TIME Middle East

15 Killed in Gaza Market Airstrike As Temporary Cease-Fire Passes

As at least 15 were killed in the shelling of a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza

Updated 1:22 pm ET

An Israeli airstrike on a busy market in Gaza has killed at least 15 and wounded 150 others, the Associated Press reports.

The strike occurred during a four-hour humanitarian cease-fire,which occurred between 3pm and 7pm local time, in the Gaza Strip. The market is situated within Shejaiya, an area which Israel said wasn’t protected by the parameters of its cease-fire.

A Gaza healthy ministry official, Ashraf al-Kidra, told the AP the Gazans shopping in the market believed they were protected.

In a statement released before the cease-fire, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that the humanitarian window would “not apply to the areas in which IDF soldiers are currently operating” — among which is Shejaiya.

The IDF told residents not to return to areas which they were asked to evacuate, and warned “the IDF will respond to any attempt to exploit this window to harm Israeli citizens and Israeli soldiers.” During the cease-fire, the AP reports, Palestinian militants did fire rockets into Israel.

The IDF scheduled the cease-fire earlier Wednesday, after another night of heavy fighting between it and Hamas saw 15 people killed in the Israeli shelling of a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza.

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency said that Tuesday’s attack was the sixth time the IDF had struck a U.N. school during the current conflict. In a statement on their website they called the incident “an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.”

A spokesperson for the IDF told TIME: “The initial IDF investigation suggests that [Palestinian] militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the school,” to which the IDF responded. The spokesperson added that the investigation is ongoing.

The White House condemned the UN school shelling Wednesday afternoon, the Associated Press reports, but did blame any party for it.

The shelling of the school happened during the 23rd day of operations in the Gaza strip which has so far seen over 1,258 Palestinians killed, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Israel has lost 56 in the fighting.

[AP]

TIME Middle East

Israel’s Operation in Gaza Spreads Beyond Just Tunnels

The collapsed minaret of mosque seen from the destroyed living room of a Palestinian family in a building across the street in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014.
The collapsed minaret of mosque seen from the destroyed living room of a Palestinian family in a building across the street in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, July 30, 2014. Oliver Weiken—EPA

The Israeli Defense Forces now have Gaza's infrastructure in their sights

Updated July 30, 6:06 a.m. ET

Israeli officials have said in the past week that their main goal in the war against Hamas in Gaza is to destroy as many of what it calls “terror tunnels,” the underground passages built by the militant group that have repeatedly been used to infiltrate Israel. But following a day in which Hamas militants managed to kill 10 Israeli soldiers, Israel responded Tuesday with massive air strikes that seemed aimed at both major infrastructure as well as the visible symbols of Hamas’s power in the Gaza Strip.

In overnight strikes on Monday by aircraft, tanks and navy gunboats, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacked 150 targets in Gaza, including the home and office of Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh’s home, the influential Shujaiyeh battalion commander’s home and the Ministry of Finance, as well as al-Aqsa Radio and al-Aqsa Television, two media outlets operated by Hamas. The IDF said it attacked two Hamas command centers and four weapons-storage sites hidden inside mosques and a tunnel Tuesday, before targeting five mosques overnight where it said Hamas had hidden weapons.

Most prominently, it struck Gaza’s main power plant, all but destroying it. “The plant wasn’t working fully in the past few months due to shortages of fuel that comes from Israel,” Rafeeq Abu Maliha, the plant’s director, told reporters. “Three days ago Israel started to hit the station. The first time one missile hit the water and cooling engine. The second air strike they hit the administration building. Last night’s strike was on [a] streaming engine, and in the morning today the tanks of fuel were hit and caused a huge fire in the station.” Gaza has been suffering from severe shortages of power for years,” he said, and many areas of the power plant hit over the course of the war were not currently repairable because of “access difficulties.”

Israel renewed intense airstrikes on Gaza
A Palestinian man walks in front of a fire raging at Gaza’s main power plant on July 29, 2014, in Gaza City, following an overnight Israeli air strike Oliver Weiken—EPA

A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces denied the power station had been on Israel’s hit-list. “The power plant definitely was not a target,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner tells TIME. “We checked with all the forces in the area, air, ground and naval, and we’ve not been able to determine that the IDF has carried out this strike. It could be a Palestinian mortar hit it – we don’t know.” He said the IDF was “looking into” the incident.

