Huffpost WorldPost

As Casualties Rise, Egypt Urges Israel, Palestinians To Return To Ceasefire Talks

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* Egypt-mediated ceasefire talks broke down this week

* Israeli air strikes kill nine Palestinians - health officials

* Comes after Palestinian mortar bomb kills Israeli boy (Adds rockets from Syria)

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Yasmine Saleh

GAZA/CAIRO, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Egypt called on Israel and the Palestinians on Saturday to halt hostilities and resume peace talks, but both sides kept up attacks, including an Israeli air strike which destroyed a residential tower block in the center of Gaza City.

Hamas militants also fired rockets at Israel, hitting the southern city of Beersheba, where two people were hurt, police said. At least two rockets were also fired from Lebanon into northern Israel, but it was not initially clear who fired them, Lebanese and Israeli sources said.

At least five rockets fired from Syria also landed at various locations on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the Israeli army said. All fell in open areas, causing no injuries or damage. It was not immediately known who fired the rockets.

Initial reports said 17 people were wounded in the attack on the 13-story Gaza building, local health officials said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the building, which collapsed completely, contained a command center belonging to Hamas militants. Local residents said it housed 44 families.

Another Israeli strike later destroyed a commercial center in the southern Gaza town of Rafah and three people were hurt, local medical staff said.

Five Palestinians, including two children, were killed in another Israeli strike on a house in central Gaza, health officials said. Seven more Palestinians were killed in other strikes, including one on a car.

The Israeli military said it bombed about 20 targets across the Hamas-ruled strip, including rocket launchers and weapon caches next to schools.

No Israeli casualties were reported on Saturday, although rockets and mortar bombs rained down on Israel throughout the day, including one intercepted over the Tel Aviv area, the military said. At least 570 rockets have been fired at Israel since a ceasefire collapsed on Tuesday, it added.

Palestinian health officials say 2,083 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the small, densely populated coastal enclave since July 8, when Israel launched an offensive with the declared aim of ending Palestinian rocket fire into its territory.

Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and four civilians have been killed.

Indirect ceasefire talks mediated by Egypt to end the conflict collapsed after rockets were fired from Gaza during a truce and Israel responded with air strikes.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Saturday called on both sides to resume talks. Palestinian President Abbas, in Cairo after meeting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, also urged a swift resumption of negotiations.

A senior Egyptian diplomat said Abbas had informed Sisi that Hamas was prepared to come to Cairo for further talks, but Hamas did not immediately confirm the report. Israel also had no immediate comment.

The Egyptian diplomat said Cairo expected to receive responses from both Israel and Hamas by Monday.

The talks, conducted in Cairo, have not involved direct meetings between Israeli officials and representatives of Hamas. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization and Hamas, for its part, refuses to recognize Israel. Egyptian officials shuttle between the two sides.

Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza is lifted.

Both Israel and Egypt view Hamas as a security threat and are reluctant to make sweeping concessions without guarantees weapons will not enter the economically crippled enclave.


CAIRO TALKS

The Cairo talks had aimed to secure a lasting deal to open the way for reconstruction aid to flow into the Gaza territory of 1.8 million people, where thousands of homes have been destroyed.

"My main goal is for the truce talks to resume in Egypt as soon as possible to avoid more casualties," Abbas said in Cairo.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the movement was "in favor of any real effort that will secure the achievement of Palestinian demands and we will study any proposal when presented."

Saturday's violence took place a day after a four-year-old Israeli boy was killed by a mortar attack from Gaza, leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to threaten to escalate the fight against Hamas. The boy was the first Israeli child to have died in the conflict.

The United Nations says about 400,000 Gazans have been displaced and more than 400 children killed in the longest and deadliest violence between Israel and the Palestinians since the second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, a decade ago.

Israel pulled ground forces out of Gaza more than two weeks ago, after saying they had destroyed a network of Hamas tunnels used for cross-border ambushes. But Netanyahu last week granted provisional approval for the call-up of 10,000 army reservists, signaling the possibility of heightened military action.

Hamas leaders said on Saturday they had signed off on Abbas' bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), a move that could open both Israel and the militant group to war crime probes over the Gaza conflict. [ID: L5N0QT066]

If the Palestinians were to sign the ICC's founding treaty, the Rome Statute, the court would have jurisdiction over crimes committed in the Palestinian territories. An investigation could then examine events as far back as mid-2002.

Israel and Hamas have traded accusations of war crimes and both defend their military operations as consistent with international law. (Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Sylvia Westall in Beirut, Writing by Maayan Lubell and Ori Lewis,; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Dan Grebler)

In the Gaza City strike, a huge fireball followed by a black column of smoke rose into the sky after two Israeli missiles toppled the Zafer Tower, one in a group of several high-rises in the upscale Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. Neighboring buildings shook from the blasts.

