TIME Israel

Israel Rejects Gaza Cease-Fire As Fresh Protests Rage in West Bank

Palestinian supporters of Hamas take shelter while clashing with Israeli security forces on July 25, 2014 near Ramallah, West Bank.
Palestinian supporters of Hamas take shelter while clashing with Israeli security forces on July 25, 2014 near Ramallah, West Bank. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to successfully mediate a cease-fire

Palestinians marched on the Qalandia checkpoint, rocks and Molotov cocktails flew, and Israel Defense Forces soldiers responded with gunfire and tear gas. It’s 2014, but today it all looks achingly similar to 2000, the year the Second Intifada, or “uprising,” broke out.

Five West Bank Palestinians have been killed by IDF troops since Thursday night: two on Thursday night in Ramallah, and three more in the cities of Hebron and Nablus. A sixth Palestinian was killed by gunfire from a settler near the Hawara checkpoint south of Nablus, Israeli Radio reported.

“You’d better believe this is the start of the Third Intifada,” said Raed Froukh, 22. Froukh was part of a group of about 200 young Palestinians who threw rocks at Israeli soldiers Friday near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah – five minutes from the home of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – and then ran for cover when the troops began shooting in the direction of the youths.

“Israel has been killing our people in Gaza, is refusing to allow us pray in the al Aqsa mosque, and is now shooting live bullets at demonstrators,” said Froukh. “I think this will be worse than the first two intifadas which we witnessed. And as you can see, it’s all the factions coming together to fight the occupation and show resistance everywhere we can.”

The outburst of Israeli-Palestinian violence comes against the backdrop of intense diplomatic activity, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, to reach a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. On Thursday, Hamas and the secular Fatah faction, led by President Abbas, presented a rare unified position, outlining joint demands for a ceasefire: First, they want Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza. Second, they want Hamas-affiliated Palestinians, released in 2011 in a prisoner exchange deal but re-arrested by Israel last month after the kidnapping and killing of three West Bank teenagers, set free once again. There are several other demands, including allowing Gazans to pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem: they used to be permitted there, but some haven’t left Gaza since the Second Intifada almost 15 years ago.

Israel, meanwhile, has a different condition: The complete demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. That would prevent Hamas from preparing for that seems like an inevitable next round of fighting, given how frequently conflicts between it and Israel have cropped up in recent years. Israel’s disarmament demand mirrors that of 28 European Union foreign ministers, who also called for Hamas to be stripped of its arms this week.

Demilitarization, though, is a key sticking point standing in the way of a cease-fire deal. Gershon Baskin is an Israeli peace activist who has been involved in other back-channel cease-fire and prisoner exchange negotiations between Israel and Hamas. He said that asking Hamas to lay down all of its weapons is clearly a non-starter for the Palestinian side.

“Israel has defined its demands of ceasefire, which are probably totally unrealistic,” Baskin said. “Israel wants a demilitarization of Gaza, and if that is their demand, they probably won’t get a cease-fire.”

But neither has Hamas shown flexibility on the other demand, that of an immediate end to the violence. It has patently rejected Kerry’s proposal for a two-stage cease-fire – an immediate cessation of all hostilities followed by a five-day or one-week period to negotiate the exact terms. Meanwhile, Israel’s cabinet on Friday also rejected Kerry’s idea, according to Israeli media.

While Kerry and the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, kept trying to find the right cease-fire formula, the fighting plodded on. The IDF continued to attack Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip Friday, and Hamas kept lobbing rockets into Israel.