Tunnels and rockets are easy for Israel to explain as military targets — both directly threaten Israeli citizens. But if it did intentionally hit the power plant, as well as government and communications buildings, it might indicate that Israel is taking its Operation Protective Edge to a far more punishing level — a move some more conservative members in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have long advocated. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the influential Jewish Home party on Tuesday said that simply destroying Hamas’ tunnel network isn’t enough, and called on Israel to continue the operation until Hamas loses control. “Hit Hamas without mercy,” Bennett said. “Day and night. On weekdays and holidays. Without respite and without rest. Until they are defeated.”

Whether or not the more conservative Bennett represents the mainstream thinking of the Israeli government, he’s been able to repeatedly make strong statements without a public reprimand from Netanyahu. What seems clear is that the Israeli government and the top political brass fall into two camps: those who see the war ending with the goal of deterrence — hurting Hamas’ military capabilities and making them think twice before launching another rocket once a meaningful cease-fire is actually reached — and those who are gunning for destruction, whether by bringing Hamas to its knees or by managing to overthrow it altogether.

But Talal Okal, an independent Palestinian analyst who lives in Gaza, argues that an extended bombing campaign would be unlikely to topple Hamas. On the contrary, the destruction being broadcast from Gaza will only underscore the need for the kind of international rebuilding efforts that can only be achieved by lifting the embargo on the strip — which happens to be a main demand of Hamas. “I don’t think the Israeli targeting of infrastructure will push Hamas to collapse, but it will be an extra reason to insist to make removing the siege that was imposed seven years ago,” he says. “Everyone suffers from it, Hamas people and ordinary Gazans.

“But at the same time it might push the people to trend more toward finding a political solution soon, as the war is more tiring by the day. I think people are actually supporting Hamas more than in previous wars as there are dead [Israeli] soldiers” for Hamas to point to as a tangible achievement, he explains. “The loss is not only in Gaza but also in Israel, so that would make the people here able to survive and stand more.”

No one doubts that the conditions in Gaza have become extreme. The loss of electricity is causing water shortages and sanitation challenges. The electricity lines along the main street of Gaza City are down entirely, as well as in frontline areas like Shujaiya, Beit Hanoun, Zaitoun and the east of Khan Younis. With no electricity available to charge phones and with many land lines cut by IDF strikes, it is becoming hard for many Gazans to so much as place a phone call to check on a relative or call an ambulance in the event of an emergency.

“Since last night we have been hearing shelling and bombs in the area of the plant, and we’ve had no electricity for three days now,” says Yasser Bakheet, 28, a resident of Nussirat, a neighborhood near the power plant. As much as a missile strike, he now fears an ongoing humanitarian disaster and the outbreak of disease in Gaza. “I don’t care about politics,” he says. “What I care about now is to live normally or at least get the basic needs for me and my family.”

Late Tuesday, the latest diplomatic efforts raised hopes that a cease-fire could be on the horizon. But Mohammed Deif, the head of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said in broadcast comments that there would be no truce in Gaza unless Israel lifts its “siege.” Fighting continued overnight, with a UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp attacked and at least 15 Palestinians killed. Tuesday was the deadliest day in the conflict so far, a Gaza health official told the AP. A war that was billed as an operation to halt Hamas rocket fire seems no closer to resolution than when it started three weeks ago.

— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza City

TIME Israel

White House: Purported Leaked Obama-Netanyahu Transcript ‘Totally False’

Obama Talks With Netanyahu
In this handout frm the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the Oval Office September 28, 2012 in Washigton, DC. The White House—Getty Images

U.S. and Israeli officials roundly criticized the report as a "shocking and disappointing" fabrication

The White House rejected reports Tuesday of a transcript purporting to detail a private phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the distortions “shocking and disappointing.”

“Neither reports nor alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality,” read a tweet from the President’s National Security Council.

And White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes tweeted the transcript is “totally false:”

The transcript surfaced on a broadcast by Israel’s Channel 1 which claimed to capture an oddly stilted exchange between the two leaders, in which Obama repeatedly insisted on a cease-fire over the objections of Netanyahu.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s office also tweeted the NSC rejection and condemnation word-for-word.

TIME celebrities

The Lessons of the One Direction #FreePalestine Tweet

Zayn Malik
Zayn Malik of One Direction performs at on May 24, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. Dave J Hogan—Getty Images

One Direction's Zayn Malik has learned — as have others before him — the dangers of mixing celebrity and conflict

Usually when One Direction and the phrase “death threats” are in the same sentence, it’s a case of overenthusiastic fans defending their favorite pop stars — but the group’s Zayn Malik has learned that the backlash can go in the other direction too.

