TIME Israel

Hamas Official: Cease-Fire Reached With Israel

A senior Hamas official says a cease-fire has been reached with Israel to end a seven-week war that has killed more than 2,000 people.

The official said the deal calls for an “open-ended” cease-fire, and an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.

Talks on deeper issues, such as Hamas’ demand to reopen Gaza’s airport and seaport, would begin in a month.

The official said Egypt planned an announcement later Tuesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity pending the announcement.

There was no immediate Israeli comment.

TIME

Israel Destroys 2 Gaza High-Rises in Escalation

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(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — Israel bombed two Gaza City high-rises with dozens of homes and shops Tuesday, collapsing one building and severely damaging the other in a further escalation of seven weeks of cross-border fighting with Hamas.

In the past, the military has hit targets in high-rises in pinpoint strikes, but left the buildings standing. However, since Saturday, it has toppled or destroyed five towers and shopping complexes in an apparent new tactic aimed at increasing pressure on Hamas.

The objects of the latest strikes contain apartments inhabited almost exclusively by middle-class Gazans, who up until now have been largely spared the considerable dislocation that has affected tens of thousands of other residents in densely populated neighborhoods of the coastal strip, like Shijaiyah.

That has raised the possibility that the Israeli military is trying to use better-off Gazans, like professionals and Palestinian authority employees, to put pressure on Hamas to end the fighting on Israel’s terms.

Tuesday’s strikes leveled the 15-story Basha Tower with apartments and offices and severely damaged the Italian Complex, built in the 1990s by an Italian businessman, with dozens of shops and offices.

Both buildings were evacuated after receiving warnings of impending strikes. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said 25 people were wounded in the attack on the Italian Complex.

One resident of the Italian Complex, 38-year-old engineer Nael Mousa, said that he, his four children and 70-year-old mother had managed to flee the building late Monday night after a guard had alerted them of an impending strike, and that he was in his car some 300 meters (yards) away when it was bombed by an Israeli F-16 fighter jet.

Within two hours, he said, it had been completely levelled by at least five additional bombs.

“I have become homeless, my children’s fear will never be soothed, and something new has now been added to our feelings toward Israel and all the world, which has been looking on without doing anything,” he said.

The Israeli military said it targeted sites linked to militants Tuesday, but made no specific reference to the two buildings. Israel alleges Hamas often operates from civilian locations. The military has not said why it has begun collapsing large buildings, rather than carrying out pinpointed strikes against suspected militant targets located there.

In an email message to The Associated Press, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the strikes were “a direct result to Hamas’ decision to situate their terrorist infrastructure within the civilian sphere including schools, hospitals and high-rise buildings.”

He said Israel will not “enable Hamas to continue to kill Israelis, target our towns and cities and expect to operate without consequence to their facilities, militant operatives and the leadership of their heinous attacks against Israel.”

Political scientist Mkhaimar Abu Sada from Gaza’s Al Azhar University said he believed the Israeli tactic was a deliberate attempt to pressure Hamas by targeting middle class structures in neighborhoods like Rimal and Tel al-Hawa, which have so far been spared the worst of the fighting.

He said the tactic will end up creating even greater antipathy toward Israel, but might also result in some tough questions being asked about Hamas’ conduct of the war.

“Some people will now be wondering why Hamas did not accept a cease-fire proposal during the first week of the fighting, when the damage here was still relatively small,” he said.

Retired Israeli air force brigadier general Shlomo Brom, now a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said he was doubtful that the high-rise structures had been targeted solely because of their middle-class makeups.

“I have no doubt that these buildings were hit primarily because they contained offices or other facilities that belonged to Hamas,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, two people were killed in an airstrike on a house in Gaza City, police said, and the Red Crescent reported that two others died and three were wounded when Israeli tanks opened fire on Shijaiyah, east of Gaza City.

Israel’s military said it carried out 15 air strikes in Gaza on Tuesday.

It said eight rockets were launched from the coastal strip at Israeli territory, including one that caused extensive damage to a home in the southern city of Ashkelon and lightly injured more than a dozen people there.

The latest strikes came as Egypt urged Israel and Hamas to resume indirect talks on a permanent cease-fire, based on an Egyptian proposal for a new border deal for blockaded Gaza.

