TIME

Israeli Ambassador: Here’s What “Proportionality” In War Really Means

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer
Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer speaks to reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor on July 22, 2014. Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

Israel's man in Washington makes the case that his country's military strikes in Gaza have been proportional to the threat

The Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, challenged critics of his country’s military operation in Gaza Tuesday morning, saying they don’t understand the legal definition of “proportionality” in wartime.

Speaking to reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Dermer, a former top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, argued that many are unfamiliar with the “rules of war” when they charge that his country has been disproportionate in its attacks on Gaza.

“We have to understand first of all what the rules of war are, because people don’t know them,” he said. “They throw around words like disproportionate without any understanding of what that actually means. A disproportionate response, from what I can gather in the interviews that I go to and the questions that I’m asked, disproportionate is believed to be what is the body count on both sides. So therefore if there’s 600 and something Palestinians who were killed and 25 Israelis, or a few days ago when there were 200 Palestinians and one Israeli, that is deemed to be a disproportionate response. That’s how most people deal with it.”

But Dermer said those assumptions were wrong. Dermer laid out the calculus that the Israeli government makes to justifying actions that may injure or kill civilians. He continued:

It’s important to understand what proportionality is in terms of the rules of war. There’s two basic principles that you have to remember. The first is distinction, you make a distinction between combatants and noncombatants. That’s the most important principle of the rules of war, that you have to make that distinction. And here Israel always makes that distinction. You have have Hamas that is deliberately targeting our civilians hoping to kill as many as possible. And you have Israel that does not deliberately target a single Palestinian civilian. We don’t deliberately target their civilians. For us, when a civilian is killed it’s an operational failure. And the more civilians who are killed, the greater the operational failure. And obviously a tragedy even of itself. And for Hamas, they celebrate—the greater the number of civilian casualties, for them, the greater the success of their operation.

And then you have the issue of proportionality.

Let’s say there’s a legitimate target because when a schoolhouse, hospital, mosque is turned into a military command center or a weapons depot, or a place where you fire rockets, it becomes by the rules of war a legitimate target. You cannot turn a hospital into a military command center. You cannot do that according to the rules of law. It’s a war crime for Hamas to do that. You cannot turn an UNRWA school into a weapons depot, that’s a war crime. You cannot use a Mosque as a missile manufacturing facility. It becomes a legitimate target. Then the question is okay, but can you target it in this specific instance.

There you get into the question of proportionality. Meaning, just because it’s a legitimate target doesn’t necessarily give you the right to hit it. Because for that, for you to be able to do that, you have to show that the gain you will get from the military action you take is worth the potential loss of lives that you might even foresee ahead of time. So I don’t want to get into theoretical examples but if you had you know 1 rocket that was sitting in a school somewhere and there are 50 kids in a classroom, then you cannot actually target to get to that rocket and kill those kids. That would be disproportionate because the gain that you have by hitting that one rocket would not justify killing 50 kids in the school. By the same token if you had 200 rockets in place and you had one civilian, by the rules of war, you could target that place even if you knew ahead of time that the civilian would be hurt.

Now there are all sorts of judgment calls that happen in between. Can you target that same target tomorrow or in an hour or in three hours? And Israel is always making these calculations.

To date, more than 500 people have died from the fighting, according to a count by the Washington Post Tuesday morning. That includes 25 Israeli soldiers, 2 Israeli civilians, 86 armed Palestinian militants and 406 Palestinian civilians. Of those Palestinian civilians, 129 were children.

TIME Israel

FAA Prohibits U.S. Airlines From Flying To Israel

The Delta Airlines Charter at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on January 2, 2013.
The Delta Airlines Charter at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on January 2, 2013. Jeff Haynes—Reuters

One flight was diverted to Paris before landing

Updated 7:04 p.m. ET Tuesday

The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday blocked all U.S. carriers from flying to Israel’s main airport for 24 hours. The ban comes after a rocket landed about a mile from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, the FAA said.

“The FAA immediately notified U.S. carriers when the agency learned of the rocket strike and informed them that the agency was finalizing a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen),” the FAA said in a statement. The ban only applies to U.S. air carriers.

