WORLDPOST
07/30/2014 11:31 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2014

Gaza Death Toll Soars As Israel Presses Offensive

ASSOCIATED PRESS

* Tunnel destruction a main goal of Israeli ground offensive

* U.N. outraged at refugee deaths at Gaza shelter

* Palestinian deaths exceed 1,400; 56 soldiers and 3 civilians on Israeli side (Adds Pentagon remarks)

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA/JERUSALEM, July 31 (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, said on Thursday he would not accept any ceasefire that stopped Israel completing the destruction of militants' infiltration tunnels.

The Israeli military estimated on Wednesday that accomplishing that task, already into its fourth week, would take several more days.

"We are determined to complete this mission, with or without a ceasefire," Netanyahu said in public remarks at a meeting of his full cabinet in Tel Aviv.

"I wont agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to finish this important task, for the sake of Israel's security."

Leaving open the option of widening a ground campaign in the Hamas Islamist-dominated Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said it had called up an additional 16,000 reservists. A military source said they would relieve a similar number of reserve soldiers being stood down.

Fighting, however, appeared less ferocious than on previous days this week - more than 100 were killed on Wednesday alone.

Gaza health officials said 19 Palestinians were killed in Israeli assaults on Thursday, which included an air strike on a van in the heart of Gaza City, which killed two people.

The Israeli military said more than 60 rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave, some deep into Israel. One person was moderately wounded by a Gaza projectile that struck in the southern town of Kiryat Gat.

Hamas said it fired one rocket at Tel Aviv, which the military said was intercepted.

Netanyahu's security cabinet on Wednesday approved continuing operations launched on July 8 in response to a surge of cross-border rocket attacks. Israel also sent a delegation to Egypt, which has been trying, with U.S. blessing, to broker a ceasefire.

Washington has also allowed Israel to tap a local U.S. arms stockpile in the past few weeks to replenish its grenades and mortar rounds, a U.S. defense official said on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who failed in a visit to the region last week to secure a ceasefire, voiced support for Israel's operations against the tunnels.

"No country can sit there and live with tunnels being dug under its border, out of which jump people who are carrying handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs in order to kidnap their citizens and hold them for ransom," Kerry said in an interview broadcast on Thursday by India's NDTV.

Gaza officials say at least 1,410 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered territory and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel.

The Pentagon called on Israel on Thursday to do more to protect civilian life during its military operations in Gaza.

"The civilian casualties in Gaza have been too high. And it's become clear that the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards - their very high and very public standards - for protecting civilian life," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said at a news briefing.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned on Wednesday the deaths of at least 15 Palestinians among thousands sheltering at a U.N.-run school. The United Nations said its initial assessment was that Israeli artillery shells hit the facility.

The United Nations' senior human rights official, Navi Pillay, said on Thursday that Israel has attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. premises in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Pillay said Israel's actions seemed to be in "deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes".

Israel said its forces were attacked by guerrillas near the school in northern Jabalya and had fired back. In another incident on Wednesday, 17 people were killed in nearby Shejaia by what Palestinian officials said was Israeli shelling of a produce market. Seven more died of their wounds on Thursday.

The Israeli military said it was investigating.

"Such a massacre requires an earthquake-like response," said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, whose group has kept up dozens of daily rocket launches deep into Israel. The Israelis have kept casualties from the salvoes low, using the Iron Dome air defense system to intercept them and air-raid sirens to send people to shelters.

In the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, Israeli tank shells landed near another U.N.-run school and at least 30 people sheltering inside were wounded by shrapnel and shattered glass, witnesses and hospital officials said.

Rolling Israeli ground assaults on residential areas, preceded by mass warnings to evacuate, have displaced more than 200,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians. The tiny territory's infrastructure is in ruins, with power and water outages.

Israel says it is trying to avoid civilian casualties and blames these on Hamas and other Palestinian factions dug in for urban combat.

Both sides have voiced openness to a truce, but their terms diverge dramatically. Israel wants Gaza stripped of infiltration tunnels and rocket stocks. Hamas rules that out, and seeks an end to a crippling Gaza blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt, which view the Palestinian Islamists as a security threat.

Major General Sami Turgeman, chief of Israeli forces in Gaza, said on Wednesday they were "but a few days away from destroying all the attack tunnels". The army said 32 of the secret passages had been found so far and half of them blown up.

Diplomacy to end the Gaza conflict is further complicated by the fact Israel and the United States shun Hamas as a terrorist group, while the go-betweens - Egypt, Qatar and Turkey - disagree on Gaza policy.

Israel in early 2009 ended a three-week Gaza war with a unilateral truce with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other smaller militant factions following suit.

TUNNEL HUNT

In the absence of a deal, Israel has ordered its ground forces to focus on locating and destroying a warren of tunnels through which Hamas has menaced its southern towns and army bases.

"Progress has been satisfactory, and we are completing our treatment of the terror tunnels," Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Thursday. "During the fighting, soldiers are finding new tunnel shafts, and they are also being neutralized."

Three Israeli soldiers were killed on Wednesday by a booby trap detonated as they uncovered a tunnel shaft, the army said. Military losses are more than five times those from the last Gaza ground war, in 2008-2009, but Israeli opinion polls show strong public support for fighting on until Hamas is quelled.

Netanyahu faces intense pressure from abroad to stand his forces down. The United States and the U.N. Security Council have urged an immediate, unconditional ceasefire by both sides in Gaza to allow in humanitarian relief and for further talks on a more durable cessation of hostilities.

On Wednesday, the White House voiced worry at the deaths in Jabalya and other U.N.-run shelters shelled during the clashes.

"We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in U.N.-designated shelters in Gaza," said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.

"We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza," she said, referring to three cases in which the UNRWA aid agency reported rockets found at its schools.

Israel briefly observed a July 15 ceasefire proposed by Egypt, but Hamas continued attacks, saying its conditions had been ignored. Egyptian officials say they put together a revised truce plan this week that had been provisionally accepted by Israel, though Hamas was still undecided. (Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Ori Lewis and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Will Waterman and Peter Graff)

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.

For more, click here.

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.