TIME Middle East

Israel Attack on Gaza School Kills at Least 15, Health Ministry Says

A Palestinian man holds a girl, whom medics said was injured in an Israeli shelling at a U.N-run school sheltering Palestinian refugees, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014.
A Palestinian man holds a girl, whom medics said was injured in an Israeli shelling at a U.N-run school sheltering Palestinian refugees, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014. Finbar O'reilly—Reuters

An estimated 750 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its operation to counter rocket strikes from Hamas

At least 15 people were killed after Israeli forces struck a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians in northern Gaza, the Gaza Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Another 200 people were wounded in the attack, which marks the fourth time that a UN facility has been hit since Israel began Operation Protective Edge on July 8, the BBC reports.

Nearly 750 Palestinians and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting, which intensified last week when Israel launched a ground operation to destroy tunnels used by Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, to deploy a regular stream of rockets into Israel.

The international community has struggled to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, even as the United Nations has condemned both sides in the conflict.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday there was a “strong possibility” that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza while also condemning the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed “outrage and regret” after rockets were found to have been stored inside a UN building in Gaza.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza since the fighting, many of whom have taken shelter in UN buildings, the UN has said.

According to CBS, survivors at the school on Thursday said they were warned that the school was being targeted and were preparing to leave when Israeli forces opened fire. The Israeli military told CBS it was reviewing the incident.

[BBC]

TIME Middle East

The History of Israel’s Powerful Military

Since 1948, the IDF has been the country's only line of defense

+ READ ARTICLE

The men and women who make up the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are some of the most highly-trained in the world. By land, air, and sea, the IDF’s major objective is to protect the state of Israel.

The IDF was founded in May 1948 by Israel’s then Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion. A conscript force, it helped Israel win the 1948 Arab-Israeli war known there as the “War of Independence.”

The army’s public face has changed greatly in the decades since then. Today, the IDF’s social media presence is huge. They have more than 300,000 Twitter followers and an active Instagram page updated with politically charged memes and photos.

TIME Middle East

UN Human Rights Council Launches Inquiry into Gaza Conflict

Displaced Palestinians from Beit Hanoun sleep inside the UNRWA school in Jabalia, July 23, 2014.
Displaced Palestinians from Beit Hanoun sleep inside the UNRWA school in Jabalia, July 23, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls vote to open inquiry a "travesty"

Updated 6:30am ET

The UN Human Rights Council voted Wednesday to launch an inquiry into potential violations of human rights by Israel in its conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip — a move Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly labeled a “travesty.”

The council’s inquiry would investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” in Palestinian areas. The resolution was drafted by Palestine, and supported by 29 of the 46-member council. The U.S. voted against the resolution, while European countries abstained.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the UNHRC inquiry as a “travesty” and condemned the organization for failing to bring Hamas to account for its own conduct.

“The UNHRC is sending a message to Hamas and terror organizations everywhere that using civilians as human shields is an effective strategy,” said the prime minister in statement published on his official Facebook page.

The vote came after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay suggested that war crimes might have been committed in the Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of doing too little to avoid civilian deaths, and condemning Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks” on Israel.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the U.N. Human Rights Council. “Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated.”

Civilian casualties in Gaza have soared, according to the UN. As of Thursday, 757 Palestinians had been killed, of which 571 were civilians, including 182 children and 95 women, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. At least 30 Israelis have also been killed during the conflict, mostly members of the armed forces.

Israeli tanks and aircraft continued their thrust into the sliver of Palestinian coastal territory on Thursday, aiming to eliminate Hamas’s rocket systems and destroy the matrix of tunnels that Israel says the Islamist group uses to wage war.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it struck 35 targets overnight. But there were more reports of Palestinian civilians killed; six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp, according to the Associated Press.

While whispers of a possible humanitarian truce ahead of the upcoming Eid al-Fitr festival wafted through the social media sphere this week, there have been no concrete signs that such an armistice will be signed. “It would not be accurate to say that we expect a ceasefire by the weekend,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Reuters.

A smattering of international envoys have been shuttling across the Middle East throughout the week in attempt to wrangle up some sort of agreement that remained elusive as of Thursday morning.

In Qatar, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal signaled that the organization would consider a humanitarian ceasefire with Israel, but reiterated that his group would not strike a deal with the Netanyahu Administration until Israel agreed to end its seven-year blockade of Gaza.

“We will not accept any proposal that does not lift the blockade,” said the Hamas chief in a televised address Wednesday. “We do not desire war and we do not want it to continue but we will not be broken by it.”

Analysts say Israel is facing mounting global pressure as civilian losses grow in Gaza, but add that Hamas is facing plenty of pressures of its own.

“Hamas is on the receiving end and they can only go a certain distance in terms of absorbing losses and holding a united front within Gaza,” Sultan Barakat, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, tells TIME. “Soon they will run out of supplies. There will be an increased number of people displaced within Gaza and people will turn their anger towards them.”

TIME

Children Suffer as War Continues in Gaza and Israel

The father of 18-month-old Razel Netzlream, who was fatally wounded during an airstrike, carries her body right before her funeral, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, July 18, 2014.
The father of 18-month-old Razel Netzlream, who was fatally wounded during an air strike, carries her body right before her funeral in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on July 18, 2014 Alessio Romenzi

As Israel and Hamas continue fighting, children on both sides of the border are paying the price

Correction appended, July 23.

As the conflict in the Gaza Strip and Israel moves into its third week, the impact of the fighting on Palestinian and Israeli children has become a heart-breaking signature of the conflict. Reports from Gaza relay stories of shells destroying civilian homes, killing children sheltering within; of tank fire killing a 5-month-old baby; of a strike on a beach killing four young boys who had been kicking around a soccer ball. In Israel, parents hear the first wail of air-raid sirens, grab their frightened children and run for bomb shelters.