The Israeli military said the missiles targeted a Hamas operations room in the building, but did not explain why the entire tower with 44 apartments was brought down.

Gaza police said a warning missile had been fired five minutes earlier and that some residents were able to rush out of the building in time. Still, 22 people were wounded, including 11 children and five women, according to Gaza hospital officials.

Maher Abu Sedo, an area resident, said the two strikes came within seconds of each other.

"People started shouting Allahu Akbar, and women and kids were screaming," he said. "This is crazy. The state of Israel has resorted to madness. In less than a minute, 44 families have become displaced ... They lost everything, their house, their money, their memories and their security."

Some 100,000 Gazans have become homeless, with more than 17,000 homes destroyed or damaged beyond repair, according to U.N. figures. However, Saturday strike marked the first time an entire apartment high-rise was destroyed.

Elsewhere in Gaza, an airstrike on a car killed a man and wounded 11 people, said Ayman Sahabani, head of the emergency room at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine later identified the man killed as a field commander.

Meanwhile, Gaza militants fired over 100 rockets and mortar shells at Israel on Saturday. The barrage came a day after a mortar shell from Gaza hit a farming village in southern Israel, killing a 4-year-old boy.

Israeli media said large numbers of residents of southern Israeli communities near the Gaza border were leaving their homes and heading for safer areas following the death of the boy in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

"I say whoever can leave, whose presence is not crucial should leave," said Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Ahronovich during a visit to the south on Saturday.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called on southern residents to be ready for a prolonged campaign against Hamas militants.

"In the end we will win," he said Saturday. "This is a test of staying power and strength."

Since the fighting erupted on July 8, Israel has launched some 5,000 airstrikes at Gaza, while Gaza militants have fired close to 4,000 rockets and mortars, according to the Israeli military.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, including close to 500 children, have been killed, according to Palestinian health officials and U.N. figures. Israel has lost 64 soldiers and four civilians.

Israel says it is targeting sites linked to militants, including rocket launchers, command centers and weapons depots. The U.N. says about three-fourth of the Palestinians killed have been civilians.

A formula for ending the war remains elusive.

Hamas demands that Israel and Egypt lift a Gaza border blockade they imposed in 2007, after Hamas seized the territory from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel says it can ease, but not remove the stifling restrictions on Palestinian trade and travel unless Gaza militants agree to disarm and stop manufacturing or smuggling weapons. Hamas has rejected that demand.

During stop-and-go truce talks, Egypt has presented compromise proposals, including a gradual easing of movement for people and cargo at two crossings between Israel and Gaza. However, Israel offered no specific commitments, and Hamas rejected the idea.

Abbas has urged Hamas to accept the plan, which would also give him a new foothold in Gaza because forces under his command would be deployed at the border crossings.

Abbas met Saturday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo to try to find ways to resume truce talks. After the meeting, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry urged Israel and Hamas to agree to an open-ended cease-fire and resume indirect talks. Egyptian officials did not say how they expected renewed talks to produce a different outcome after repeated failures.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the collapse of the most recent cease-fire. In a phone conversation with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Netanyahu alleged that Hamas has violated 11 cease-fires since the war started, Netanyahu's office said.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev had no immediate comment regarding the renewed call for a cease-fire. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Gaza's ruling Hamas, said the group would consider the Egyptian appeal, but there was no sign it would budge from longstanding demands.

Earlier Saturday, Hamas announced that it has signed a pledge to back any Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court. Such a bid could expose Israel, as well as Hamas, to possible war crimes prosecution.

Hamas had hesitated for weeks before giving its written consent. Its decision could further increase domestic pressure on Abbas to turn to the court.

Abbas has debated the issue for months, since seeking ICC action could transform his relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile, strain his ties with the United States and deprive his government of badly needed Western financial support.

Last month, Abbas said he would not make a move without the written consent of all Palestinian factions. He obtained such support from all groups represented in the Palestine Liberation Organization, while Hamas, not a PLO member, said it would study the idea.

It remains unclear if Abbas will turn to the court, now that he has Hamas support in writing. An Abbas aide said last week that no decision would be made before March when a U.N. commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed in the Gaza war is to hand in its findings.

___

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.

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08/26/2014 12:41 PM EDT
VIDEO: Gazans Celebrate

CNN reporter Ian Lee posted this video on his Instagram account of Gazans celebrating the cease-fire deal.

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According to BBC producer Michael Shuval, an Israeli official said Hamas' demands for the opening of a seaport and airport in Gaza are not part of the Egypt-brokered deal both factions agreed to on Tuesday, but will be discussed in further talks within a month.

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An Israeli official told the Associated Press that Israel will ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire deal. The agreement will enable the passage of humanitarian aid and construction material to rebuild the war-torn territory, according to the report.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian official told Buzzfeed that the terms of the deal were similar to those reached after the last major conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2012. That year, Israel pledged to ease restrictions at Gaza's border in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire from Hamas militants.