On Sunday, the singer tweeted the phrase “#FreePalestine” — a tweet that’s been both retweeted and favorited over 200,000 times, while it’s also led some of his own fans to lash out at him, death threats and all. He’s not the first to experience blow-back over the topic:

  • Earlier this month, a similar message from Rihanna led her to delete the tweet within minutes of posting it. The singer claimed to have tweeted in error, having clicked a tweet link on a website.
  • Basketball player Dwight Howard followed a similar script the same week, adding that he’s never commented on international politics.
  • Cricket player Moeen Ali has been banned by the International Cricket Council from wearing “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” wristbands.
  • Scarlett Johansson‘s dual roles as Oxfam ambassador and SodaStream spokesperson caused controversy that led her to tell the New Yorker felt like she was “put into a position that was way larger than anything I could possibly—I mean, this is an issue that is much bigger than something I could just be dropped into the middle of.”
  • Back in 2012, Kim Kardashian tweeted that she was “praying for everyone in Israel” and subsequently that her prayers were also for Palestine, and then later deleted both tweets, explaining on her blog that she was sorry to have offended anyone on either side.

So one possible takeaway from Malik’s experience, and those before it, is that celebrities should just keep their mouths shut when it comes to Israel and Palestine — especially when even Secretary of State John Kerry has trouble being diplomatic about the issue.

No matter what one thinks about Israel, it’s hard to deny that (a) the subject is controversial, and (b) Twitter (or a symbolic accessory, or a product endorsement deal) isn’t exactly a great place to express a nuanced thought about a complicated topic. Case in point: celebrities aren’t the only ones who’ve found that to be true. Even the Associated Press has experienced the pitfalls of tweeting about Gaza, having decided to revise a tweet that seemed to express negative judgment about U.S. lawmakers who support Israel. In a time when people like Malik and Rihanna have a direct line to their legions of fans, they’re all one click away from saying something they don’t really mean, or saying something they think they mean but haven’t really thought through. Safer, then, not to say anything. If the point of being a celebrity is to please fans, it’s pretty clear that Tweeting about Israel is not the way to do it.

On the other hand, Malik’s #FreePalestine tweet was followed by silence. He hasn’t responded to any fans, he hasn’t apologized and he hasn’t deleted what he said. So maybe “#FreePalestine” was really what he meant, with all its possible connotations and consequences. There’s no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Which means that the other possible takeaway is that maybe pleasing fans isn’t actually what celebrities care about most, and that asking them to be quiet about their opinions is an unrealistic expectation. In that scenario, they’re not different from any other Twitter users in that they can say whatever they want — and in that, when other users disagree, they’ll hear about it.

TIME Khaled Mashaal

The Man Who Haunts Israel

Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar in 2013.
Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar in 2013. Kate Geraghty—The Sydney Morning Herald/Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Khaled Mashaal was nearly assassinated by Benjamin Netanyahu. Then Israel's Prime Minister was forced to bring the Hamas leader back to life. Now their deadly history hangs over the conflict that roils the Middle East

Khaled Mashaal lay dying in a hospital bed as poison flowed through his bloodstream, slowly shutting down his respiratory system. With a machine pumping air into his lungs, he had, at best, a few days to live. An antidote could save the Hamas leader’s life. But the only person who could provide it was the very man who had tried to kill him: Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu… Read the full story

TIME India

John Kerry Hopes for Warmer Welcome in India After Israel Fiasco

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about terms of a cease-fire in fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas on July 25, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about terms of a cease-fire in fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas on July 25, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

New Delhi has suggested that it's committed to an improved economic relationship with the U.S.

Correction: Appended, July 31.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to New Delhi on Wednesday in a bid to improve Washington’s relationship with India. He is undoubtedly hoping the visit will go well. Kerry, after all, has not had the best week.

On Friday, the Secretary of State left Egypt with his tail between his legs having failed to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Things got worse for him Monday after the cease-fire framework he helped draft was leaked to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which called it a “prize for terror.” Haaretz, which is normally considered left-leaning, claimed the former Democratic senator was like “an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast.”

This was hardly the reaction Kerry and his team expected from one of the U.S.’s staunchest allies. On Monday, spokesperson Jen Psaki said: “We sent them a clearly labeled confidential draft of ideas… This draft… of ideas was based on the Egyptian proposal that they had supported from just weeks … just a couple of weeks before that.”

