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.”

TIME Gaza

Israel Targets Symbols of Hamas Control in Gaza

APTOPIX Israel Palestinians
In this image taken from video, an explosion hits the media complex that houses the offices of Hamas-run al-Aqsa television and radio in central Gaza City early on July 29, 2014 AP

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — Israeli aircraft, tanks and navy gunboats targeted symbols of Hamas control in Gaza City early Tuesday in the heaviest night of bombardment in three weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a “prolonged” campaign in Gaza.

The overnight strikes hit the home of the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, as well as government offices and the headquarters of the Hamas satellite TV station.

Israeli forces fired hundreds of flares that turned the night sky bright orange. By daybreak Tuesday, a cloud of thick dust from the explosions hung over Gaza City.

A Palestinian health official put the overall Gaza death toll at 1,110. Israel has lost 53 soldiers, including four killed Monday in a mortar attack in southern Israel, along with two civilians and a Thai national.

Signaling an escalation of Israel’s Gaza operation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Monday to be ready for a “prolonged” war, and the military warned Palestinians in three large neighborhoods to leave their homes and head immediately for Gaza City.

At dawn Tuesday, plumes of smoke rose above the Al Shorouq media building in central Gaza City which houses the offices of the Hamas-run Al Aqsa television and radio. Hours earlier, at least two major explosions hit the media building, one of the tallest in Gaza, starting a fire on the roof and and shaking surrounding buildings.

AP video showed a massive flash as the first strike hit the top of the building, sending debris raining down. The building also houses offices of a number of Arab satellite television news channels.

The Abu Khadra government complex in Gaza City was also badly damaged by the Israeli attacks.

Hamas leaders remained defiant in the aftermath of the Israeli onslaught

“My house is not more valuable than the houses of other people, destroying stones will not break our determination,” Haniyeh said in a statement.

Netanyahu defended the Gaza air and ground offensive, saying in a televised speech Monday that “there is no war more just than this.”

The overnight strikes came after a day of heavy Hamas-Israeli fighting in which nine children were killed by a strike on a Gaza park where they were playing, according to Palestinian health officials — a tragedy that each side blamed on the other.

Israeli tanks also resumed heavy shelling in border areas of Gaza, killing five people, including three children and a 70-year-old woman, and wounding 50 in the town of Jebaliya, which was among the areas warned to evacuate, the Red Crescent said.

Many Jebaliya residents said they did not dare attempt an escape. Sufian Abed Rabbo said his extended family of 17 had taken refuge under the stairway in their home.

“God help us. We have nothing to do but pray,” the 27-year-old told The Associated Press by phone. “I don’t know who left and who stayed, but in our street, we are all very scared to move.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the reports of Israeli forces dropping leaflets over northern Gaza Monday evening warning tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes and evacuate to Gaza City, according to a statement released by his spokesman.

“If true, 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,” it said. “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 latest bloodshed came despite mounting international calls for a cease-fire and followed failed attempts by both sides to agree to even a lull in fighting of several hours for the start of the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr that marks the end of Ramadan.

The Hamas-run health ministry said 10 people, including nine children under the age of 12, were killed and 46 wounded in the blast at a park in the Shati refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City.

Each side blamed the other.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said the explosion was caused when a rocket launched by Gaza militants misfired and landed in the park. Palestinian police and civil defense said an Israeli missile hit as children were playing on a swing set.

“The children were playing and were happy, enjoying Eid, and they got hit,” said Nidal Aljerbi, a witness.

After three weeks of bloodshed, both Israel and Hamas are holding out for bigger gains and a cease-fire remains elusive, despite an appeal by the U.N. Security Council and growing pressure from the United States.

Israel says its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished scores of Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border that militants use to infiltrate Israel and smuggle weapons. Hamas says it will not cease fire until it receives international guarantees Gaza’s 7-year-old border blockade by Egypt and Israel will be lifted.

Israel has said it is defending its citizens against attack from Gaza by hitting Hamas rocket launchers, weapons storage sites and military tunnels. However, there is growing U.S. frustration with the mounting number of Palestinian casualties — the vast majority of them civilians.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.

The Obama administration pushed back Monday against a torrent of Israeli criticism over Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.

“It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Her comments were echoed by the White House, where officials said they were disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as more favorable to Hamas.

Israel had accepted an Egyptian call for an unconditional cease-fire early in its Gaza campaign, but Hamas rejected the idea.