Still, the world’s attention on Friday turned to the West Bank, on a day poised for upheaval. The bloodshed in Gaza, with the death toll standing at 832 Palestinians (and 38 Israelis, most of them soldiers), has West Bank Palestinians outraged. Throughout the week, Palestinians in the West Bank had been gearing up to hold a rally, dubbed the #48Kmarch, to protest IDF actions in Gaza. That demonstration, which attracted thousands of Palestinians, came after recent rioting in Shuafat, a Palestinian neighborhood of northern Jerusalem under Israeli control. Those protests followed the death of a Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and killed earlier this month. The murder was allegedly committed by Israeli extremists in revenge for the June 12 kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank – Naftali Frenkel, Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Sha’er – which prompted Israel to launch a campaign of night raids and arrests around the West Bank. Following the raids and arrests, Hamas in Gaza began launching rockets at Israel daily, and about a week later, Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge,” its invasion of Gaza.

Thursday night and Friday also happened to be Laylat al-Qadr – usually translated as “Night of Destiny” or “Night of Power” – one of the holiest days of Ramadan. The killing of two Palestinians during the protests led Fatah and other Palestinian factions to declare Friday a “day of rage in support of bleeding, besieged Gaza.” Hamas spokesmen in the Gaza Strip urged Palestinians to use the moment launch a new intifada against Israel.

Samira Hamdan, 36, was one of many Palestinians who hung back and watched the slightly younger and mostly male Palestinians charge at the Israeli soldiers with rocks outside Ramallah, then attempt to escape to safety when the shooting ensues – a well-worn dance of years past.

“I am saddened to say that it really does feel like this is the Third Intifada,” she said. “This means more deaths and harsher conditions than ever before. But it’s not just Gaza or Mohammed Abu Khdeir. It’s the night invasions of homes, the re-imprisonment of released prisoners, and more deaths which have caused the Palestinian people to explode.”

- with reporting by Rami Nazzal in Ramallah

TIME Israel

The Immigrant Soldiers Dying for Israel in Gaza

The parents of Sergeant Max Steinberg grieve at his coffin during his funeral on July 23, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel.
The parents of Sergeant Max Steinberg grieve at his coffin during his funeral on July 23, 2014 in Jerusalem. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Young Jews come from across the U.S. and Europe to serve as 'lone soldiers' for the Israel Defense Forces

Max Steinberg was from Los Angeles. Nissim Sean Carmeli was from South Padre Island, Texas. Jordan Bensemhoun came to Israel on his own from Lyon, France.

Each of the young men left his country of origin to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and each was killed in action this weekend in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is more than two weeks into Operation Protective Edge, a military campaign against the Palestinian militant group Hamas. That campaign incorporated a ground invasion as of Thursday night that Israeli leaders say is helping to destroy Hamas’ ability to fire rockets – some 2,160 of which have been fired toward Israel since the latest round of hostilities began July 7 – as well as a network of tunnels that burrow deep into Israeli territory, allowing militants to attack. However effective that strategy might be, it exposes Israel’s soldiers to a higher risk of injury and death than bombardment from afar. The campaign has so far left 29 Israeli soldiers dead, as well as some 650 Palestinians.

Sgt. Steinberg, 24, was buried Wednesday in a funeral in Jerusalem that attracted some 30,000 mourners, including his parents, who are taking their first trip to Israel to bury their son. He was what people in the organized American-Jewish community would consider an Israel success story. He came to Israel with his sister in 2012 on Birthright, a program which brings loosely affiliated Jews from around the world – the U.S. and Europe in particular – on a free 10-day trip to Israel. By the end of the program, he was smitten. After a short time back in the U.S., he decided to join the IDF, and lobbied his superiors to be placed in a combat unit. One of the good friends he met along the way was England-born Josh Grant, who like Steinberg, came here as what Israelis refer to as a “hayal boded,” or lone soldier.

“He was a jobnik for a few months,” says Grant, using the slightly derogatory Israeli slang for someone who has a desk job in the army, “but all he wanted to do was combat. They said no way, but he convinced them.” Grant, who moved to Israel on his own from the city of Birmingham in England shortly after high school, went through intensive Hebrew-language classes with Steinberg as well as a basic training program for soldiers who may not be native Israelis but still want to serve.