The Egyptian offer calls for a gradual easing of restrictions on trade and movement in and out of Gaza and would give Hamas’ Palestinian rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, a foothold in the strip.

Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, triggering the blockade that has been enforced to varying degrees since then.

Israel and Hamas have not responded to Egypt’s latest call.

Gaza’s war has so far killed at least 2,133 Palestinians and wounded more than 11,000, according to Palestinian health officials and the United Nations. The U.N. estimates more than 17,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving 100,000 people homeless.

On the Israeli side, 68 people have been killed, all but four of them soldiers.

TIME Israel

Hopes for a Cease-Fire Rise as the Gaza War Drags On

A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an airstrike on Aug. 25, 2014 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian walks on the rubble of a mosque that was partially damaged by an air strike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Aug. 25, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

The Gaza war has reached its eighth week, and people on both sides keep dying. But there are reports of a potential truce

Israeli and Palestinian media outlets were abuzz with reports Monday that the various factions involved in the Israel-Hamas conflict were close to agreeing on a cease-fire deal following renewed efforts by Egypt and Saudi Arabia to help negotiate a truce. Either way, the possibility of reaching a cease-fire with a longer shelf life seemed to increase the likelihood of the sides reaching a cease-fire that would also be the prelude to a return to peace talks.

Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official attending the Cairo talks, was the source of reports that on the possible cease-fire. But a senior Hamas official, Izzat al-Rishq, said the sides had yet to agree on a cease-fire in Gaza, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, while another Lebanon-based Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, would only confirm in a Hamas radio interview that “efforts are under way to stop the Israeli aggression.” Late Sunday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on Israel and Palestinian factions to agree to a cease-fire without a time limit attached and to return to the peace negotiations.

A senior Israeli official reached by TIME says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office is declining to comment on the rumors of a possible cease-fire and suggests “exercising caution” in giving credence to the reports. A report on Israel’s Walla! news site suggested that Egypt would make an announcement on a deal late Monday, one that would include a reopening the Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt and the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone to 12 nautical miles, two of Hamas’ demands. If the cease-fire is maintained, the report says, Israel will allow more commercial products into Gaza, including construction materials.

Still, Israel and Hamas have very different visions about how the conflict should end — which makes it challenging to reach an agreement satisfactory to all sides. “The dilemma is that Israel is not willing to talk before reaching a cease-fire, while there is still shooting going on, and the Palestinian factions insist that they want achievements in exchange for agreeing to a cease-fire,” says Ghassan Khatib, a veteran Palestinian political analyst and the vice president of Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Adding intrigue about what the week may hold, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in an interview Saturday with the Egypt’s Sada El Balad station that in the coming days he would introduce his own plan for solving the greater Israel-Palestine conflict. Many analysts here have speculated that this will likely be built on the Arab Peace Initiative — also called the Saudi Peace Initiative — first put forward in 2002. In the plan, moderate Arab states would recognize Israel in return for Israel recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Any such plan would, naturally, including a program for rebuilding Gaza, but Israel is concerned that materials like cement and steel will be used refresh Hamas’ military capabilities — including the tunnels that became the focus of the Israel Defense Forces’ recent Gaza invasion.

Abbas said he would be discussing the initiative this week with other top Palestinian officials in Ramallah. “It will be an unconventional solution, but I’m not going to declare war on Israel,” Abbas said in the interview. “I have diplomatic and political solutions.” He suggested that he doesn’t expect Washington to support his initiative but added that “in the end, our Arab brothers will go with us.”

Khatib believes that Abbas’s statement indicates that Saudi involvement would play a key role in a peace deal. “Saudi and international parties are trying to bridge the gap by giving guarantees, meaning that they would set up a mechanism by which a third-party will guarantee freedom of movement to and from Gaza, but check that this cannot be used for the rearming of Gaza.” Egypt, he says, would like to play this role — or at least a pivotal one. The three key European players — France, Germany and Britain — all are offering assistance as well. The three countries are reportedly working on a proposal for a U.N. resolution to end the fighting, according to a report leaked to Haaretz, as part of a plan to return Gaza to Palestinian Authority control under international supervision — the territory has been run by Hamas since June 2007 — end the Israeli embargo on Gaza and resume peace talks.