Netanyahu said Monday that Israel won’t end its offensive until Hamas’ network of tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border has been neutralized. “We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign,” he said. “We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded defiantly. “His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people, and the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children,” he said.

Israel’s last major Gaza invasion ended in January 2009 after 23 days, one-third of that time with troops on the ground. Already, the current ground operation, which began 11 days ago, has lasted longer than the one in 2009.

In recent days, Israeli leaders have debated whether to withdraw from Gaza after the tunnels are demolished, or to expand the ground operation to deliver a more painful blow against Hamas. Those in favor of an escalation have argued that unless Hamas is toppled and disarmed, a new round of Israel-Gaza fighting is inevitable. Opponents say attempting to reoccupy densely populated Gaza, even if for a short period, could quickly entangle Israel politically and militarily and drive up the number of dead.

In his remarks Monday, Netanyahu didn’t let on which way he is leaning. However, he insisted that “preventing the arming of terror groups and demilitarizing Gaza must be part of any solution,” indicating that Israel’s aims are broader than initially stated.

For now, ground forces have largely operated on the edges of Gaza.

The Israeli military has said it has located 31 tunnels, is aware of the existence of 10 more and has so far demolished close to 20.

Gaza militants have repeatedly used the tunnels to sneak into Israel, including on Monday when several infiltrated into southern Israel. The army said one Hamas militant coming through a tunnel was killed in a firefight, but that searches in the area were continuing.

The Hamas military wing said nine of its fighters infiltrated and attacked an army post.

After three weeks of battle, “our fighters still have a lot of surprises in store for the leaders of the occupation and their elite soldiers,” the group said in a statement.

The blast at the Gaza park occurred within minutes of a separate strike Monday afternoon on nearby Shifa Hospital, Gaza City’s largest medical facility. Several people were wounded in the blast near one of the hospital’s outpatient clinics, Hamas health officials said.

Lerner, the army spokesman, denied Israel was involved in the two attacks. “This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit the Shifa Hospital and the Beach (Shati) camp,” he said, adding that the military had identified 200 “failed launchings” so far.

Early Tuesday, the military released aerial photographs that it said showed the paths of two misfired Hamas rockets it said hit the park and Shifa Hospital. It said the rockets were detected by Israeli military radar and sensors.

Gaza’s police operations room and civil defense department blamed the attacks on Israeli airstrikes.

Gaza’s Interior Ministry spokesman Eyad al-Bozum said he believes that shrapnel found in the dead and wounded is evidence of Israel’s role in the incident.

TIME

Gaza Bloodshed Continues Despite UN’s Call For Cease-Fire

Israel and Hamas blame each other for blasts that killed at least 10 children and injured dozens of others just hours after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon demanded an end to the violence

TIME Middle East

Bloody Day in Gaza as Calls for Cease-Fire Intensify

Palestinian mourners cry at Gaza City's al-Shifa hospital after an explosion killed at least seven children in a public playground in the beachfront Shati refugee camp on July 28, 2014.
Palestinian mourners cry at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City after an explosion killed at least seven children in a public playground in the beachfront Shati refugee camp on July 28, 2014 Mahmud Hams—AFP/Getty Images

Israel and Hamas point the finger at each other for an attack on a Gaza hospital that left at least 10 dead

Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET

The U.N. Security Council’s call for an immediate cease-fire between Israeli forces and Hamas failed to cease violence in Gaza on Monday, as two large attacks left over a dozen dead and scores wounded.

Israel and Hamas traded blame for explosions at al-Shifa Hospital and a nearby refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Monday, which killed at least 10 children and left at least 30 people dead or wounded, NBC reports.

Hamas said the explosions were a “direct” strike by Israeli drones, while Israel said they were caused by failed militant rockets. “A short while ago Al-Shifa hospital was struck by a failed rocket attack launched by Gaza terror organizations,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that “there was no Israeli military activity in the area surrounding the hospital whatsoever. “

At least four people were also killed by a mortar shell in Eshkol, in Israel’s southern district close to the border with the Gaza Strip, the Jerusalem Post reports. At least six others were seriously injured.

The attacks came just hours after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon echoed calls from the U.N. Security Council for an immediate cease-fire. “In the name of humanity, the violence must stop,” he said, according to the BBC.

Over 1,030 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health organizations, many of them children. A daily report for July 28 by the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that in just the past 24-hour period, 74 Palestinians had been killed. Israel says it has lost 43 soldiers and two civilians.