Luckily for Kerry, experts say he’s likely to receive a friendlier welcome when he arrives in India this week. “The Indians would like a good relationship with the U.S.,” says Ronald Granieri, executive director at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Center for the Study of America and the West. “The U.S.-India relationship is fundamentally a very important one,”adds Xenia Wickett, project director of Chatham House’s U.S. Program. “There’s a recognition on both sides that this could be a very positive and strategic relationship.”

That’s not to say the ground is completely smooth ahead of Kerry’s India trip. In recent days, the Indian media has highlighted the December arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, who was accused of falsifying her housekeeper’s papers and underpaying her. Media outlets have claimed that this has soured relations with India, impeding Kerry’s visit.

Then there’s India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was denied a U.S. visa in 2005 for failing to halt the 2002 Hindu-led riots which occurred when he was chief minister of Gujarat. The mobs killed 1,000 people, the majority of which were Muslims.

Wickett, who has just returned from India, is unconvinced that either of these events will hurt Kerry’s visit. “Within the new government… there is a much more rational sense of what’s important. This will not affect bilateral relations.” Modi, after all, was first denied a visa by the Bush administration. Khobragade was arrested during the former Indian administration.

But what about trade relations? The waters of U.S.-India relations were muddied at the ongoing World Trade Organization talks in Geneva, when member states had agreed to a reform of custom rules but India demanded that a deal on stockpiling, scheduled for 2017, be reached now.

That demand threatens to derail the anticipated reform, and has been met with criticism from the U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Michael Punke, who said he was “extremely discouraged” by Indian negotiators’ intransigence.

These tensions can easily be put aside in favor of pursuing mutually beneficial relations, says Milan Vaishnav, associate in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The new government in India recognizes that if they were elected on a platform of getting the economy back on track, they need the U.S,” he says. “This is a relationship that has been gathering speed for the past decade.”

“If the Indian economy grows, the U.S. will do well and [any future] trade disputes will fade into the background,” he adds.

Strategically too, both sides need each other. If the U.S. and India can forge greater economic ties, it reduces the reliance that both countries have on the Chinese economy. “The U.S. would like a better relationship with India as they start to see China as a strategic rival,” comments Granieri.

All of that said, Kerry’s visit to New Delhi is unlikely to make great waves. Modi is due to visit the U.S. in September to meet with President Barack Obama and it is then, according to Granieri that any new initiatives would be announced. “Modi wouldn’t want to devalue the importance of his September visit,” he says.

Nevertheless Kerry is likely to be greeted with open arms when he disembarks from his spaceship on Wednesday. His job too, will be far easier than it was in Egypt. “It’s not a heavy lift [this time],” notes Vaishnav. “I think that it’s going to go pretty well, the trip is largely symbolic rather than substantive.” Surely that’s a welcome alternative to brokering peace in the Middle East.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Narendra Modi and Michael Punke. Modi, now Prime Minister of India, was the chief minister of Gujarat from October, 2001, to May, 2014, and Punke is the U.S. Ambassador to the World Trade Organization.

TIME Middle East

Doctors Save Unborn Child of Pregnant Woman Killed in Gaza

The newborn girl, who is still in intensive care, was named after her late mother

Shayma was born during an attack on the Gaza strip. But when doctors pulled her tiny body from the womb, her mother Shayma al-Sheikh Qanan had already died, the AFP reported.

“We tried to revive her but she had died on the way to hospital,” Fadi al-Kharti, a doctor at Deir al-Balah hospital in Gaza, told AFP. “Then we noticed movement in her stomach, and estimated she was about 36 weeks pregnant,” he said.

The twenty-three-year-old was in her home in the central Gaza Strip town of Deir al-Balah when an explosion struck nearby. Doctors performed an emergency Caesarian section and saved the baby, who was named after her late mother.

The newborn, now four days old, is currently in an incubator in an intensive care unit, but doctors worry about long term damage to her brain as her mother was dead for more than an hour before she was born. She will have to spend at least three more weeks in the hospital, AFP reported.

Her father, a 27-year-old journalist, was also severely injured in the explosion.

In the past four weeks, more than 1,050 Palestinians have died, according to Palestinian health organizations. UN figures show that most of the casualties are civilians: more than 230 children and around 120 women have died so far in Gaza.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 29

1. As voter turnout falls, primary elections can be hijacked by small groups with narrow agendas. Primaries often fail to attract much media attention, depressing voter turnout in the future. We can break this cycle with a National Primary Election Day.

By Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution Center for Effective Public Management

2. To help defeat ISIS, the Muslim world must enact new regulations to stop the flow of money.

By Carol E. B. Choksy and Jamsheed K. Choksy at Yale Global

3. Tech startups are finally creating blue-collar jobs.

By Sam Rosen in Re/Code

4. No hope: The Defense Intelligence Agency chief fears there will be no Mideast peace in his lifetime.

By Yochi Dreazen in Foreign Policy

5. To achieve real social change, make your goals public and invite collaboration — with accountability.

By Jigar Shah in LinkedIn

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Middle East

Civilian Casualties in Gaza Slated to Rise as Israel, Hamas Intensify Fighting

Palestinians search for victims as people gather atop the remains of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 29, 2014.
Palestinians search for victims as people gather atop the remains of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 29, 2014. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa—Reuters

Any semblance of a possible ceasefire in the restive Palestinian coastal strip withered as fighting intensified throughout Monday night and into Tuesday morning

Chances of peace in the Gaza Strip looked very remote Tuesday morning, as Hamas militants penetrated Israel, and Israeli forces ratcheted up their military offensive in the Palestinian coastal territory.

Israeli aircraft, artillery and ground troops continued to pummel the conflict-ridden enclave after a raft of proposed humanitarian truces discussed over the weekend ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr ultimately failed to take root.

Live feeds broadcasted online throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday provided outsiders with a glimpse of the grim reality of life inside the besieged territory, as Operation Protective Edge entered its third week. Drones hummed out of sight and illumination flares cast an eerie light over Gaza’s skyline, while explosions rumbled in the darkness.

“[Israel] did a very, intensive bombing campaign last night that most people in Gaza say was the worst night of this conflict so far,” Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program, tells TIME.

On Tuesday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted the home of senior Hamas figure Ismail Haniyeh with aerial bombardments. The Al Shorouq building in central Gaza City, which is home to a television station affiliated with Hamas, was also hit with airstrikes. Despite the onslaught, the Hamas leadership struck a defiant tone.

“My house is not more valuable than the houses of other people, destroying stones will not break our determination,” said Haniyeh, according to a statement posted by his son on Facebook.

Earlier on Monday, Israeli media reported that Hamas forces succeeded in entering the country by way of an underground tunnel — the sixth such foray since hostilities erupted earlier this month. At least five Israeli soldiers and one militant were killed during the firefight that erupted near the site of the infiltration.

Following the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the airwaves to warn of a prolonged war with Hamas.

“Patience and determination are needed in order to continue the struggle against a murderous terrorist organization that aspires to our destruction,” he said.

“We will not complete the mission, we will not complete the operation, without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children.”

The Netanyahu Administration has pledged on myriad occasions to continue the ground offensive inside Gaza that began more than a week ago with the goal of dismantling a network of tunnels permeating Israel’s borders.

However, analysts say it’s unlikely the administration has any interest in deploying a full ground incursion in order to re-occupy dense urban areas of the Strip or upping their goals to include disarming Hamas.

“He’s limiting the scope of the operation, setting limited goals that are achievable so that he cannot be as easily accused of failure when it’s all over,” says Thrall.

But as the operation enters its 22nd day, the civilians of Gaza continue to bear the harshest burnt of the Israeli military operation.

The latest audit by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs put the kill count in Gaza at 1,065, a vast majority of which are believed to be civilians including hundreds of women and children. More than 50 Israeli have also died during the fighting, most of whom are soldiers.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly began inundating at least three Gaza neighborhoods in the past 24 hours with leaflets warning thousands of residents to evacuate the area ahead of an approaching assault. In response, the U.N. warned Israel against continuing with an intensified push into residential areas.

“This would have a further devastating humanitarian impact on the beleaguered civilians of those areas of the Gaza Strip, who have already undergone immense suffering in recent days,” read a statement released by the spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“The United Nations agencies present in Gaza do not have the resources on the ground to cope with, or provide assistance to, an enormous extra influx of desperate people.”

The fighting to date has displaced an estimated 215,000 people in Gaza.

TIME Australia

Bloodcurdling Images of Australian Jihadists Puts ‘Lucky Country’ on Edge

Australians protest Israeli attacks in Melbourne
Thousands of people stage a demonstration to protest the Israeli ongoing attacks in Gaza on July 26, 2014, in Melbourne, Australia. Recep Sakar—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Shocking photos emerge amid fears that the worsening conflict in Gaza will only prompt more young radical Muslims to enter the fray

The phenomenon of Australian jihadists fighting in the Middle East took a disturbing new turn last week when photos of a Caucasian man in mujahedin fatigues holding decapitated heads were posted on Twitter.