Steinberg had to have back surgery this year that forced him to take a few months off from his service, and he was behind the curve of many of his cohort when he came back. While others finished their service in June, he had been due to finish in November. Many of his closest army buddies returned to their home countries weeks ago and “felt guilty,” as one of them put it, for not being around for their fallen comrade. Steinberg himself planned to go back to the U.S. after he finished his service (a fact confirmed by Steinberg’s family) and didn’t have a long-term plan to move to Israel permanently.

“Just before the war started, we were out for the night, celebrating another friend who had finished,” Grant, who as an active combat engineer was not authorized to discuss his opinions about the war in Gaza, told TIME. “I can’t quite believe he’s gone. To lose a friend like Max is heartbreaking. But he didn’t have a boring life, he’s done something worthwhile.”

That desire to do something meaningful, it seems, is part of what motivates thousands of young Jewish people to come to Israel every year and volunteer for the army, many in the context of immigrating and trying to integrate into Israeli society. There are currently 5,100 immigrants from other countries who are serving in the IDF, says Oded Forer, the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Absorption. These soldiers get a small additional monthly stipend and other benefits, Forer tells TIME, to show they are valued and to help them survive without family support.

“We escort them towards their recruitment and help them afterwards,” Forer says, noting that his ministry dedicates 17 million shekels – close to $5 million – for that purpose every year. “We are an immigrant state at the end of the day, so naturally there will be situations like this. Everyone who is part of the people of Israel carries the burden of defending the country, and this has been part of the ethos since the founding of the state.”

Some 30 years ago, for example, Mike Meyerheim left New Jersey to come to Israel and serve in the IDF. His war was the one in Lebanon, starting with Israel’s invasion in 1982. Today he is the director of the Lone Soldier Center, which provides support to up to 6,000 soldiers, numbering among them immigrants and native-born Israelis with no family to rely on. In the past few weeks, they’ve been visiting soldiers on the Gaza border and providing them with things as mundane as clean socks, underwear and additional food. The Israeli army operates so close to home that many soldiers come back each weekend with a bag of laundry, expecting Mom to do it.

“We take care of people year round with the hope we don’t go to war, but when we’re in the situation that we’re in today, we do everything we can to make sure they’re safe and in good spirits,” Meyerheim told TIME.

One of the Lone Soldier Center’s volunteers, Nissim Slama, came to Israel 10 years ago from France, and found himself serving in what is referred to here as the Second Lebanon War, when Israel and Hizbollah went to war with each other in 2006. “The lone soldiers are paying a high price in Gaza for their motivation and dedication,” said Slama, who was on his way Tuesday to the funeral of Jordan Bensemhoun, the dual French-Israeli citizen, in the city of Ashkelon. “They come from abroad and want to defend Israel and ensure the state’s survival…but it’s always a harder life for them, being here without the usual level of family support.”

Bensemhoun came to Israel as a high school student and stayed on, leaving behind his family in southeastern France. He was recruited two years ago, and in February, posted a picture of his uniformed self on Facebook showing his wings and arm-patch of the elite Golani Brigades he had been inducted into, with the optimistic message: “I’ll be back in a few months!”

TIME

Tunnel Attacks Have Israel on Edge

A gunfight near a kibbutz has shown how close Hamas militants can now get to the Israeli population

+ READ ARTICLE

Sometime around 5 a.m. Monday, 10 men set out quietly on a predawn mission, dressed in Israeli army uniforms and boots.

They were not, however, members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They were members of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, and they had just emerged from one of the many tunnels the militants have dug between the Gaza Strip and Israel. That much, however, was not clear until the Israeli forces nearby noticed that the men who looked like their own were actually carrying Kalashnikovs and not Tavors, Israel’s standard-issue automatic rifles.

