TIME Israel

Police: First Israeli Citizen Killed by Gaza Fire

(JERUSALEM) — Israeli police say a man in his 30s has been killed by fire from the Gaza Strip, the first Israeli death in more than a week of fighting.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that Israeli man was delivering food to soldiers Tuesday at the Erez Crossing with Gaza when he was struck by a mortar.

Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in strikes in Gaza since Israel launched the campaign over a week ago to stop rocket fire at its citizens.

Gaza militants have fired more than 1,100 rockets toward Israel in the fighting. Mostly thanks to its “Iron Dome” defense system, no Israelis were killed till Tuesday.

Rosenfeld said at least 15 Israelis, including several children, have been injured by the Palestinian rocket fire since the fighting began.

TIME Israel

Why the Israel-Gaza Cease-Fire Failed

Hamas felt it wasn't consulted properly by the Egyptians brokering the truce — and that it could have been offered more

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The morning started with a slight patina of optimism. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his cabinet at 7 a.m., two hours before an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire with Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza was due to take effect.

They voted in favor of the cease-fire, with Netanyahu’s two most prominent hard-line coalition partners — Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett — voting against.

By 9 a.m., the Israel Air Force (IAF) strikes on the Gaza Strip ceased, exactly one week since the operation it dubbed Protective Edge began. But in the tense hours that followed, Hamas made it clear through various venues that it has no intention of holding its fire just yet, and sent more than 30 rockets careening into southern and central Israel. The Iron Dome shot several of them down, but an Israeli soldier was lightly injured by shrapnel from a rocket explosion in the town of Sderot, and two additional rockets exploded in the Ashkelon area, causing fires. Hamas also said it fired a Syrian-made rocket at Haifa, Haaretz reported.

Netanyahu warned that Israel’s appetite for restraint wouldn’t last long. “We accepted the Egyptian cease-fire proposal to give an opportunity to demilitarize the Gaza Strip from rockets. If Hamas continues to fire at Israel, Israel will have the international legitimacy to take action,” he said at midday.

Soon after, the IAF carried out a single air strike on the northern Gaza Strip, with no causalities reported.

It might be hard to fathom why Hamas leaders would blow an opportunity for a cease-fire, given the 192 Gazans killed and over 1,400 wounded in the past week, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The reason: the proposal fashioned by Egypt was not discussed with Hamas leaders, who feel it suits Israel far more than them.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders say they were not consulted, and the proposal does not hit on some of the basic elements they outlined as a condition of a truce. Specifically, they are asking for an end to the “siege” of Gaza, an amorphous term that refers to the economic and physical isolation Israel has sought to impose on the territory, in an effort to squeeze Hamas and potentially turn frustrated Gazans against it.

Israel is also holding in administrative detention about 50 Hamas-affiliated Palestinians who were released in the Gilad Shalit deal of 2011, and who were rearrested in mid-June following the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers — the event that sparked the current spiral in bloodshed.

“Nobody consulted them from the Egyptian side, so that’s why they were so unhappy with this,” explains Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at al-Azhar University in Gaza. In contrast, he notes, in the November 2012 operation dubbed Pillar of Defense, officials working with Egypt’s Islamist then President Mohamed Morsi worked closely with Hamas to come up with a proposal for a cease-fire.

But that was then. The government of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi is far less sympathetic to Hamas than his Muslim Brotherhood predecessor, and this time, his office dealt directly with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas instead. In short, Hamas was insulted.

Most importantly, Abusada explains, Hamas feels it deserves a better deal in exchange for the qualitative ante it has just upped, in shooting longer-range rockets and flying a drone into Israel, from which it claims to have photographed Israel’s defense complex in Tel Aviv.

“Hamas feels that that if it agrees to this, it hasn’t achieved anything more that it achieved in 2012. They feel they’ve done much better in this round of fighting … and so we should get a much better deal in order to end the fighting,” says Abusada, who studies the Islamic movement.

At the same time, he notes, the price that Hamas will pay for continuing to refuse a cease-fire is high: it will annoy the Egyptians, lose points with war-weary Gazans, and could eat away at the international sympathy that has built up for Gaza amid the horrifying footage of a death and destruction.

“Hamas has not made its final decision, and is engaging in its own internal dialogue now,” Abusada adds. “My hunch is that Hamas is going to accept the cease-fire, eventually, because to say no to the Egyptians will cost them too much.”

But it may be too late — today, anyway. At about 2:30 p.m., Netanyahu authorized a resumption of air strikes on the Gaza Strip, and made the decision public soon afterward.