The alternative, it seems, is continued war. Each side has made it clear other over the past week than they are ready to keep fighting indefinitely. With the conflict between Israel and Hamas already dragging on far longer than expected — it is now heading into its eighth week — politicians on both sides in the conflict have begun to refer to the possibility of war of attrition. That’s a reference to the ongoing fighting following the 1967 Six-Day War, one that continued for another three years, pitting Israel against Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and even Soviet forces. Netanyahu and his Defense Minister told Israelis on Aug. 24 to expect a protracted war and “if necessary,” a delay of the start of the school year next week, at least for schools that are in the line of fire from Gaza.

In the meantime, both sides have continued their attacks. Israel has carried out 70 air strikes in the Gaza Strip over the past two days, the IDF said in its Twitter feed, while over the same period Israel was targeted by more than 230 rockets and mortars from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant factions in Gaza. On Sunday a 4-year-old Israeli boy was laid to rest after he was killed in a mortar attack from Gaza on Friday, triggering an exodus of Israelis from communities near the Gaza border, which are not protected by the country’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. The boy’s death brought the number of Israelis killed in the ongoing war to 68, including 64 soldiers. That same day a Palestinian mother and her four children were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza. At least 2,120 Gazans have been killed in the conflict, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Barring a lasting cease-fire, both numbers will keep rising.

TIME Israel

Israeli Airstrike Levels 7-Story Building in Gaza

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Palestinians inspect the rubble of the collapsed al-Zafer apartment tower following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, Aug. 24, 2014. Khalil Hamra—AP

Around 30 people were wounded in the strikes

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli airstrikes leveled a seven-floor office building and severely damaged a two-story shopping center in the Gaza Strip early Sunday, signaling a new escalation in seven weeks of fighting with Hamas.

The strikes in the southern town of Rafah came just hours after Israel bombed an apartment tower in Gaza City, collapsing the 12-story building with 44 apartments. Around 30 people were wounded in the strikes, but no one was killed, Palestinian officials said.

The targeting of large buildings appears to be part of a new military tactic by Israel. Over the weekend, the army began warning Gaza residents in automated phone calls that it would target buildings harboring “terrorist infrastructure” and that they should stay away.

A senior military official confirmed that Israel has a policy of striking at buildings containing Hamas operational centers or those from which military activities are launched. The official said each strike required prior approval from military lawyers and is carried out only after the local population is warned.

However, he said, there was now a widening of locations that the military can target. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter with reporters.

Speaking ahead of Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza residents to keep their distance from Hamas militants.

“I call on the people of Gaza to immediately evacuate any structure that Hamas is using to commit acts of terror,” he said. “Every one of these structures is a target for us.”

In the 12-story apartment tower, the target was a fourth-floor apartment where Hamas ran an operations center, according to Israeli media. In the past, Israel has carried out pinpoint strikes, targeting apartments in high-rises with missiles, while leaving the buildings standing. However, this time a decision was made to bring down the entire tower, according to Channel 10, an Israeli TV station.

The military declined immediate comment when asked why it collapsed the entire building instead of striking a specific apartment.

Meanwhile, Gaza militants continued to fire rockets and mortar shells at Israel, including at least 10 on Sunday, one of which wounded three people on the Israeli side of the main Gaza crossing, the military said. The Erez crossing is used by journalists, aid workers and Palestinians with Israeli permits to enter or leave Gaza.

That was in addition to more than 100 on Saturday, most aimed at southern Israel.

Elsewhere, five rockets were fired from Syria and fell in open areas in northern Israel. It was not immediately clear whether they were fired by pro-government forces or rebel groups.

Amid persistent violence, Egypt has urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume indirect talks in Cairo on a durable cease-fire, but stopped short of issuing invitations.

Several rounds of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas have collapsed, along with temporary cease-fires that accompanied them. The gaps between Israel and the Islamic militant group on a new border deal for blockaded Gaza remain vast, and there’s no sign either is willing to budge.

The Israeli military said it had carried out some 20 strikes on Gaza since midnight Saturday. Gaza police and medical officials reported eight fatalities.

In Rafah, Israeli aircraft bombed the seven-story Zourab building, which houses an office of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry. Witnesses said the building was leveled and that the strikes caused severe damage to nearby shops, homes and cars. It was not immediately clear if anyone was wounded or killed.