Delta Airlines and United Airlines announced that they were indefinitely suspending Israel flights just hours before the FAA ban was handed down. Their decision to do so came after a Delta aircraft en route to Tel Aviv from New York diverted to Paris Monday evening out of a precautionary measure, Delta said Tuesday.

European airlines Lufthansa and Air France also suspended flights, according to a report from the Associated Press. One Lufthansa flight en route to Tel Aviv Tuesday was diverted to Athens, according to the Lufthansa website.

Ben Gurion International Airport has for about five days been exclusively using runway 21 for arriving flights, according to a separate NOTAM issued for that airport. Commerical jets arriving on runway 21 come in over the Mediterranean sea northwest of Ben Gurion before turning southward, according to approach plates for the airport. That may help keep them clear of any danger posed by rockets or other weapons fire from the Gaza Strip, which is to the airport’s southwest.

The FAA ban and the American carriers’ independent cancellations come a day after the U.S. State Department cautioned U.S. citizens against travel to Israel. Israel is currently engaged in a military operation in the Gaza Strip, and violence continues to escalate in that conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu raised the issue of the FAA flight ban with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday. According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the prime minister asked Kerry to intervene so that flights resume, something White House officials said was unlikely. “We’re not going to overrule the FAA when they believe that their security procedures are triggered,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Danny Saadon, an executive at Israeli airline El Al, told TIME Monday that approximately 25 percent of its expected travelers from America had cancelled or postponed their flights in recent weeks. In an interview, Saadon said that the airline is “still maintaining [its] schedule,” and did not mention any plans to consider canceling flights. El Al has been experimenting with several forms of missile defense systems on its aircraft since 2004, though those are geared more towards defending aircraft from projectiles specifically targeting their aircraft, not from rocket crossfire.

As an Israeli airline, the FAA ban does not apply to El Al.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 22

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the news: Ukraine rebels turn over bodies from downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17; Kerry seeks Gaza cease-fire; Detroit suspends water shutoffs; One of the largest private gifts ever for scientific research; Georgia GOP primary; 10 years since the 9/11 Commission report

  • “After days of resistance, pro-Russian rebels on Monday yielded some ground in the crisis surrounding downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17—handing over passengers’ bodies, relinquishing the plane’s black boxes and pledging broader access for investigators to the crash site.” [WashPost]
    • Why Putin Is Willing to Take Big Risks in Ukraine [WSJ]
    • “The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 exposes the truth about RT, the Russian English-language propaganda outlet.” [TIME]
  • Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and U.N. diplomats pursued talks on halting fighting that has claimed more than 500 lives. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held talks in neighboring Egypt, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Israel later in the day.” [Reuters]
  • “Whether the Afghan forces can sustain themselves in the critical districts the Green Berets will be ceding to them is an urgent question all over the country. The answer will help define America’s legacy in Afghanistan, much as it has in Iraq, where the Iraqi forces have fallen apart in combat.” [NYT]
  • “Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.” [TIME]
  • Breakthrough on VA Reform Bill? [Hill]
  • “President Barack Obama on Monday signed an executive order aimed at protecting workers at federal contractors and in the federal government from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.” [Politico]
  • “The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is suspending its water shutoffs for 15 days starting today to give residents another chance to prove they are unable to pay their bills.” [Detroit Free Press]
  • “…the Broad Institute, a biomedical research center, announced a $650 million donation for psychiatric research from the Stanley Family Foundation—one of the largest private gifts ever for scientific research. It comes at a time when basic research into mental illness is sputtering, and many drug makers have all but abandoned the search for new treatments.” [NYT]
  • Jack Kingston’s Insider Advantage [NJ]
  • “The evidence for a left-wing challenge to Clinton that could defeat her is thin to nonexistent.” [Slate]
  • “Ten years ago today, we released The 9/11 Commission Report to the government and the American public…” [USA Today]
TIME Palestine

Israel Hits More Than 70 Targets in Gaza, as Ban and Kerry Call for Truce

The U.N. Secretary General and the U.S. Secretary of State lament renewed carnage and call for a cease-fire

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Israeli warplanes struck more than 70 targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Tuesday morning, including a stadium, five mosques and the home of a late Hamas military chief, reports the Associated Press.

