By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA, July 25 (Reuters) - Almost half of the Gaza Strip is a no-go area shelled by Israeli ground forces during almost three weeks of fighting, sending not just the living but the dead in search of a safe place to rest.
Many graveyards - along with whole neighborhoods once home to hundreds of thousands of people - are too dangerous to approach, pushing some families to cram their dead among the more than 800 killed by the bombs into old, or occupied, graves closer to safety.
A sign outside the Martyrs' Cemetery in northern Gaza warned that it was full, like many in the crowded coastal Strip, but that didn't stop the funeral processions from coming.
Grave diggers said they had resorted to burying two people in the space of one, or opening up old family plots, sweeping the bones of their occupants to one side and adding a new body.
"In normal situations people will go to the other martyrs' cemetery in the North or bury their dead in separate graves. But nothing is normal these days," said Abu Bilal, a grave digger.
Wiping the sweat from his brow with his forearm, he gestured with his dirty hands and complained that though he had buried hundreds of war victims, working with slain children still left him jarred.
"Death is tough, but I can't act normal when I bury a child killed by an Israeli missile. The image of his, or her, innocent smile doesn't leave my memory so easily," the father of five told Reuters.
Gaza medics say more than 800 Palestinians, most of them civilians including more than 100 children, have been killed.
Israel says it takes pains to avoid civilian casualties and has warned residents in border areas to flee a ground thrust aimed at destroying militants' cross-border attack tunnels.
Israel has lost 33 soldiers in the fighting and 3 civilians.
Though gatherings attract the attention of the omnipresent Israeli drones which consider open spaces potential rocket launch sites, Ali Hassan and a small group of mourners arrived anyway.
The young man being buried was killed in an Israeli air strike on his family home in central Gaza on Wednesday. The surviving occupants of the house fled, leaving rescue crews working for two days to pull his remains out of the rubble.
"Not only has Israel displaced the living and forced them to seek shelter, our dead cannot be buried in separate graves. They have to be sheltered with corpses of relatives," Hassan said.
More than 150,000 people have fled to United Nations refuges, including a school that was shelled on Friday, killing 15 people. Countless others have moved in with relatives.
Islamic precepts mandate single graves for the dead, thought there are exceptions for wartime and incidents of mass death.
But where religion forgives, the Israeli-Egyptian blockade grinding Gaza's economy and does not: cement needed to cover the graves is in short supply, sending the price of a simple burial up by a quarter to around $160 for the increasingly impoverished residents.
"We have no time to rest, dead or alive," said Hassan glumly as he shook hands with well-wishers.
(Writing by Noah Browning; Editing by Giles Elgood)
BEFORE YOU GO
08/08/2014 2:47 PM EDT
White House Concerned By Renewed Fighting
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.
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
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
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
BREAKING: Israel says it's resumed strikes on Gaza in response to rocket fire, after end of 3-day truce.— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2014
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
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
IDF confirms rocket sirens in southern Israel were false alarm http://t.co/QN677jtlXE— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 6, 2014
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.