Ban called for an end to the violence out of respect for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday commemorating the end of Ramadan. “It’s a matter of their political will,” he said. “They have to show their humanity as leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian.”

His statements follow the Security Council’s call for a “durable” truce that would stop the violence and lead to substantial talks. The Palestinian representative to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, said that didn’t go far enough, and he demanded a formal resolution calling for Israel to remove troops from Gaza.

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor said the Security Council’s statement was slated toward the Palestinians by failing to mention Hamas and the recent rocket attacks, the BBC reports.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 28

1. Hamas doesn’t want to beat Israel in the current battle of Gaza, they want to beat Fatah for the hearts of the Palestinian people.

By Hicham Mourad in Al-Ahram

2. The State Department is fighting a losing social media war with terrorists.

By Jacob Silverman in Politico

3. We shouldn’t need a guide: When to use ethnic slurs.

By Eric Liu in the Atlantic

4. Beyond producing more scientists, STEM education gives us creative problem-solvers who thrive in business and leadership.

By Jonathan Wei in Quartz

5. Giving while living: Americans should engage in philanthropy when they’re young.

By Christopher Oechsli in the Chronicle of Philanthropy

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

TIME Middle East

U.N. Security Council Calls for Unconditional Cease-Fire in Gaza

The international body agreed on a demand for an immediate truce in Gaza on Monday, following the resumption of fighting between Hamas and Israel

+ READ ARTICLE

The UN Security Council called for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” in the Gaza Strip, along with the “the delivery of urgently needed assistance” to the residents of the conflict-riven coastal territory during an emergency meeting in the early hours of Monday morning.

The 15-member council’s call for all “parties to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire” came as the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr commenced on Monday, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The renewed push for an end to hostilities follows the collapse of a humanitarian agreement over the weekend after Hamas fired a salvo of rockets into Israel that was then followed by the renewed shelling of Gaza by Israeli forces.

There is little evidence to suggest that either side trusts the other enough to follow through with another deal, according to Lina Khatib, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Israel and Hamas both did not abide by the truce even though they said they agreed to it. The fighting that’s restarted by both sides is a sign that each of them was expecting the other to break the truce first,” she told TIME.

“There’s a dynamic of mistrust that has overwhelmed any desire to engage in truces on both sides.”

During an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that his administration was not obliged to agree to another armistice that would allow Hamas “to rearm, and continue firing on our citizens.”

“We’ll determine what is important for our own security in the way that we can to protect our people, including working against these terror tunnels that they’re digging against us,” said Netanyahu. “That’s how we’ll act.”

At least 999 Palestinians have been killed and another 6,233 injured during the first 20 days of Israeli military’s offensive into Gaza, according to the latest tally by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Forty-six Israelis have been killed, including two civilians and one foreign national.

Hamas has rejected several cease-fire initiatives, including the U.S.-backed deal tabled by Cairo earlier this month, and said it will continue to do so until the Netanyahu Administration agrees to terminate its seven-year blockade of Gaza. In an exclusive interview with Charlie Rose that is set to air on Monday, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal reiterated the organization’s position. “Life is a right for our people in Palestine,” said Meshaal. “This is a collective punishment. We need to lift the siege.”

Analysts explain that Hamas’s obstinacy reflects the group’s desire to remain a political mainstay in the Israeli-Palestinian equation, after joining a unity government with the Palestinian Authority earlier this year. “Hamas wants to prove that it can make demands and it can deliver results,” says Khatib. “So it’s important for its own credibility to show that it can make demands and see the results.”

TIME Israel

Israel Acknowledges Mortar Strike at UN School, But Denies Casualties

Blood stains of displaced Palestinians are seen inside the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun after it has been hit, Gaza Strip, July 24, 2014.
Blood stains of displaced Palestinians are seen inside the UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun after it had been hit, Gaza Strip, July 24, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

But Israel says the shell didn't kill anyone, while Palestinian officials claimed it took 16 lives

Israeli military officials acknowledged Sunday that a mortar shell fried by Israeli troops landed in the courtyard of a UN school in Gaza, but they deny reports the shell killed more than a dozen people when it exploded there Thursday.

Palestinian officials, meanwhile, have claimed the mortar killed 16 people and injured others at the Beit Hanoun school, which had been converted into a shelter for Gazans fleeing ongoing fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip.