The attacks came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accelerated diplomatic efforts for an immediate cease-fire.

The Israel Defense Forces through its Twitter account on Tuesday said that it had killed 183 “terrorists” and struck at more than 1,300 “terror sites” in Gaza during the two-week-old Operation Protective Edge. However, according to Human Rights Watch, many of the attacks have been made on civilian structures, including a refugee camp and hundreds of homes, leading to thousands of displacements.

Some 584 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed during the conflict. The U.N. estimates that 75% of Palestinian deaths are of civilians, with scores of women and children among them.

“We must find a way to stop the violence,” said Ban at a joint press conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, with Kerry. “So many people have died. As [Secretary Kerry] just said, it’s mostly [the] civilian population, women and children. It’s very sad, it’s tragic.”

Kerry called on Hamas to accept a cease-fire framework tabled by Egyptian authorities earlier this month.

“Israel has accepted that cease-fire proposal,” said Kerry, who landed in Egypt on Monday after being dispatched to the region by President Barack Obama on Sunday night. “So only Hamas now needs to make the decision to spare innocent civilians from this violence.”

Despite the heavy loss of Palestinian lives in the fighting, Kerry described Israel’s military operation in Gaza as “appropriate” and a “legitimate effort to defend itself.”

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities acknowledged to local media on Monday that they could not account for the whereabouts of one of their soldiers but that he may have been killed after an attack on an armored vehicle over the weekend.

The admission comes a day after Israel’s envoy to the U.N. dismissed claims made by Hamas on television Sunday that they had kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

TIME Israel

U.S. Issues Travel Warning for Israel, Gaza and West Bank

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: Palestinian man stands near a damaged building by Israeli airstrike targeting Hamas police chief Tayseer al-Batsh on July 13, 2014 in Gaza City. ALESSIO ROMENZI
A Palestinian man stands near a damaged building in Gaza City, July 13, 2014. Alessio Romenzi

Secretary of State John Kerry also announced $47 million in aid to Gaza

The U.S. State Department on Monday issued a new travel warning for Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while Secretary of State John Kerry announced a $47 million aid package for Gaza amid growing conflict in the region.

The warning, which replaces the one issued in February of this year, recommends U.S. citizens postpone non-urgent travel to the region if possible, and it upholds previous warnings against traveling to the Gaza Strip, where U.S. government employees are not allowed to travel.

Because of security concerns, the embassy in Tel Aviv is working with a reduced staff and limited service, while the embassy in Jerusalem is operating as normal. The full travel warning contains additional details about which areas and neighborhoods within Israel have been recent targets. On Sunday, Israel escalated its ground operations in Gaza, and the two regions have exchanged rocket fire over the past few weeks.

The humanitarian assistance Kerry announced Monday includes $15 million for United Nations relief efforts, $3.5 million for emergency assistance from the USAID’s OFfice of Foreign Disaster Assistance, $10 million in redirected USAID funding and $18.5 million in new USAID funding to address food, shelter and medical treatments for Palestinians in Gaza.

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

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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 Gaza

Truce Elusive as Hamas, Israel Stick to Positions

Displaced Palestinians who fled areas of the Northern Gaza Strip are seen in the courtyard of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school in Bet Layia, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014.
Displaced Palestinians who fled areas of the Northern Gaza Strip are seen in the courtyard of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency school in Beit Layia, Gaza Strip, July 21, 2014. Alessio Romenzi

Palestinian health officials said at least 550 Palestinians have been killed and 3,350 wounded since the new round of fighting started on July 8

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — The top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip signaled Monday that the Islamic militant group will not agree to an unconditional cease-fire with Israel, while Israel’s defense minister pledged to keep fighting “as long as necessary” — raising new doubt about the highest-level mediation mission in two weeks.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry were heading to Cairo on Monday to try to end the deadliest conflict between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers in just over five years.

Meanwhile, cross-border fighting continued unabated, with Israeli strikes leaving entire families buried under rubble and Hamas militants firing more than 50 rockets and trying to sneak into Israel through two tunnels, the latest in a series of such attempts.