It follows the uploading last month of a YouTube video by the extremist Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) of two men with thick Australian accents calling on Westerners to join their violent quest to create a Muslim caliphate.

One of the pair, a teenager from Melbourne identified in the video as Abu Bakr al-Australi, later detonated an explosive belt in a crowded Baghdad marketplace, killing five people and wounding 90 more. He was the second Australian suicide bomber praised by ISIS in recent weeks; an estimated 200 Australian jihadists are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The figure puts Australia in the unenviable position as the highest foreign per capita contributor to the conflict in the Middle East, and providing the largest contingent of foreign fighters from a developed nation. And there are fears that the worsening conflict in Gaza will only prompt more radical young Muslims to enter the fray.

“The government is gravely concerned by the fact that Australian citizens are heading to Iraq and Syria not only to fight but to take leadership roles,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in parliament last week. She paused before adding, “There’s a real danger that these extremists also come back home as trained terrorists and pose a threat to our security.”

The man holding the decapitated heads in the Twitter feed turned out to be Khaled Sharrouf, a boxer from Sydney who was jailed for four years in 2005 for his role in planning the most serious terrorist plot Australia has ever seen. Despite his notoriety, Sharrouf managed to flee while on parole in January by using his brother’s passport to board a flight from Sydney to Southeast Asia from where he made his way to Syria.

The security breakdown has made Canberra redouble efforts to protect the nation from jihadists in the event they return home. Earlier this month, the attorney general’s office added ISIS to its list of terrorists organizations, making it a crime for an Australian to join them punishable with up to 25 years imprisonment.

On advice from intelligence agencies, the Foreign Ministry has canceled the passports of 40 Australians suspected of extremist links. More than $700 million in additional funding will be injected into customs and border patrol over the next six years. In 2015 the service will be streamlined under a tough new national-security agency named the Australian Border Force.

Professor Gary Bouma, acting director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Melbourne’s Monash University, agrees that returning jihadists pose “a very serious problem, as they will be ideologically energized.” But he adds some will have been pacified after witnessing the “hideous gore of battle and the unrighteousness of all sides.”

“The first thing that needs to happen is those people need to be reintegrated into society,” Bouma says. “That means counseling, getting them a job and ensuring their cultural and social needs are met. It’s a much healthier approach than isolating them.”

The leader of an Australian Muslim organization who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity says calling foreign combatants in Syria “terrorists” was wrong, as many had gone there to protect family members from President Bashar Assad’s repressive regime, which has unleashed torture, mass killings, starvation and chemical weapons upon Syrian civilians.

“The idea of them being terrorists just because they go to fight overseas, that is not a fair thing to say,” he says. “It’s also unreasonable to say just because they fought in Syria that they’re going to do the same thing when they come back home. There will always be one or two crazy fanatics among them, but they’re a minority. They’d have to be really misguided to try something here.”

Another community leader, Samier Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, has accused the government of double standards by outlawing those who fight in Syria while allowing others, namely members of Australia’s Jewish community, to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“It’s hard when you say something to one side, and they look and say ‘How come we’re not being treated the same?’ The law should be across everyone,” Dandan told the Australian Associated Press.

However, Rafael Epstein, author of Prisoner X, a book about an Australian lawyer who fought with the IDF and worked as an operative with Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, before going rogue, insists Dandan’s comparison is flawed.

“What he is saying is someone who fights for Israel will be just as radicalized and have just as many [warring] skills to pose a security risk to Australia,” Epstein says. “But the values under which someone would fight for Israel, a democratic country with the rule of law, are very different to the values someone would fight for under ISIS, and they’d be much closer to Australia’s values than ISIS’s.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott agrees. “The best thing we can do … is to ensure that jihadis do not come back to this country,” he said last month.

Whether that will be enough to maintain Australia’s record as one of the few major U.S. military partners in Afghanistan and Iraq to not have suffered a terrorist attack on its own soil remains open for discussion.

“U can’t stop me and trust me if I wanted to attack aus [sic] I could have easily,” tweeted convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf in a message taunting Australian federal police posted from the battleground in Syria. “I love to slaughter use [sic] and ALLAH LOVES when u dogs r slaughtered.”

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