“Since the cease-fire started at 9, we’ve have dozens of rockets on Israel, and it’s clear the other side rejected the Egyptian proposal,” an Israeli official tells TIME. “We had five hours of giving it a chance. It’s clearly unsustainable that Israel would hold its fire any longer and let its cities be bombarded by rockets.”

TIME Israel

Israel Accepts Egypt’s Cease-Fire Plan, but Hamas Vows to Keep Fighting

"This proposal is not acceptable," said a senior Hamas official

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Despite previously acknowledging some “diplomatic movement,” Hamas rejected Egypt’s cease-fire plan for the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Tuesday — just moments after Israel accepted the proposal.

A statement released by Hamas’ armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades, said the group “totally and completely” rejected the terms of an Egyptian brokered cease fire, adding that without further concessions from Israel, “it was not worth the ink it was written with.” Representatives from Islamic Jihad, which also has been involved in the fighting, also rejected an unconditional ceasefire.

Roughly four hours after Israel’s security cabinet announced that it had accepted the cease fire, Israel said a fresh volley of 35 rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, causing minor damage.

Cairo’s proposal aimed to stop a weeklong conflict that has seen at least 185 Gazans killed. The truce called for a 48-hour cessation of fire, followed by immediate talks for a longer-term truce and an eventual opening of Gaza’s border crossing, the New York Times reports.

The Associated Press reports that a senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, said Egypt’s plan for a cease-fire in Gaza was “not acceptable.”

Al-Qassam Brigades said on the website that excerpts from the plan published in the media indicated it was “an initiative of kneeling and submission,” reports Reuters.

“Our battle with the enemy continues and will increase in ferocity and intensity,” al-Qassam Brigades added.

[AP]

TIME Israel

Obama ‘Encouraged’ by Gaza Cease-Fire Proposal

Obama Hosts Dinner Celebrating Ramadan
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers an opening speech as the host of an iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the White House, Washington, D.C., on July 14, 2014 Michael Reynold—Getty Images

"The pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart-wrenching," Obama said

President Barack Obama reaffirmed Monday night that the U.S. stands by Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas rockets, but said he is “encouraged” by a cease-fire proposal pushed by Egypt to de-escalate the situation in Israel and Gaza.

Speaking at an iftar dinner to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Obama acknowledged strong views and differences of opinion about the conflict, which has flared up over the past week.

“I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens,” Obama told a group of Muslim-American leaders and the members of the diplomatic corps. “And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”

“At the same time, on top of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that we’ve worked long and hard to alleviate, the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live,” he continued.

Obama cautioned both sides against escalation, saying it would benefit no one, adding that the U.S. will continue to push for a return to the 2012 cease-fire. “We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this goal, which we hope can restore the calm that we’ve been seeking,” he said. The Israeli government’s security cabinet is expected to vote on the cease-fire proposal early Tuesday morning.

“The pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart-wrenching,” Obama said.

The President also mentioned the separate crises in Syria and Iraq — both nations are terrorized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and the former also by forces loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. “These are particularly difficult times in the Middle East,” he said.

Obama also alluded to reports that the U.S. is spying on Muslim-American leaders. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee boycotted the dinner and similar government events over “the government’s condoning of the current slaughter of Palestinians in Palestine and the spying of American Arabs and Muslims domestically.”

Without mentioning the reports directly, Obama appeared to address the issue. “Here at home, even as we’re vigilant in ensuring our security, we have to continue to remain true to our highest ideals,” he said. “In the United States of America, there is no place for false divisions between races and religions. We are all Americans, equal in rights and dignity, and no one should ever be targeted or disparaged because of their faith.”

TIME Israel

Israeli Security Cabinet to Vote on Cease-Fire Proposed by Egypt

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu attends cabinet meeting in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Baz Ratner—Reuters

The cease-fire would start Tuesday morning

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene a meeting with his security cabinet on Tuesday to vote on a cease-fire proposal from Egypt that he favors, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry proposed a three-step plan to de-escalate violence between Israel and Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip, starting with a 12-hour cease-fire that would begin Tuesday morning and then continuing with the opening of border passages as well as formal talks in Cairo, the Associated Press reports.

Ismail Haniyeh, deputy political chief of Hamas, said Hamas has been contacted about a potential cease-fire but had not yet been provided with specific details, Haaretz reports. The newspaper is also reporting that at least one member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, will vote against the cease-fire.

Last week Netanyahu said a cease-fire was “not even on the agenda” while a Hamas spokesman said that the group would only stop its rocket attacks once Israel stopped its air strikes. On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council called for a return to the terms of an Egyptian-negotiated cease-fire from November of 2012 that put a stop to similar violence in the region.

The Obama Administration said last week that it was willing to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza.

