, raising the possibility he was abducted, a scenario that could complicate intense diplomatic efforts to end the two-week conflict.

Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets toward Israel since fighting began on July 8, but most — including several heading toward Tel Aviv — fell harmlessly into open areas or were shot out of the sky by the "Iron Dome" defense system, keeping Israeli casualties low.

Tuesday's rocket attack was the closest to the airport so far, said police spokeswoman Luba Samri, and largely destroyed a house, slightly injuring one Israeli in the nearby Tel Aviv suburb of Yehud.

Aviation authorities reacted swiftly. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited American airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours "due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza." Later, the European Aviation Safety Agency issued an advisory to airlines saying it "strongly recommends" airlines avoid the airport.

Germany's Lufthansa, Air France, Air Canada, Alitalia, Dutch KLM, Britain's easyJet, Turkish Airlines and Greece's Aegean Airlines were among those carriers canceling flights to Tel Aviv over safety concerns amid the increasing violence.

Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz called on the U.S. aviation authority to reconsider, calling the flight ban "unnecessary" and saying Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system provided cover for civil aviation.

"Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize," his office said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised the issue of the ban with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in the Middle East on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"The FAA's notice was issued to protect American citizens and American carriers. The only consideration in issuing the notice was the safety and security of our citizens," Psaki said in a statement. "

International airlines and passengers have grown more anxious about safety since last week, when a Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. While Hamas rockets aren't guided missiles, they still can cause massive damage to an aircraft. For instance, unguided mortar fire in Tripoli from a militia battling to control its international airport destroyed an Airbus A330 on the ground over the weekend.

The Tel Aviv airport is Israel's main gateway to the world and Hamas militants have said they hoped to target it to disrupt life in Israel.

Another Hamas objective was to abduct an Israeli soldier, and Israeli fears over such an occurrence were revisited Tuesday when the military announced that a soldier was missing following a deadly battle in Gaza, where the Israelis are fighting Hamas militants in the third such war in just over five years.

The military said Sgt. Oron Shaul was among seven soldiers in a vehicle that was hit by an anti-tank missile in a battle in Gaza over the weekend. The other six have been confirmed as dead, but no remains have been identified as Shaul's.

Hamas claims to have abducted him and has flaunted his name and military ID number to try to back that claim. Military officials say the soldier is almost certainly dead, but it would be a nightmare scenario for the Jewish state if even his remains were in the hands of Hamas.

Past abductions of Israeli soldiers have turned into painful drawn-out affairs and Israel has paid a heavy price in lopsided prisoner swaps to retrieve captured soldiers or remains held by its enemies. The prolonged saga of Gilad Schalit, a soldier captured by Hamas-allied militants in 2006 and held for more than five years before he was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinians prisoners, still weighs heavily in Israel.

"We understand the terror organization is looking for some leverage and as cynical as it sounds, one type of leverage is bargaining over parts of bodies," said Lior Lotan, a reserve Israeli colonel and former head of its POW and MIA department.

Israeli airstrikes continued to pummel Gaza tunnels, rocket launchers and militants on the 15th day of the war Tuesday as diplomatic efforts intensified to end fighting that has killed at least 630 Palestinians and 29 Israelis — 27 soldiers and two civilians.

Israel says its troops have killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen, while Gaza officials say the vast majority have been civilians, many of them children.

Israel says it is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties and blames Hamas for using civilians as "human shields."

Human rights activists say past confrontations have shown that when Israeli carries out attacks in densely populated Palestinian areas, civilian deaths are inevitable.

The Israeli military said that after a firefight with Palestinian militants on Tuesday, troops saw some Palestinian gunmen flee the scene in an ambulance.

The military said soldiers "did not target the ambulance in light of the possibility uninvolved civilians were in it."

Egypt, Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire, to be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007. But Hamas has rejected repeated Egyptian truce proposals.

Both U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Kerry were in the region to make the highest-level push yet to end the deadly conflict.

Kerry met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and other senior officials in Cairo. He stopped short of advocating a new round of peace talks but left the door open for broad negotiations between Israel and Palestinian officials once a cease-fire is in place.

"Just reaching a cease-fire is clearly not enough," Kerry said. "It is imperative that there be a serious engagement, discussion, negotiation, regarding the underlying issues and addressing all the concerns that have brought us to where we are today."

El-Sissi said he raised with Ban the possibility of an international donor conference for Gaza reconstruction after a cease-fire is implemented.

The U.N. secretary-general, meanwhile, said it was his "hope and belief" that his mission would lead to an end to the fighting "in the very near future." Ban told the Security Council by videoconference from the West Bank city of Ramallah that he could not publicly reveal details "at this highly sensitive moment." As he spoke a siren could be heard in the background.

Ban earlier met with Netanyahu in Israel, where he urged a resumption of talks toward bringing about a two-state solution.

Netanyahu responded that Hamas, a group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, does not want a two-state solution and said the international community needed to hold Hamas accountable for the latest round of violence, saying its refusal to agree to a cease-fire had prevented an earlier end to the fighting.

"What we're seeing here with Hamas is another instance of Islamist extremism, violent extremism," Netanyahu said at a joint press conference in Tel Aviv. "What grievance can we solve with Hamas? Their grievance is that we exist. They don't want a two-state solution, they don't want any state solution."

Hamas, with backing from its allies Qatar and Turkey, says it wants guarantees on lifting the blockade before halting its fire.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and expanded it to a ground war last week aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis.

Israel has struck almost 3,000 sites in Gaza, killed more than 180 armed Palestinians and uncovered 66 access shafts of 23 tunnels, the military said.

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Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Maggie Michael in Cairo, Tia Goldenberg, Ian Deitch and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Follow Heller on Twitter @aronhellerap.

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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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