Another strike hit a nearby shopping center with dozens of shops, sparking a fire that gutted the two-story building and wounding seven people. After daybreak Sunday, smoke was still rising from the site as shop owners inspected the damage. Windows and doors had been blown out in nearby buildings.

The military said the two buildings were attacked because they housed facilities linked to militants, but did not provide details. Twenty-two people were wounded in the strike on the tower in Gaza City.

Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra, who confirmed the casualty figures for the strikes, said two people were killed in a pair of airstrikes near a coastal road on Sunday, including one on a group of people coming out of a mosque after morning prayers.

Two more fatalities were registered when a motorcycle following a car evacuating the wounded from the strikes was targeted, he said.

Another man was killed in an airstrike on a car, and an 18-month-old infant and a 17-year-old were killed in an airstrike on an apartment building in Gaza City. Three people were killed in an airstrike on a house in Deir el-Balah in central Gaza, police said.

The U.N. estimates that more than 17,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair since the war began on July 8. In some of the attacks, family homes with three or four floors were pulverized.

However, the weekend strikes marked the first time large buildings were toppled.

Since the fighting began, 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-fourths of the Palestinians killed have been civilians.

With the war showing no signs of winding down, educational officials in the territory said they were delaying the start of both U.N. and government-run schools. Classes in both were supposed to begin Sunday.

The U.N. said it would begin a gradual back to school program this week “to help students and teachers start to transition into a new school year.”

“Despite the difficult circumstances, the (U.N.) stands by the refugee committee here in Gaza,” said Scott Anderson, deputy director of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in the territory. “Even though we can’t start the school year as we would normally it is very important that the children have structure in their lives and we will continue their education by any means possible.”

The nearly two-month Gaza war stems from the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank by Hamas operatives in June, which triggered a massive Israeli arrest campaign in the West Bank, followed by an increase in rocket fire from Gaza.

TIME Israel

Israeli Airstrike Collapses Gaza Apartment Tower

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Palestinians inspect the rubble of the collapsed al-Zafer apartment tower following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 23, 2014. Adel Hana—AP

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel bombed an apartment tower in downtown Gaza City on Saturday, collapsing the 12-story building in an unprecedented strike, while Hamas kept up heavy rocket fire that sent more Israelis fleeing border areas close to Gaza.

The violence signaled that a speedy resumption of truce talks is unlikely, despite another appeal by mediator Egypt. Gaps between Israel and Hamas on a border deal for blockaded Gaza remain vast, and repeated rounds of talks have ended in failure.

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.

 

TIME Israel

Hamas Admits Kidnapping Israeli Teens

Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel
This image shows a combination of three photos of Israeli teens Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, a 16-year-old with dual Israeli-American citizenship, who disappeared while hitchhiking home near the West Bank city of Hebron late at night on June 12, 2014 Israel Defense Forces—AP

"Hamas has no qualms whatsoever about targeting innocent civilians," says Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev

(JERUSALEM) — A senior Hamas leader has said the group carried out the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June — the first time anyone from the Islamic militant group has said it was behind an attack that helped spark the current war in the Gaza Strip.

Saleh Arouri told a conference in Turkey on Wednesday that Hamas’s military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, carried out what he described as a “heroic operation” with the broader goal of sparking a new Palestinian uprising.

“It was an operation by your brothers from the al-Qassam Brigades,” he said, saying Hamas hoped to exchange the youths for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Hamas has repeatedly praised the kidnappings, but Arouri, the group’s exiled West Bank leader, is the first member to claim responsibility. Israel has accused Hamas of orchestrating the kidnappings and identified two operatives as the chief suspects. The two men remain on the loose.

Arouri’s admission shows “Hamas has no qualms whatsoever about targeting innocent civilians,” saidIsraeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

The kidnappings of the three teens while they were hitchhiking on June 12, along with the discovery of their bodies two weeks later, sparked a broad Israeli crackdown on Hamas members throughout the West Bank. Hamas responded with heavy rocket fire out of the Gaza Strip, leading Israel to launch an aerial and ground invasion of the territory.

More than 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the fighting, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, while 67 Israelis have also been killed, all but three of them soldiers. An Egyptian effort to mediate a cease-fire collapsed this week, leading to a resumption of heavy fighting.