“The President expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm,” the White House said in a statement, NPR reports. “The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.”

Conflict between Israeli and Palestinian forces erupted following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers and one Palestinian teen in June and July. More than 175 people have been killed, the AP reports.

[Haaretz]

TIME World

‘Yo’ App Retooled to Alert Israelis of Missile Attacks

A gag app that allows you to say "Yo" to your friends has been repurposed to potentially save lives

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The “Yo” app was developed as a joke. Download the app, tap on a friend’s name, and they’d get a message from you saying “Yo.” It’s that simple. In fact, the app was created in eight hours and released on April Fools’ day just so people would know it was a gag.

But Yo has a new application that’s no laughing matter. Developers in the Middle East are using the app to warn Israelis of possible attacks from rocket fire; users following the handle “RedAlertIsrael” will get a “Yo” at the same time the country’s sirens go off.

One person’s gag app is apparently another’s survival tool.

TIME Israel

Israelis Admit to Killing Palestinian Teen, Cops Say

Palestinians carry the body of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem on Friday, July 4, 2014.
Palestinians carry the body of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem on Friday, July 4, 2014. Mahmoud Illean—AP

Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted and murdered out of apparent revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers

Israel has charged three Jews with the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager whose death set off days of violent protests in Arab areas of Jerusalem and northern Israel.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the three appeared before a court Monday. He said the suspects admitted to abducting 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir and setting him on fire.

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME Israel

Israel Charges Palestinian Teen’s Alleged Killers

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has charged three Jews with the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager whose death set off days of violent protests in Arab areas of Jerusalem and northern Israel.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says the three appeared before a court on Monday. He says the suspects admitted to abducting 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir and setting him on fire. Rosenfeld says they also re-enacted the murder.

Abu Khdeir was taken on July 2 near his home in east Jerusalem and his charred body was later found in a forest.

Israel’s Shin Bet security service says the suspects, whose names were not released, were motivated by revenge after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers.

Police are investigating three others for involvement in the killing. They remain under house arrest.

TIME Israel

Israel Says it Downed Drone Along Southern Coast

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border
Israeli artillery smoke can be seen on July 14, 2014 at the Israeli-Gaza border. Israel's offensive entered a seventh day as it continues to carry out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip with reports suggesting over 166 people have been killed, the majority of whom are civilians. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Israel has said it has downed an unmanned drone along its southern coastline.

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s military said it downed a drone along its southern coastline on Monday, the first time it encountered such a weapon since its campaign against the Gaza Strip militants began last week.

The drone came from Gaza and was shot down near the southern city of Ashdod, the military said. It did not say what the drone was carrying and there was no immediate confirmation from Gaza on the use of the unmanned aircraft.

Since the latest bout of fighting began last Tuesday, militants have fired nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel, causing some injuries and damage to property, but no fatalities among Israelis. By contrast, 172 Palestinians have died as a result of Israel’s air attacks.

But the use of drones with an offensive capacity could potentially inflict significant casualties — something the rockets from Gaza have failed to do, largely because of the success of the military’s ‘Iron Dome’ air defense system in shooting them down.

Israel began airstrikes Tuesday against militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in what it says was a response to heavy rocket fire out of the densely populated territory. The military says it has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes since then, while Palestinian militants have launched nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza says 172 people have been killed, including dozens of civilians. There have been no Israeli fatalities, though several people have been wounded, including a teenage boy who was seriously injured by rocket shrapnel on Sunday.

The military said Monday’s drone was launched from Gaza and was shot down in mid-flight by a Patriot surface-to-air missile in mid-flight near Ashdod.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the current Israeli operation could last for “a long time” and that the military was prepared “for all possibilities.” That includes a wide-ranging Gaza ground operation, which would likely cause heavy casualties in the coastal strip.

But Netanyahu is coming under increasing international pressure to end the operation soon. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate cease-fire while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced American “readiness” to help restore calm. Egypt, a key mediator between Israel and Hamas, continued to work behind the scenes to stop the conflict.

Hamas has sent signals it may be ready to consider a cease-fire but appears to be waiting for some tangible military or diplomatic achievement before moving ahead on that front. For his part, Netanyahu wants to show the Israeli public that he has succeeded in significantly degrading Hamas’s ability to strike at its Israeli targets before moving ahead diplomatically.

TIME Israel

Despite Offensive, Gaza Rockets Still Hit Israel

Israel Palestinians Nonstop Rockets
In this file photo taken July 9, 2014, an Israeli missile hits an area in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Israel says its punishing air assault on Hamas militants, their property and their weaponry has delivered a devastating blow to the Islamic militant group. Yet rocket fire at Israel has continued almost unabated. Hatem Ali—AP

The Israeli military says that due to years of generous Iranian shipments, thousands of rockets remain in Gaza, and there is no quick way to eliminate the threat.

