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Gaza Civilians Are Struggling To Get By As War Rages Around Them

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GAZA
A Palestinian boy carries pillows as he passes by destroyed houses, during a 12-hour cease-fire in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood, Saturday, July 26, 2014. Gaza residents used a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire on Saturday to stock up on supplies and survey the devastation from nearly three weeks of fighting, as they braced for a resumption of Israel's war on Hamas amid stalled efforts to secure a longer truce. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Caught in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, Gaza's civilians are increasingly struggling to get by. There is no electricity 21 hours a day because power lines have been hit. Water taps have run dry because there's no power to their fuel pumps and tens of thousands of displaced sleep on the floors of schools and hospitals.

The hardship is felt more keenly as Muslims on Monday start observing the Eid el-Fitr holiday, which is meant to be a joyous time of festive meals, shared traditional sweets and family visits. Here is a glimpse of life in wartime Gaza.

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Men kneel in prayer on blankets laid out in the courtyard of a U.N. school in Gaza City's Rimal neighborhood, one of dozens of emergency shelters for those who have fled the fighting.

It's the morning of Eid el-Fitr, the three-day holiday that caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. In normal times, the men would have worshipped at their neighborhood mosques.

However, 20 mosques have been hit by Israeli warplanes so far, according to Palestinian officials. Israel says Hamas stores weapons and rockets in houses of worship.

So the men prefer to perform Eid prayers in the relative safety of the school.

"We can't go to the mosque because of the shelling," says 39-year-old Mahmoud Nofal, who has lived at the shelter with 30 members of his extended family for more than a week.

Near the worshippers, many are still sleeping, some atop desks they pulled into the courtyard, others alongside walls.

After prayers, the men line up to pick up their food rations of pita bread, tuna, corned beef, processed cheese and extra holiday cookies for the children.

The U.N. aid agency that runs Gaza schools has been around for more than six decades. It was established after more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in the 1948 Mideast war that created Israel.

Nofal is a descendant of the 1948 refugees.

"Today, I feel like a refugee again," he says.

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Visiting the graves of one's ancestors is part of the Eid el-Fitr morning ritual.

At a sprawling cemetery in Gaza City's Sheik Radwan neighborhood, Omar Khatib stands on the edge of a large crater formed by an Israeli missile strike several days earlier, which he says destroyed 22 graves of his extended family.

A crowd quickly gathers, inspecting the hole and the broken headstones.

A young man climbs into the crater, retrieves a bone from the bottom and wraps it in cloth. Several men pray over the remains.

After a few minutes, another man brings a shovel and reburies the bone in the sandy soil.

"They are even chasing the dead," says the man who had climbed into the crater, referring to Israel's military operation. He's upset and only gives his first name, Yousef.

Israel says Gaza militants hide behind civilians, firing rockets at Israel from Gaza parks, schools and cemeteries. Israel says its military operation is meant to halt rocket fire and destroy Hamas' military arsenal and attack tunnels under the Israel-Gaza border.

Palestinian health officials have counted more than 1,000 dead in Gaza and the U.N. says three quarters of the casualties are civilians.

It's getting more difficult to find burial spaces.

The Sheik Radwan cemetery has been full for years, with graves just inches apart from each other. The main new cemetery in eastern Gaza is in a dangerous area where Israeli troops operate. Authorities in Gaza have issued a fatwa, or religious edict, permitting the newly deceased to be buried inside the graves of relatives in the older cemeteries.

Ayman Afana, who was 24 years old, was killed in an airstrike 10 days ago. He was buried at the Sheik Radwan cemetery on top of the remains of his 70-year-old grandfather who died in the 1990s, says a relative, Mohammed Afana. On the occasion of the holiday, Mohammed and other relatives sprinkle flower petals on the fresh grave.

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Electricity and water have become luxury items.

Supply was spotty even before the war, as a result of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade tightly enforced after Hamas seized Gaza in 2007. In recent years, Gazans have adapted to scheduled power cuts — in the best case, eight hours on, followed by eight hours off, and so on.

Gaza gets its electricity from Israeli and Egyptian lines — for payment — and from a power plant in Gaza.

The Israeli lines have been damaged in the fighting, leaving only supplies from Egypt and the power plant, says Jamal al-Daradasawi, spokesman for the local electricity distribution company.

Gazans are now without power for 21 hours each day. The blackouts could get worse if the power plant runs out of fuel, as it has repeatedly in the past.

Without power to run pumps, there is no water, especially in Gaza's high-rise buildings.

Rawan Taha, a 39-year-old housewife, lives in such an apartment tower. She says she last showered three days ago. When the water is on, she fills her bathtub, pots and empty bottles. Gaza's tap water is not drinkable, and her family pays 20 shekels ($6) each day for drinking water.

"Israel took us back 70 years," she says. "No water, no power, no security, no Internet, no cell phones, nothing."

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Cash is also a scarce commodity, even for those who have money in the bank.

Only 12 ATM machines belonging to seven banks work in all of Gaza City, police say.

Jihad Sakani has tried unsuccessfully to withdraw money because huge crowds form outside each machine whenever a brief humanitarian cease-fire is announced.

More than a week ago, Sakani and his family fled the Gaza City neighborhood of Shijaiyah, devastated by fighting, leaving behind clothes and valuables. They have been staying at a U.N. school, but his wife checked on the house during a brief lull Saturday.

"She found only rubble," he says. "Now I am homeless, broke and I can't even get to my humble salary of 2,400 shekels ($700)."

The civil servant says the daily scramble for the basic necessities has distracted him from thinking too much about the future, but he knows it will be bleak.

"Gaza was the largest prison in the world over the past seven years," he says. "Now, in 21 days, Gaza has become the largest cemetery in the world, for bodies and for hope."

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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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