Arouri told the conference that Hamas “did not have the intention at this time to ignite a large battle.” He said his group did not believe Israel wanted a war either. “But Allah has chosen and willed that a large battle would be ignited,” he said.

Arouri is one of Hamas’ most senior figures. He founded Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank two decades ago and now commands the group’s operations in the area from exile in Turkey. He was deported several years ago in a deal that freed him from Israeli prison.

Earlier this week, Israel identified Arouri as the mastermind of an alleged plot to launch an uprising in the West Bank aimed at toppling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Yousur Alhlou contributed reporting

TIME Qatar

Some See Qatar’s Hand in Collapse of Gaza Talks

Mahmoud Abbas, Khaled Mashaal, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, shakes hands with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal as the then Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, looks on after signing an agreement in Doha on Feb. 6, 2012 Osama Faisal—AP

An official from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement suggested on Wednesday that Qatar torpedoed the peace talks

(DUBAI, United Arab Emirates) — The explosions rocking the Gaza Strip may seem far removed from the flashy cars and skyscrapers of ultra-rich Qatar, but efforts to end fighting between Hamas and Israel could hinge on how the tiny Gulf Arab state wields its influence over a Palestinian militant group with few friends left.

Qatar has been home to Hamas chief-in-exile Khaled Mashaal since 2012 and has carved out a role as a key financial patron for Gaza, buying influence while shoring up an economy overseen by Hamas.

That support is prompting accusations that Qatar helped scuttle a lasting truce in the monthlong Gazawar, piling on pressure as the U.S. ally finds itself increasingly isolated as larger Mideast powers marginalize Islamists following the Arab Spring.

An official from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement suggested Wednesday that Qatartorpedoed the peace talks. After signs of progress last week, Hamas negotiators returned to the table after consultations in Qatar with new conditions — prompting a similar response by Israel, he said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, said the experience indicated the Qataris “have no interest” in seeing Egyptian-led talks succeed, and that Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood are working together to undermine Egypt.

The London-based pan-Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat separately quoted a senior Fatah official saying Qatarthreatened to expel Mashaal if Hamas accepted an Egyptian peace proposal. It said Hamas demanded that Egypt grant Qatar a role in resolving the Gaza crisis, but Cairo rejected the idea until Qatar formally apologizes for its policies in Egypt since the military overthrow of Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi last summer.

Qatari officials could not be reached to comment on the claims. A Qatar-based spokesman for Hamas dismissed the Al-Hayat report as baseless and said it was an attempt to sabotage the negotiations.

“This is nonsense … The nature of relations between Qatar and Hamas are not like that,” Hamas spokesman Husam Badran told The Associated Press.

Khaled al-Batsch, a representative of the Islamic Jihad militant group, also denied Qatari interference. “We never felt at any point that there was a Qatari presence in the talks,” he said.

An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with journalists, said he did not know if Qatar actively encouraged Hamas to take a hard line, but said Qatar was at least indirectly responsible for the talks’ failure.

“Qatar unfortunately has been part of the problem. They are the major supporter of Hamas,” the Israeli official said.

Qatar at one point allowed an Israeli trade office to operate there — a rarity in the Arab world — before ordering it closed following a 2008 Israeli conflict with Hamas.

The outpost’s former head, Eli Avidar, told the AP that he believes Qatar has “enormous influence” over Hamas and has been pushing Mashaal to take a much more extreme position in negotiations.

“Right now Qatar is the main problem and definitely not part of the solution,” he wrote in an email. “The ruling family in Qatar should understand that this is a dangerous game their emir is playing.”

But in a development reflecting both Qatar’s significance and influence over Hamas, the Gulf country’s news agency reported that Abbas arrived Wednesday in Doha, where he was due to hold talks with Mashaal and the emir.

It is hardly the first time Qatar has been accused of taking an unpopular stance in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in March, saying it failed to uphold its end of a security agreement to stop meddling in other nations’ politics and backing groups threatening regional stability. Analysts widely saw that as a rebuke of Qatar’s support for Islamist groups and its activist foreign policy, including its backing of the Al-Jazeera satellite network, which has nettled governments across the region.