(TEL AVIV, Israel) — Israel says its punishing air assault on Hamas militants, their property and their weaponry has delivered a devastating blow to the Islamic militant group. Yet rocket fire at Israel has continued almost unabated.

The military says that due to years of generous Iranian shipments, thousands of rockets remain in Gaza, and there is no quick way to eliminate the threat.

It says its goal is to inflict so much pain on Hamas that it will be deterred from attacking Israel again — just like Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon have largely remained on the sidelines for the past eight years.

The military also says it wants to punish Hamas for the violence. But both goals are hard to quantify in the short term. A similar offensive in November 2012 was also deemed a military success, though it left Israel vulnerable to rocket fire. Israel also launched a large offensive in late 2008 that delivered a tenuous cease-fire.

“There is no knockout, it is more complicated,” said a senior military official involved in the fighting, who spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines. But, he added, “if there is a map of pain that the enemy sees, it will have to think about things.”

The rocket threat has been in the making for well over a decade. In the early 2000s, Hamas began firing rudimentary, homegrown rockets that were inaccurate, flew short distances and carried a tiny payload.

Today, the army says the group has an arsenal of some 10,000 rockets, including longer-range, foreign-made weapons capable of reaching virtually anywhere in Israel. The current round of fighting has seen air-raid sirens sound in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israel’s three-largest cities. There have been no fatalities, in large part because of dozens of interceptions by the high-tech “Iron Dome” rocket-defense system.

Israel launched its offensive last Tuesday in what it says was a response to weeks of heavy rocket attacks out of Gaza. It has carried out hundreds of airstrikes, systematically targeting what it says is Hamas’ rocket-launching production and launching capabilities.

On Sunday, Israel sent special forces into Gaza for a brief ground operation, its first in the latest fighting, in an attempt to take out rocket launching pads that could not be destroyed from the air.

Israeli analysts say that most of the remaining long-range rockets are believed to be stashed beneath residential buildings, and that the only way to completely remove the threat would be to re-conquer Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, and stay there for a lengthy period. Such a scenario would carry great risk, and Israeli leaders are wary.

“There is no attempt here to solve the conflict. We are talking about managing the conflict and as long as it goes on, quiet will only be temporary,” said Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli general who is now an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, an Israeli think tank. “It’s a mistake to think that if you have established deterrence it will stay that way. Deterrence must be maintained.”

Israel cites the example of Lebanon as a potential blueprint. It battled a bloody monthlong war with Hezbollah in 2006 that saw thousands of rockets fired at Israel and 160 Israelis killed. About 1,200 Lebanese were killed in an Israeli air and ground offensive that hammered Hezbollah strongholds.

While the fighting ended in a stalemate, the border has remained largely quiet as Hezbollah, despite its fiery rhetoric, has refrained from provoking Israel.

Israel hopes the same thing will happen with Hamas.

In the six days of fighting since Tuesday, Israel launched more than 1,300 airstrikes that it says have killed dozens of militants, knocked out scores of rocket launchers, flattened Hamas installations and even destroyed the homes of its senior leaders.

But militants have fired more than 800 rockets at Israel at a rate that hasn’t slowed down.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the military estimated 20 percent of the rockets in Gaza have either been fired or destroyed by Israel. Besides diminishing Hamas’ future capabilities, he said Israel’s assaults were mostly aimed at convincing Hamas never to try it again.

“When they come out of their bunkers and they look around, they are going to have to make a serious estimation of whether what they have done was worth it,” he said. “And people will look in their eyes and say ‘Why did you do this? What did you gain from this?'”

Moussa Abu Marzouk, the No. 2 leader of Hamas, defiantly rejected the notion, saying the current round of fighting would only strengthen his movement’s resolve.

“They (the Israelis) are doing all of that (the airstrikes) to force us to raise the white flag,” he wrote on his Facebook page Sunday. “The future is ours and if there is a truce it’s going to be a temporary one. This is not the last battle.”

Fathi Sabbah, a Gaza-based writer for the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, said Hamas’ popularity on the Palestinian street had actually grown during the operation and he did not foresee it putting down its arms. “This is just a round, like the previous ones, and there’ll be more to come in the future as long as no political solution is found to the Palestinian cause,” he said.

Writing in the Yediot Ahronot daily, commentator Yossi Yehoshua argued that any cease-fire that does not guarantee a complete demilitarization of Gaza would be a failure for Israel since it would then invariably “find itself in the next round within a very short period of time.”

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