In the gunfight that ensued, Israeli soldiers killed 10 Hamas militants, the IDF says, but also lost four of its own when they were hit by an antitank rocket fired at them by the gunmen. The dramatic gun battle unfolded only about 650 ft. (200 m) from Kibbutz Nir Am, an agricultural commune founded by immigrants from Eastern Europe in 1943. Residents were ordered to remain indoors and roads were closed for the next five hours as the Israeli military officials were unsure if some of the Palestinian militants might have succeeded in breaking away from the group.

The incident is being seen in Israel as a narrowly averted nightmare. That militants could pop out of the ground just feet from a residential area shows just how far Hamas’ military wing has progressed toward being within arm’s reach of the Israeli population. One militant who was killed in a similar incident a few days ago had tranquilizers and handcuffs with him, suggesting one of his goals had been kidnapping.

Destroying as many tunnels as possible is the goal of the IDF’s Operation Defensive Edge, launched two weeks ago. The IDF says it has discovered close to 50 entrances to 14 tunnels since its ground invasion of Gaza began, and that it took fire Monday while it worked on destroying a tunnel in Shujaiyeh, the same neighborhood in which the IDF engaged in a late-night offensive a day earlier that left at least 60 civilians dead, as well as 13 Israeli soldiers.

“Only today … we understood the meaning of the danger of these tunnels when terrorists, wearing IDF uniforms, came out of the belly of the earth and were threatening our communities around Gaza,” Major General Sami Turgeman, the IDF head of the Southern Command, told reporters after the incident at Nir Am. “A huge disaster was avoided. This proves that we’re right to focus on the tunnels. They now know that the efforts they have invested, years of time and a great amount of money and hours of work, can be taken in a day of work by us, plus paying with the death of the militants who tried to infiltrate Israel.”

Gazans interviewed Monday were divided over the effectiveness of the tunnel campaign. Some residents said that the tunnel strategy was forcing Israel to suffer, and was perhaps even more effective than rockets. Others said the tunnels’ use would only increase the loss of life on both sides.

Hamas began building tunnels as a method of economic sustenance. As Israel tightened its borders with Gaza, first during the second intifadeh and more severely when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah in 2007, Hamas started building tunnels in Gaza to smuggle goods in from Egypt. Hamas taxed the various tunnels and was also able to use each tunnel’s creation and operation as a kind of job-works program for desperate Gazans, at one point employing up to 7,000 people, according to an al-Jazeera report. (Doron Peskin, an analyst at the Israeli market-research firm Info-Prod Research, estimates that tunnels coming from Gaza into Israel cost $200 per m to construct.) Israel and Egypt — fearing militancy in Gaza was spilling over into the Sinai — have been acting for several years to shut these down.

But tunnels weren’t just a way to break the blockade. Palestinians realized they could also be used as a way to attack Israel. In 2006, militants used a tunnel to attack an Israeli army post and kidnap a 19-year-old soldier, Gilad Shalit. He was exchanged after more than five years in captivity for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails — a success Hamas would like to repeat. The possibility of an additional kidnapping like this has motivated Hamas to invest in an unknown number of tunnels, although Israeli army officials estimate there are likely 20 tunnels today.

“It is a very dangerous period because I think Hamas understands that their ability to use these tunnels is a window that is closing very quickly, and the time to gain some achievements with what they have built is limited,” says Shlomo Brom, a retired general and former director of the Strategic Planning Division of the IDF.

Had the militants managed to emerge in the middle of the Nir Am kibbutz Monday, they would have found Israeli soldiers who have been camping out in the community’s courtyards since many residents have fled to safer parts of the country. Of the 400 original residents, approximately 60 remain — those too old to move, their helpers, and members of the local emergency committee.

“This morning we woke up from this dream that such a thing could never happen. We haven’t had something like this since 1956, ahead of the Sinai campaign,” said Shlomo Maizlitz, head of the regional emergency committee, who was a 12-year-old boy during that war involving Israel, Gaza and Egypt. “We didn’t dream that the tunnels would get to our area. We thought it was too difficult to drill anywhere near it. Now, everything looks different.”

— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza City

TIME Israel

Israel Prepares for Long War in Gaza as Both Sides Suffer Most Casualties Yet

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: During a cease fire, Palestinians medics look for survivors in Gaza's Shujaya district after a night of Israeli heavy shelling on the neighbourhood. In the are two ambulances has been targeted few hours earlier.  ALESSIO ROMENZI
During a cease-fire, Palestinian medics look for survivors in Gaza's Shujaiyeh district after a night of Israeli heavy shelling on the neighborhood Alessio Romenzi

Israeli leaders are preparing for a drawn-out invasion of Gaza even as casualties on both sides hit their peak

Updated: July 21, 2014, 3:00 a.m. E.T.

If you look at most maps of Gaza, you won’t find the neighborhood of Shujaiyeh on it. But the name of the neighborhood on the eastern edge of Gaza City will likely go down in history as a particularly horrific point in a war between Israel and Hamas that only seems to get bloodier and more bitter by the day.

Each side has its own story, and they differ so substantially that it is almost a déjà vu of the terrible bloodshed in the West Bank city of Jenin in 2002: Palestinians called it a massacre, Israelis said it was a battle.

This much is clear: the Israeli army laid siege to the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiyeh late Saturday night and throughout the early hours on Sunday, shelling it with artillery blasts as well as air strikes and helicopter fire. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers also went in on foot and had heavy exchanges of automatic gunfire with Hamas militants. At least 501 Palestinians have been killed, according to figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The IDF also released its grim death toll: 13 soldiers were killed in the fighting.

For Jalal Ghouleh, 47, it was one of the worst nights of his life. He’d been receiving messages from the army — by telephone and by leaflet — to leave Gaza City for days, but he could think of nowhere to run: Palestinians seeking shelter have already packed U.N. schools in the Gaza Strip, with more than 50,000 displaced people sleeping on classroom floors and in courtyards.

The shelling starting at 9 p.m., and it never seemed to stop.

“We were about 65 people in the same building, children, parents, aunts and uncles. We all went down to the ground floor. The shelling and shooting just keep going all night and I thought, ‘We’ll die in this house, we have to get out,’” says Ghouleh. After six harrowing hours, there seemed to be a lull in the fighting. So they decided to make a run for it, leaving the house en masse and scurrying on foot to Shifa Hospital. It was the only place they could think to go that would theoretically be safe.

By midmorning, they were evacuated to a U.N. school, where there was hardly space for them to stay. When a humanitarian cease-fire was declared at 1:30 p.m., Ghouleh came back to their building on the main drag of the neighborhood to collect a few key belongings. A neighbor, Raed Zaqout, had also come back to throw a few valuables and items of clothing into a bag, not knowing when they would be home again. They returned to a street with half-destroyed buildings, burnt-out cars, felled trees, downed electricity poles. The ground was a charred crumble of rubble and shrapnel. The worst, he said, was the inability to help others. “We saw bodies lying in street, maybe some of them just badly injured, but it was such chaos trying to carry out our children and escape that we couldn’t help others,” Ghouleh said.

At the overcrowded Shifa Hospital, families searched frantically for people who were missing and sought treatment for the many wounded. One of the injured was a 4-year-old girl name Ritaj, who was in the emergency room wearing pink pajamas and being treated for shrapnel injuries to her leg. “I lost my brother, I lost my brother,” she repeated over and over again. Her mother sat in the seat next to her, crying.

A little over an hour’s drive north from the hospital, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod HaSharon, another child was crying. Uri Greenberg, 10, was bidding a final farewell at his father’s funeral: Major (res.) Amotz Greenberg, 45, was one of Israel’s first casualties of the war. He and another Israeli soldier were killed on Saturday — and four more wounded — after Hamas militants who had infiltrated Israel through an underground tunnel opened fire on them.

“Dad, once you seemed like superman. Now you are superman,” said the redheaded boy between sobs.