Qatar’s leaders reject suggestions that they are behind Hamas, and insist that the Gaza funding is intended for those who live there.

“Qatar does not support Hamas. Qatar supports the Palestinians,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah told CNN in late July.

The former Qatari emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has at least publicly attempted to promote reconciliation between Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank. He brokered an interim unity government between Abbas and Hamas in early 2012, but that was never implemented.

Before the year was out, the emir traveled to Gaza, becoming the first head of state to visit the seaside territory since Hamas militants seized control in 2007. He launched more than $400 million worth of projects, including plans for housing, a hospital and roads, and called for Palestinian unity.

Khalil Shaheen, a political analyst in Ramallah, suggested the idea that Qatar is solely in Hamas’ camp is overblown. He said it has also provided funding for Abbas’ government and has not tried to tie its Gaza aid to Hamas’ military activities.

“There never was a real crisis between Qatar and the Palestinian Authority even during the worst times between Fatah and Hamas,” Shaheen said.

He said Qatar wanted a role in the ceasefire talks based on its good relations with Hamas and to show that Egypt is “not the only dominant player in the region.”

For the U.S., Qatar plays a role that it often can’t by acting as a go-between with groups deemed unsavory by Washington. It earlier this year brokered the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban operatives in Afghanistan.

U.S. State Dept. spokeswoman Marie Harf described the Qataris as “a key partner” in the effort to forge a peace deal in Gaza earlier this week, before talks collapsed. Responding to questions about whether they support terrorism and Hamas, she said they play a key role in getting Hamas to agree to a cease-fire.

“We need countries that have leverage over the leaders of Hamas who can help get a cease-fire in place, and Qatar certainly plays that role,” she said.

Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Cairo, Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Karin Laub inGaza City, Gaza Strip, and Abdullah Rebhy in Doha, Qatar, contributed reporting

TIME Israel-Gaza conflict

Israeli Air Strike Kills 3 Senior Hamas Leaders

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Smoke and dust rise after an Israeli strike hit Gaza City on Aug. 20, 2014 Adel Hana—AP

Israel says the air strikes are in response to a resumption of Hamas rocket fire that on Tuesday scuttled a six-day cease-fire

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — An Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed three senior leaders of the Hamas military wing on Thursday, the militant group said, in what is likely to be a major blow to the organization’s morale and a significant scoop for Israeli intelligence.

The strike near Rafah, a town in the southern part of the coastal territory, was one of 20 the Israeli military said it carried out after midnight on Wednesday.

In a text message sent to media, Hamas said three of its senior military leaders — Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, Mohammed Barhoum and Raed al-Attar — were killed, along with three other people.

Gaza police and medical officials said scores more people remained under the rubble of a four-story structure destroyed in the airstrike.

The three Hamas leaders are considered to be at the senior levels of its military leadership and were involved in a number of high profile attacks on Israeli targets.

The Israeli security agency Shin Bet confirmed the deaths of Shamaleh and al-Attar in an email, but did not mention Barhoum.

The strikes followed the breakdown of Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo aimed at producing a long-term truce and a future roadmap for Gaza after more than a month of fighting between Israel and Hamas-led Islamic militants.

The Gaza war has so far killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Israel has lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers.

Palestinian health official Ashraf Al-Kidra put the number of those missing at the site of eh Rafah airstrikein the “dozens.”

Elsewhere, another Israeli airstrike killed a 27-year-old man in central Gaza identified as Jomma Anwar Mayar, police said. Israel also hit at smuggling tunnels along the Gaza border with Egypt and at agricultural lands west of Rafah in the latest airstrikes.

Israel says the airstrikes are in response to a resumption of Hamas rocket fire that on Tuesday scuttled a six-day cease-fire. The military says that only one rocket launch was registered since midnight, compared to more than 210 over the previous 30 hours.

On Wednesday, in the most spectacular Israeli strike since the cease-fire was breached, Hamas’ shadowy military chief, Mohammed Deifm, was the object of an apparent assassination attempt that killed his wife and infant son.

After remaining quiet for most of the day Wednesday, Hamas officials announced that Deif was not in the targeted home at the time and was still alive. Deif has survived multiple assassination attempts, lives in hiding and is believed to be paralyzed from previous attempts on his life.

In a nationally televised address Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed little willingness to return to the negotiating table after six weeks of war with Hamas.