-- Charlotte Alfred

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08/26/2014 12:20 PM EDT
Gaza Celebrates
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08/26/2014 12:16 PM EDT
Barrage Of Rockets

According to several reporters in Israel, Palestinian militants have fired a barrage of rockets at Israel moments before the start of a long-term ceasefire.



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08/26/2014 12:10 PM EDT
More On The Israeli Position

Via the Associated Press:

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli official says Israel has accepted an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire plan to end a seven-week war against Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip.

The official said Tuesday that Israel "responded positively" to Egypt's call for an open-ended cease-fire.

Egyptian state media reported the cease-fire was to begin at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT).

The Israeli official said Israel would ease its blockade of Gaza to allow humanitarian and construction materials to enter the war-battered territory.

He said indirect talks on more substantial issues would begin in Cairo within a month. Issues are expected to include Hamas' demand for an end to the blockade and Israel's calls for Hamas to disarm.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with journalists.

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08/26/2014 11:49 AM EDT
Haaretz: Israel Accepts Truce

A senior Israeli official told Haaretz that Israel has accepted the Egyptian-proposed truce. The official added that members of Israel's cabinet had been notified.

Read more here.

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08/26/2014 11:44 AM EDT
More On The Egyptian Announcement

Via the Associated Press:

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian state media has announced a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel to halt the seven-week Gaza war, which has killed over 2,200 people.

Both Egyptian state television and the state news agency MENA announced the deal Tuesday night. Both said it begins at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT), without elaborating.

Earlier, officials with from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main groups fighting in Gaza against Israel, said a cease-fire had been reached. Israeli officials have not immediately commented. They described it as an "open-ended" cease-fire that included an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.

Israeli officials have yet to comment.

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Egypt state TV reports as well that a cease-fire was reached between Hamas and Israel, the Associated Press writes.

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Reporter Ben Hartman writes on Twitter that reports have emerged that 3 Israelis were seriously wounded in an attack from Gaza.

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A senior Hamas official told the Associated Press that the group reached an agreement with Israel which for an "open-ended" ceasefire.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Egypt will announce the deal later Tuesday.

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Agence France Presse and the Associated Press report that a senior Hamas official official says Israel and Palestinians reached a long-term cease-fire.

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08/26/2014 8:54 AM EDT
Iron Dome Intercepts 2 Rockets
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08/25/2014 4:24 PM EDT
Israel Reacts To Lebanon Strikes

The Times of Israel reports that the Israeli army has retaliated for earlier strikes fired from Lebanon into the Upper Galilee.

Peter Lerner, spokesman for the IDF, tweeted moments ago:

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According to the Israeli army, a rocket fired from Lebanon into Israel hit the Upper Galilee.

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08/25/2014 12:19 PM EDT
Bank Of Israel Cuts Interest Rates

Reuters reports that the Bank of Israel reduced interest rates to a historic low on Monday.

Fears that weeks of fighting with Hamas will harm an Israeli economy already hurt by a global slowdown led the Bank of Israel to reduce interest rates for a second month in a row on Monday.

After a surprise reduction a month ago, the central bank again lowered its benchmark short-term interest rate by a quarter-point to 0.25 percent - an all time low. All 10 economists polled by Reuters had forecast no move.

"Karnit joined the war effort," said Ofer Klein, head of economics and research at Harel Insurance and Finance, referring to Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug.

"It is hard to imagine that without the military operation in the background, the Bank of Israel would choose such an extreme move especially when the United States is already talking about raising interest rates."

Read more here.

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08/25/2014 11:10 AM EDT
Rocket Intercepted Over Ashdod

The Iron-dome missile system intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza over Ashdod.

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Israel's defense ministry is helping Israeli families living near Gaza to evacuate from their homes.

Via the Associated Press:

Livnat Ginzbourg, a spokeswoman for Israeli communities along the Gaza border, said some 100 families were leaving their homes on Monday, following a similar number the previous day.

It is another major exodus of residents during the fighting. Many people fled last month after the discovery of Hamas tunnels that had been burrowed into Israel. Residents were encouraged to return home after Israel said it destroyed the tunnels and a preliminary truce was reached.

Ginzbourg said some families had stayed in Israeli government-funded accommodations during the recent war, but Monday's evacuation was the first time the government was coordinating and financing temporary accommodation for all families wishing to flee. She estimated that 70 to 80 percent of residents in communities closest to the Gaza border have fled, mostly families with young children.

Defense Ministry spokesman Jonathan Mosery said it was not a mandatory evacuation, but the government was assisting Israelis who live up to five kilometers (3 miles) from the Gaza border, paying for them to stay at youth hostels and other accommodations in areas farther away.