While the first two soldiers to die in the current conflict were buried, the news of the losses the IDF sustained in Gaza stretched across Israel. The loss of 13 elite Golani Brigade soldiers in a single day — 15 more soldiers were injured, four of them seriously — was heavy news that served as a kind of grim reality check of what is to come. This was no weeklong flare-up like 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense. The stakes are high, there is no immediate end in sight, and it would be almost inappropriately euphemistic to call it an “operation” rather than a war.

IDF spokesman Peter Lerner tells TIME that Israel sustained relatively heavy losses because Hamas militants were intent on trying to defend what was far from a regular neighborhood.

“It’s a Hamas stronghold, a fortified position, a fortress of tunnels that extend from houses to rocket launchers to caches of rockets that are concealed underground. Eight percent of the rockets in the past 12 to 13 days were launched from there,” Lerner says. “The difference in what happened there, compared to previous days, is that we met huge resistance in the form of rocket-propelled grenades, antitank missiles and automatic fire from AK-47s and other machine-gun fire coming from all the houses, targeting our forces. It was substantial, and that’s why we provided air and artillery support.”

Could Israel not have worked harder to avoid the civilian casualties? Lerner says the IDF tried to get people to leave the area. “For the last three days we’ve been urging Palestinians from Shujaiyeh and other places to leave the vicinity. But Hamas urged the population to stay, and the situation is unfortunately that this developed as it did.”

In the evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference with his Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon. Netanyahu sought to comfort the grieving families and the somewhat stunned nation, but also to boost morale for a military campaign that he indicated was far from over.

“We bow our heads to those who fell so that we can continue our existence in the State of Israel. There isn’t a more just war than the one our sons fell in than this war,” Netanyahu said. “In every battle there are difficult periods, but despite this the ground campaign will expand and continue until the quiet returns to the citizens of Israel.” So far, 1,700 rockets have been fired at Israel, which suffered only one civilian death before the IDF soldiers were killed this weekend. The Palestinian death toll in Gaza has soared to 434 since the most recent wave of violence began a week and a half ago, according to Reuters, citing health officials in Gaza.

Meanwhile, regional leaders met in Doha Sunday to hold talks on cease-fire possibilities, following a failed Egyptian-brokered effort last week. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Qatar to discuss a cease-fire with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was there later on Sunday to help push truce efforts. The Obama Administration also tried to beef up its efforts, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry due to travel to Cairo to seek a truce based on the November 2012 cease-fire agreement. That one kept the peace — for a year and a half, anyway.

TIME Israel

Israel’s Gaza Invasion Could Last Months

Israeli soldiers march in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, on July 18, 2014, the 11th day of Operation Protective Edge.
Israeli soldiers march in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, on July 18, 2014, the 11th day of Operation Protective Edge. Xinhua—Sipa

There's no exit strategy because Israel doesn't yet know how far it will go

As Israel pushed forward Friday with its first ground invasion of Gaza in more than five years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that a bigger operation was likely to unfold in the coming days and weeks.

“My instructions, and those of the Defense Minister, to the [Israeli Defense Forces], with the approval of the Security Cabinet, are to be ready for the possibility of a significant expansion of the ground operation, and the Chief of Staff and the IDF have prepared accordingly,” Netanyahu said in a Friday speech.

Netanyahu used the address to explain to Israelis why he’s moving forward with a ground war that will put Israeli soldiers in harm’s way and is liable to engender already-mounting international criticism for the innocent lives that will inevitably be lost along the way.

“We chose to commence this operation after we had exhausted the other possibilities,” Netanyahu added, “and with the understanding that without action, the price that we would pay would be much greater.”

The price that both sides will pay is yet unknown. 270 Palestinians have been killed so far in this most recent wave of violence, and more than 2,000 have been injured, while two Israelis have been killed and about 10 Israelis injured. The human cost of the conflict is unpredictable in part because Israel has not yet decided how far it’s going in Gaza, and, therefore, what its exit strategy should be. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday that the operation would continue “until it’s necessary and until the quiet returns.”