“We are determined to continue the campaign with all means and as is needed,” he said, his defense minister by his side. “We will not stop until we guarantee full security and quiet for the residents of the south and all citizens of Israel.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed “deep regret” over the breaking of the cease-fire. It said in a statement Wednesday that it “continues bilateral contacts” with both sides aimed at restoring calm and securing a lasting truce that “serves the interest of the Palestinian people, especially in relation to the opening of the crossings and reconstruction.”

An Egyptian compromise proposal calls for easing the Gaza blockade but not lifting it altogether or opening the territory’s air and seaports, as Hamas has demanded.

While the plan does not require Hamas to give up its weapons, it would give Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces were ousted by Hamas, a foothold back in Gaza running border crossings and overseeing internationally backed reconstruction.

The Gaza blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas and other militant groups from getting weapons. Critics say the measures amount to collective punishment.

TIME Israel

Israeli Premier: ‘We Will Not Stop’ Gaza Operation

Smoke and fire after an Israeli air strikes over Gaza City, on 20 August 2014.
Smoke and fire after an Israeli air strikes over Gaza City, on 20 August 2014. Sameh Rahmi—NurPhoto/Corbis

(JERUSALEM) — Israel’s prime minister says he will press forward with a military operation in the Gaza Strip until rocket fire out of the Palestinian territory is halted.

Benjamin Netanyahu made the comments in a nationwide address Wednesday, a day after talks aimed at ending Israel’s monthlong war against Hamas militants collapsed in failure.

Netayahu’s tough words signal a protracted period of fighting could lie ahead.

Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Wednesday, while Israel carried out numerous airstrikes in Gaza. Palestinian officials say at least 20 Palestinians have been killed since the cease-fire talks collapsed.

TIME Middle East

Hopes of Prolonged Truce Dashed as Gaza Conflict Reignites

Smoke rises as Palestinians stand atop the rubble of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
Palestinians stand atop the rubble of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 20, 2014. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa — Reuters

Talks in Cairo collapse after rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel

Fighting in Gaza continued into the early hours of Wednesday morning after talks between Israel and Hamas over a cease-fire collapsed in Cairo.

The negotiations in the Egyptian capital came to an abrupt end after three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel eight hours before the latest truce was set to expire. Hamas denied launching the initial barrage of artillery on Tuesday night, but later claimed responsibility for rockets fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel responded to the salvos with renewed airstrikes into the Gaza Strip and pulled its negotiation team from Cairo, where it had been engaged in talks with Palestinian representatives over the establishment of a prolonged truce.

“The Cairo process was built on a total and complete cessation of all hostilities and so when rockets were fired from Gaza, not only was it a clear violation of the cease-fire but it also destroyed the premise upon which the talks were based,” Mark Regev, the spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Reuters.

The Palestinian team was also set to depart Egypt, reported Haaretz.

On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner accused Hamas of firing 70 rockets into Israel since Tuesday. No Israeli causalities have been reported since the hostilities reignited. Israeli officials went on to label Hamas’s actions as a “grave and direct violation” of the truce.

“This is the eleventh cease-fire that Hamas has either rejected or violated,” tweeted Regev.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported that Hamas accused the Israelis of attempting to “assassinate” one of the group’s top military commanders, Mohammed Deif, during an air raid in Gaza City that reportedly killed his wife and child. There has been no confirmation whether Deif was also killed during the strike.

Following ten days of relative calm in the battle-fatigued strip, where more 380,000 people are displaced, Hamas and Israel remain at loggerheads, with both parties continuing to make demands that neither side appears willing to accept.

“On the Israeli side, you have a demand that is not going to be implemented under any circumstance — and that’s the disarmament of Hamas,” Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program, tells TIME.

“And on the Hamas side you have a demand that is not going to be implemented under any circumstances and that’s a full lifting of the what Hamas calls the blockade or siege of Gaza.”

Approximately 2,000 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis have been killed in the month-long war between Hamas and Israel. However, analysts suggest that the worst fighting may, at least for the time being, have passed.

“I think that there is a real sense of exhaustion with this conflict on all sides,” says Thrall. “The most likely scenario is that the most violent period of this conflict is behind us, but no one can predict for sure.”

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