Seven Israeli soldiers were killed Monday in clashes with Palestinian militants, the Israeli military said. That raised the overall Israeli death toll to 27, including two civilians. The Israeli military said four soldiers were killed in a firefight with Hamas fighters trying to sneak into Israel through a tunnel, and that the other three were killed in battles in Gaza.

Palestinian health officials said at least 550 Palestinians have been killed and 3,350 wounded since the new round of fighting started on July 8.

Mounting casualties on both sides have led international officials to step up diplomatic efforts to end the worst bout of fighting between the two sides since 2009.

On Monday, President Barack Obama reaffirmed his belief that Israel has the right to defend itself against rockets being launched by Hamas into Israel. Yet he contended that Israel’s military action in Gaza had already done “significant damage” to the Hamas terrorist infrastructure and said he doesn’t want to see more civilians getting killed.

Israeli fighter planes struck homes across Gaza, in at least four cases burying two or more members of the same family under the rubble, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Palestinian health official.

One of those strikes killed nine members of a single family in Gaza City, another killed 10 in the southern half of the coastal strip.

Also, rescuers going through the wreckage of a house targeted late Sunday retrieved 28 bodies in the town of Khan Younis, including at least 24 from the Abu Jamea family, according to al-Kidra and a local human rights group.

“Doesn’t this indicate that Israel is ruthless?” said family member Sabri Abu Jamea. “Are we the liars? The evidence is here in the morgue refrigerators. The evidence is in the refrigerators.”

Israeli tank shells also hit the Al Aqsa Hospital in the central town of Deir el-Balah, killing at least four people and wounding 60, al-Kidra said.

A doctor at the hospital, Fayez Zidane, said the third and fourth floors and the reception area were damaged, and patients were evacuated to the lower flowers.

The Israeli military said an initial investigation suggests that anti-tank missiles were stored near the hospital and that the cache was successfully targeted. “Civilian casualties are a tragic inevitability of the brutal and systematic exploitation of homes, hospitals and mosques in Gaza,” the army said.

The military has consistently said it makes great efforts to minimize civilian casualties but Hamas puts Gazans in danger by hiding weapons and fighters in residential areas.

In fighting, the Israeli military said 10 Hamas infiltrators trying to sneak in through the tunnels were killed after being detected and targeted by Israeli aircraft.

Hamas also fired 50 more rockets at Israel, including two at Tel Aviv, causing no injuries or damage. Since the start of the Israeli operation, Hamas has fired almost 2,000 rockets at Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Gaza military operation would have no time limit.

“If needed we will recruit more reservists in order to continue the operation as long as necessary until the completion of the task and the return of the quiet in the whole of Israel especially from the threat of the Gaza Strip,” Yaalon told a parliamentary committee.

Israel accepted an Egyptian call for an unconditional cease-fire last week, but resumed its offensive after Hamas rejected the proposal.

Hamas says that before halting fire, it wants guarantees that Israel and Egypt will significantly ease a seven-year border blockade of Gaza.

Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas leader in Gaza, signaled Monday that his group is sticking to its position.

He said the aim of the battle is to break the 7-year-old blockade of the Palestinian territory, which was imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas overran Gaza in 2007. Over the past year, Egypt has further tightened restrictions, driving Hamas into a deep financial crisis.

Haniyeh said in a televised speech that “we cannot go back, we cannot go back to the silent death” of the blockade.

He said all of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents shared this demand.

“Gaza has decided to end the blockade by its blood and by its courage,” he said. “This siege, this unjust siege, must be lifted.”

Kerry left Washington early Monday for Cairo, where he will join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that had been agreed to in November 2012. He was expected to urge the militant Palestinian group to accept an Egyptian-offered cease-fire agreement.

Cairo’s cease-fire plan is backed by the U.S. and Israel. But Hamas has rejected the Egyptian plan and is relying on governments in Qatar and Turkey for an alternative proposal. Qatar and Turkey have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is also linked to Hamas but banned in Egypt.

Hamas remains deeply suspicious of the motives of the Egyptian government, which has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, a region-wide to which Hamas also belongs.

Israel invaded Gaza late last week, preceded by a 10-day air campaign. Air and artillery strikes have targeted Gaza’s border areas in an attempt to destroy tunnels and rocket launchers.