“A single errant mortar landed” on the school, Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Sunday, citing an internal military probe, but he said it was “extremely unlikely that anybody was killed as a result of this mortar,” the Associated Press reports.

Israel first promised to investigate the incident after news reports citing witnesses, including a Reuters photographer on the scene, began to arise Thursday. Israel initially said that militants near the school had opened fire on Israeli troops, and the soldiers responded “in order to eliminate the threat posed to their lives.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the attack Thursday, though he said at the time that “circumstances are still unclear.” Ban earlier said that rockets had been found in two separate evacuated UN schools, saying that “those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets.”

[AP]

TIME Israel

Hamas Agrees to Cease-Fire, but Rockets Keep Flying

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
Palestinians carry items and belongings they found in the rubble of destroyed buildings on July 27, 2014 in the Shejaiya residential district of Gaza City as families returned to find their homes ground into rubble by relentless Israeli tank fire and air strikes. Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

The governing authority in the Gaza strip agreed to a cease-fire, but the violence continues

Updated: 3:55 p.m. ET, July 27, 2014

Propositions for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip collapsed Sunday, with the death toll on both sides increasing as Hamas continued to lob rockets into Israel and Israeli military forces renewed their ground operation in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Hamas is “continuing all its operations” despite agreeing Sunday to a temporary cease-fire extension after it initially refused to do so.

“We’re faced with a very ruthless terrorist enemy,” Netanyahu told CNN on Sunday, accusing Hamas of hiding behind “civilians as human shields.”

By midafternoon on Sunday, militants had fired more than 40 rockets from Gaza, the Israeli military said, killing an Israeli soldier near the border. Meanwhile, Israeli troops pounded the coast, killing four Palestinians.

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Netanyahu by phone Sunday, according to a White House readout of the call, telling the Israeli leader the U.S. condemns Hamas’ attacks against Israel but also reiterating the U.S.’s “serious and growing concern” about casualties on both sides of the conflict, as well as “the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.” Obama also “made clear the strategic imperative” of an immediate humanitarian cease-fire that leads to a broader end to the violence.

On Saturday, after intense efforts by the U.S. and U.N., Hamas and Israeli agreed to a 12-hour lull, which allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies and Palestinians to return to neighborhoods reduced to rubble, the Associated Press reports.

That cease-fire officially ended at 8 p.m. on Saturday, the New York Times reports, after which Israel announced it would hold fire for another 24 hours at the request of the U.N. Hamas, however, rejected Israel’s cease-fire extension on the grounds that Israeli forces would remain in Gaza. Israeli military spokesman Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner said that Hamas fired 25 rockets and mortar shells into Israel. In response, Israel resumed its operations Sunday morning.

Early on Sunday — before a new wave of attacks began — Hamas backtracked and announced it would embrace a cease-fire.

Hamas’ decision came “in response to the intervention of the United Nations,” said a Hamas official in Gaza, and to aid the people of Gaza in preparation for Eid al-Fitr, the three-day holiday that marks the end of the Ramadan holy month. A spokesman for Hamas said the truce would go into effect at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

But as rocket fire continued on Sunday, the prospects of a lasting cease-fire dimmed. Hamas has said it will refuse a cease-fire as long as Israeli troops occupy the Gaza strip.

The latest attempt at a cease-fire deal comes 10 days after Israel launched a ground and aerial operation against Hamas targets in Gaza following several days of rocket and bombing attacks from both sides of the conflict. More than 1,050 Palestinians have been killed in the 20-day bombing and subsequent invasion, the vast majority of them civilians, according to Palestinian health officials. Two Israeli civilians and 43 Israeli soldiers have died.

[CNN]

TIME Israel

Cease-Fire Ends in Gaza

APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
A Palestinian woman carries her belongings past the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, July 26, 2014. Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

Israel reports rocket fire from Gaza

Updated 3:11 p.m. ET

The Israeli military reported rocket fire from Gaza Saturday after militant Islamic group Hamas rejected Israel’s proposed extension of a truce by four hours.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri rejected an offer announced by Israeli Cabinet member Yuval Steinitz to extend the 12-hour truce by four hours, the Associated Press reports.

The end of cease-fire comes on the same day as the death toll in Gaza hit 1,000 people, according to Gaza health official Asharf al-Kidra.

Western officials including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon are currently meeting in Paris in an attempt to create a deal that could provide a longterm truce.

[AP]

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