The need to uproot families yet again, just days before the start of the school year, has led to widespread exasperation.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Israeli residents of the Gaza border area, saying the government would "do our utmost to help you through these difficult days" and promising an "extraordinary package of assistance for your communities."

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Palestinian medical officials say 11 people were killed in airstrikes on Gaza on Monday.

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Agence France Presse reports:

A rocket fired from Lebanese territory hit northern Israel late Saturday, the army said on the 47th day of a war against the Islamist movement Hamas in and around Gaza.

"The rocket that was fired from Lebanon hit the Upper Galilee," the army said in a statement, correcting a previous communique that said the rocket had hit east of Acre.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the launch or reports of damage or injuries.
A Lebanese security source said the rocket was fired from Dheira, three kilometres (nearly two miles) from the border with Israel.

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The Associated Press reports:

Israeli aircraft fired two missiles at a 12-story apartment tower in downtown Gaza City on Saturday, collapsing the building, sending a huge fireball into the sky and wounding at least 22 people, including 11 children, witnesses and Palestinian officials said.

Israel has launched some 5,000 airstrikes against Gaza in nearly seven weeks of fighting with Hamas, but Saturday's strike marked the first time an entire high-rise was toppled. The explosion shook nearby buildings.

The Israeli military said the airstrike targeted a Hamas operations room in the building, but did not explain why the entire tower with 48 apartments was levelled.

Gaza police say Israeli aircraft fired a warning missile at the roof of the tower at dusk, followed five minutes later by two missiles with explosives.

Ayman Sahabani, the head of the emergency room at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, said at least 22 people were wounded, including 11 children and five women.

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08/23/2014 11:27 AM EDT
Gaza Casualties Continue To Rise

Egypt and the Palestinian president are pressing for a return to ceasefire talks as airstrikes in Gaza and rocket fire at Israel continued on Saturday, Reuters reports.

Since the previous temporary truce collapsed on Tuesday, Gaza medics said 65 Palestinians had been killed and Israel's army said almost 500 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, one of which killed a four-year-old boy.

More from Reuters on Saturday's fighting:

Gaza health officials said five people, including two children, were killed in an Israeli strike on a house in central Gaza. Four more Palestinians were killed in other strikes.

The Israeli military said it bombed about 20 targets across the Hamas-dominated strip, including rocket launchers and weapon caches. It said Gaza militants had fired more than 40 rockets at Israel and no Israeli casualties were reported.

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08/22/2014 2:39 PM EDT
Hamas: We Won't Disarm
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08/22/2014 11:37 AM EDT
Israeli Boy Reportedly Killed

Via Reuters:

A mortar bomb fired from Gaza killed a four-year-old Israeli child in a border collective farm on Friday, Israeli security sources said.

The boy would be the fourth civilian in Israel to be killed in an attack from the coastal territory since the outbreak of conflict on July 8, and the first Israeli death since an Egyptian-brokered truce broke down earlier this week. More than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, most of them civilians.

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08/22/2014 11:07 AM EDT
Sirens Sound In Central Israel
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Three people were wounded after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants struck an Israeli synagogue shortly before evening prayers for the Jewish Sabbath, Reuters reports.

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From the Associated Press:

Gaza gunmen killed 18 alleged spies for Israel on Friday, including seven who were lined up behind a mosque and shot after midday prayers, in response to Israel's deadly airstrikes against top Hamas military commanders.

Hamas media portrayed the killings as the beginning of a new crackdown, under the rallying cry of "choking the necks of the collaborators." It was the largest number of suspected informers killed by Hamas in a single day since it seized Gaza by force in 2007.

The Al Majd website, which is close to the Hamas security services, said suspects would now be dealt with "in the field" rather than in the courts in order to create deterrence.

Hamas said it would not release the names of those killed because it wanted to protect the reputation of their families. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said two of those killed Friday were women. It called for an immediate halt to what it said were "extra-judicial executions."

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08/22/2014 8:58 AM EDT
Israeli Synagogue Hit By Rocket

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said a synagogue in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod was hit by a rocket Friday.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that two people were wounded in the attack.

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Israel's defense minister Moshe Ya'Alon has requested permission to call up 10,000 reserves, Haaretz reports.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misidentified Israel's defense minister.

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A senior Hamas official said his group was responsible for the kidnap of three Israeli teenagers in June, Reuters reports.

"There was much speculation about this operation, some said it was a conspiracy," Saleh al-Arouri told delegates at the International Union of Islamic Scholars in Istanbul on Wednesday, according to a recording of the meeting posted online by organizers.

"The popular will was exercised throughout our occupied land, and culminated in the heroic operation by the Qassam Brigades in imprisoning the three settlers in Hebron," he said, referring to Hamas's armed wing.

Read the full story here.

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