TIME Israel

Watch: This Is How Israel Blows Up Tunnels in Gaza

Footage released by the Israeli forces shows how underground passageways are destroyed

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In the video above, posted on the official YouTube page of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), soldiers are shown inserting a charge into a tunnel said to be in Gaza, then detonating it.

According to the IDF, soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade found the tunnel in a residential area of Gaza.

Since the beginning of the conflict, the Israeli armed forces uncovered 34 shafts leading into about a dozen underground tunnels, some as deep as 30 meters, that the military said could be used to carry out attacks, according to the AP.

Last week, Israel began a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory with the goal of destroying tunnels linking Egypt and Gaza and thus striking a “significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure,” according to a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Over 500 Palestinians and 20 Israelis have died in the recent fighting.

TIME Palestine

The U.N. Security Council Calls for an Immediate Cease-Fire in Gaza

More than 500 Palestinians are now dead, along with 20 Israelis

The U.N. Security Council called for an immediate end to hostilities in the Gaza Strip during a late-night emergency meeting on Sunday, following a bloody day of fighting in Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood, where at least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli troops were killed.

In total, more than 500 Palestinians have been killed along with 20 Israelis — 18 of whom were soldiers — during the two-week offensive targeting Hamas.

“The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern about the growing number of casualties,” acting council president and Rwanda’s U.N. Ambassador Eugène-Richard Gasana told reporters following the meeting. “The members of the Security Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.”

U.S. President Barack Obama urged similar action earlier in the day during his second phone call in 72 hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to a statement released by the White House: “The President underscored that the United States will work closely with Israel and regional partners on implementing an immediate ceasefire, and stressed the need to protect civilians — in Gaza and in Israel.”

President Obama added that Secretary of State John Kerry was being dispatched to Cairo to help secure a cease-fire deal.

Earlier on Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lambasted Israel for failing to protect innocent civilians caught in the crossfire in Gaza.

“While I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza,” Ban said. “I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians.”

Meanwhile, at least two Americans have also died fighting for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the U.S. State Department announced.

“We can confirm the deaths of U.S. citizens Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli in Gaza. Out of respect for those affected by this, we have nothing further at this time,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

On Sunday, Hamas claimed during a televised address to have kidnapped an Israeli solider. However, Israel’s U.N. envoy was quick to deny that any IDF solider was being held by Hamas.

“There’s no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumors are untrue,” Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor told reporters in New York City.

The weekend’s assault on densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods by Israeli ground forces, supported by a barrage of artillery and air strikes, also led to the dramatic escalation of internally displaced people (IDPs) within Gaza.

“The cumulative number of IDPs has exceeded 100,000,” the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in a statement released on Sunday.

Despite numerous calls for an end to fighting in Gaza, the conflict showed no signs of subsiding. The IDF claimed to have carried out strikes against “53 terror sites” in Gaza on Sunday night.

Early on Monday, reports also began to surface that an air strike flattened a home near the Gazan city of Khan Younis, killing at least 20 people.

TIME United Nations

U.N. Security Council Holds Urgent Meeting on Gaza

Riyad Mansour
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour speaks before an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council at the U.N. headquarters on July 20, 2014 John Minchillo—AP

In light of the worsening situation in Gaza, Jordan presented a draft resolution calling for the protection of civilians and an immediate cease-fire at a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on Sunday

(UNITED NATIONS) — The U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency meeting Sunday night on the worsening situation in Gaza.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud tweeted that the meeting is being held at the request of council member Jordan.

A Jordan-drafted resolution obtained by The Associated Press expresses “grave concern” at the high number of civilians killed in Gaza, including children, and it calls for an immediate cease-fire, “including the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from the Gaza Strip.”

The first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting on Sunday killed at least 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and forced thousands of terrified Palestinian civilians to flee their neighborhoods.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has called Israel’s latest incursion “atrocious,” and said it must do far more to protect civilians.

The draft resolution calls for the protection of civilians, the lifting of the “Israeli restrictions imposed on the movement of persons and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip” and immediate humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.

The draft also calls for “renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community” toward peace.

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