The main target of Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza are secret tunnels linking it to Israel, like the one Israel says Hamas militants used this week in an attempt to infiltrate and attack it. Still, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, said that Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” could result in Israel taking control of the entire Gaza Strip.

“The tunnels are the target of this operation, but alongside that, I don’t rule out the possibility of addition stages, of Stage B and Stage C, and the expansion of this operation,” Steinitz said in a speech following Netanyahu’s and broadcast on Israel Radio. “We will weigh all options in coordination with the needs of the operation, and even though we’re not interested in it, the possibility of taking control of the entire Gaza Strip to eliminate the possibility of launching missiles from there.”

Some members of Netanyahu’s cabinet, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have been vocal about their assessments that the only solution in Israel’s eyes is a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. Israel seized Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War, and didn’t remove its settlers and soldiers from the region until 2005, nearly 40 years later.

But Azriel Bermant, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, says that re-taking control of the Gaza Strip is considered an extreme option among Israel’s security policy-making circles, and is probably some combination of bluster and wishful thinking on the part of rightists like Lieberman. Netanyahu, Bermant says, is more “risk-averse” and unlikely to want to make a move that would not only be condemned internationally and lead to casualties on both sides, but could also further complicate things in Gaza.

“The problem with talk of overthrowing Hamas is that you don’t want to leave Gaza in a state of chaos, and you have no idea what will replace it. Given what’s going on in the region, I don’t think anyone really wants to take that risk,” Bermant said, referring to ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has taken control of major swaths of Iraq after pouring over from Syria’s border amidst that country’s ongoing civil war.

Netanyahu is seen domestically as having been patient — if not downright dovish — in his reluctance to launch the ground invasion that many politicians and army top-brass had begun to see as inevitable several weeks ago. But an attempted infiltration Thursday, in which the IDF spotted 13 Palestinians who successfully entered southern Israel through an underground tunnel they had dug from Gaza, made it easier for Israel to chose its moment.

“The last straw was this attempted invasion yesterday,” Bermant adds. “From that point onward Netanyahu must have felt he couldn’t hold back. It was just what he needed, and with rocket strikes continuing, putting almost the entire Israeli population at risk, it all added up to having to start the ground campaign that Netanyahu tried to avoid.”

So far, both Israeli and Palestinian sources say that Israeli soldiers have not made their presence felt in highly populated areas, but have instead focused on destroying tunnels that are along the perimeter of Gaza and Israel. The IDF said in its Hebrew Twitter feed that the ground campaign had some 150 “terror targets” on its list, and Israel Radio reported that 18 tunnels were foremost among these.

The stage B and C that Steinitz referred to could include going into urban areas – Gaza City as well as the strip’s many refugee camps – in search of rocket launchers and rocket stockpiles. Israeli soldiers were sent to do this kind of high-risk, house-to-house combat during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, and also in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. Few want to get to a Stage C, which could mean a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip for a period of months, says Dr. Jonathan Spyer, an analyst at the Gloria Center at the IDC Herzliya.

“As of now, they’re not headed that far into Gaza. If it stays focused on the tunnel openings, then they might stay quite close to Gaza’s border. But my sense is that if the rocket fire on Israel continues, it raises the possibility of a further incursion.

“A large element of this is punitive: to punish Hamas in order to build deterrence,” Spyer adds. “But I don’t think there’s any intention of reoccupying Gaza and bringing down Hamas as an authority. Israel has no realistic options in that matter – I don’t think that [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas can just receive the Gaza Strip from Israel on a silver plate. We’re also not going back to 1992 with an open occupation of the Gaza Strip.”

After all, regime change has been tried in the region before – and looking east to Iraq, it seems it rarely turns out well.

TIME Israel

Israel, Hamas Agree on Short Cease-Fire After Israeli Strike Kills 4 Palestinian Boys

Four boys killed on Gaza beach
A Palestinian man carries the body of a boy, one of four whom medics say were killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat, on a beach in Gaza City. Mohammed Talatene—Reuters

IDF calls boys' death a 'tragic outcome'

Each time Israel goes to war in Gaza, there always seems to be some horrific military blunder that Israel surely wishes it could undo. This time, it’s the deaths of four young boys who had been playing hide and seek among fishermen’s shacks near the Gaza City harbor before an explosion from an Israeli airstrike killed them.

Peter Beaumont of the Guardian was among the journalists to document Wednesday’s incident most vividly. He had been sitting writing a story on the terrace of the nearby al-Deira Hotel, a favorite haunt of foreign correspondents, when the events unfolded before his eyes. He and other journalists tended three children who were injured by shrapnel, initially unaware that the four boys, aged between nine and 11, lay dead on the beach or in the sooty remains of a waterside shack.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took responsibility for the strike — initially thought to have been carried out by a ship and later identified as an airstrike — and called the killing of the four boys tragic. “Based on preliminary results, the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives,” the IDF said in a statement. “The reported civilian casualties from this strike are a tragic outcome.” The IDF added that it was “carefully investigating the incident in question.” But neither the promises to investigate nor the acknowledgement of innocent lives lost is likely to quell international dismay over the mounting death toll in Gaza from Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge.”

A proposed truce which fell apart a day before Wednesday’s strike left Israel looking like it was keen to meet “quiet with quiet,” a slogan Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has used often recently to show his reluctance to get embroiled in another Gaza war. But Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups rejected the deal, saying they were not consulted in a plan which may have suited Jerusalem and Cairo, but didn’t meet Hamas’ basic demands. Following the ill-fated cease-fire’s collapse, Netanyahu’s Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, proposed in a press conference that Israel overthrow Hamas and re-conquer the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew in 2005 after occupying the impoverished coastal territory for nearly four decades. An event like the four boys’ deaths could make such a ground invasion less palatable, and will likely increase diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire formula that both Israel and Hamas can tolerate.

Meanwhile, Israel has been trying to show its critics that it works harder than any other army to avoid civilian casualties more now than in than any previous flare-up between Israel and Hamas. Earlier this week, for example, the IDF released this video showing pilots making a last-minute decision not to bomb military targets because they detected too many non-combatants in the building set for destruction. A botched and brutal attack like Wednesday’s, however, underscores the gap between the sophisticated weaponry the IDF has at its disposal and the limits of the technology to prevent what military minds euphemistically like to call “collateral damage” – a bunch of pre-teens playing on the beach.

For Palestinians, the boys killed on the beach are likely to become icons of the conflict, joining a litany of horror stories in which whole families have been killed in single blows. The boys’ fathers, all fisherman, wrapped the children in the yellow flags of secular Fatah – not the green flag of Islamic Hamas – before they buried them, drastically damaging the message Israel hoped to impress upon average Palestinians: that it is at war with Hamas, not a whole people.

The IDF announced late Wednesday night it would hold its bombardments of Gaza for five hours on Thursday upon the United Nations’ suggestion. Hamas reportedly agreed to do the same several hours later. A UN official told TIME they had been working for several days to get Israel to agree to what they call a “humanitarian pause,” allowing aid workers to get to people in need and allowing Palestinians to go out and buy food. Earlier this week, the official said, two workers were killed in an IDF airstrike while they were out trying to fix damage to water and sewage pipes.

The IDF said that when the window is up, some people in Gaza should not return to their homes. “During this time, we will hold our fire in Gaza. This humanitarian window is meant to allow civilians to resupply needed goods,” the IDF said in a statement on its Twitter feed. “When the scheduled window ends at 15:00, Beit Lahyia, Shuja’iya & Zeitoun residents, for their own safety, should not return to their homes. If Hamas fires rockets at Israel during the humanitarian window, the IDF will respond with force.”

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