After two weeks of aerial attacks by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip — followed by a ground offensive that began last week — the statistics are just as grim as the news reports. UNICEF’s communications chief in Jerusalem, Catherine Weibel, says that according to U.N.’s figures at least 121 Palestinian children under the age of 18 have been killed since the conflict started on July 8, making up a full one-third of Palestinian civilian casualties. Between July 20 to July 21 alone, she says, “there were at least 28 children killed in Gaza.”

The conflict, which was, in part, precipitated by the killing of children — first the murder of three Israeli teens in late June and then one Palestinian teen earlier this month — has so far claimed the lives of a further 479 Palestinians and 27 Israelis, according to the latest U.N. figures. But it’s perhaps the escalating toll on innocent children that has drawn the greatest concern from human rights organizations, world leaders and critics of both Hamas and Israel. In a press conference on July 22, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a cease-fire, saying that “too many Palestinian and Israeli mothers are burying their children.” The day before, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a press conference that there was an urgent need to “stop the deaths of innocent civilians.”

In response to the outcry over the loss of children’s lives — much of it directed toward Israel — the Israeli military has said that it has gone to extensive lengths to prevent civilian deaths, while psychologists in Israel point out that the conflict has taken a toll on Israeli as well as Palestinian children.

Lieut. Colonel Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the IDF, tells TIME that Israel has made efforts to “encourage people to leave areas that were potential combat zones” by releasing leaflets, sending texts and making phone calls before the IDF launched its ground offensive. Lerner says that civilians are never the targets. “Some of the targets have been civilian homes that have been utilized for command and control positions by terrorists,” he says.

Bill Van Esveld, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch who is based in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, tells TIME that “given the fact that more than 50% of Gaza’s population is under 18 years old,” any attacks on the region’s densely packed residential areas are likely “going to harm civilians [and] chances are, given that population ratio, going to be killing kids.”

Given the large, young population in Gaza, experts say that many children are likely suffering from symptoms of trauma, even if they haven’t been physically injured. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that “at least 72,390 children require direct and specialized psychosocial support (PSS) on the basis of families who have experienced death, injury or loss of home over the past 10 days.” OCHA also expects that number to soar.

Israeli mother and son seen run to a bomb shelter as the siren goes off on July 14, 2014 at the city of Ashkelon.
An Israeli mother and her son run to a bomb shelter as the siren goes off in Ashkelon, Israel, on July 14, 2014. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

So far no Israeli children have been killed in the conflict and there are no reports of injuries. But Israeli activists and researchers report that the conflict has traumatized children on both sides of the walls and fences that separate Gaza from Israel. Hamas has fired 2,000 missiles into Israel, according to the IDF, since the conflict began. Says clinical psychologist Yotam Dagan, the international cooperation director at Natal, an Israeli nongovernmental organization that treats victims of trauma related to war and terror: “It’s not just an Israeli problem and it’s not just a Palestinian problem — children are children are children, everywhere. Whenever hostilities break, you know the fire starts to blow [and] children are the first and the most likely to be affected by the situation.”

“When we talk about psychological trauma it’s like an invisible bullet,” Dagan tells TIME, “nobody sees it, but this experience of being near death or being nearly killed or exposed to explosions and rockets falling — or even the fear — it’s like an invisible bullet that goes through your soul, through your mind.”

Irwin Mansdorf, an Israeli psychologist and fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, says that Israeli children exposed to attacks by Hamas are susceptible to “real clinical symptoms as a result of real, distressing events.” According to both psychologists, the symptoms of trauma in children, much like in adults, can include nightmares, flashbacks, detachment, anxiety, depression or acting out and regression.

Some Israeli children are also dealing with being displaced from their homes. Roni Taronski, 12, is seeking refuge — along with her mother, grandmother and aunt — in a boarding school about 11 miles (18 km) southeast from her home in Kibbutz Mefalsim, which is only a mile from the Gaza border and has become a target of Hamas rocket fire. “It’s not that we don’t want to go, everybody wants to go home,” she tells TIME. “We’re not allowed. Our houses are [like] a military base right now.” When asked how she’s feeling so far away from home, Roni says she’s homesick. She then adds, “I’m really scared.”

In Gaza, Samira Attar, a 13-year-old girl from the Beit Lahia neighborhood, is among the 100,000 Palestinians who are now displaced and seeking refuge in an U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school, where her mother Souad, says the sound of shelling keeps the family awake at night. “I hate this school,” Samira tells TIME. “I want to play with my cousins and sisters and live normally like others.”

Twelve-year-old Shahd Majed lies on a bed in Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, her leg injured by shrapnel from a shell or bomb that exploded near her house on July 21. “I hate the war,” she says. “I want it to end please. I want to return to normal life. Please let us live.”

— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza

Correction: An earlier version of this story drew a premature conclusion about the source of the Israeli attack that killed four boys in Gaza. Israel is still investigating the strike.

TIME Middle East

Israel: 3 Mortars Fired From Gaza During Cease-Fire

Israeli soldiers patrol along the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian coastal enclave before a five-hour truce went into effect, on July 17, 2014.
Israeli soldiers patrol along the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian coastal enclave before a five-hour truce went into effect, on July 17, 2014. Jack Guez—AFP/Getty Images

Israel has refused to say whether it will retaliate, though the military said previously it would respond if the cease-fire was broken

Palestinian militants fired three mortars from Gaza into southern Israel during a cease-fire, an Israeli military spokesperson tells TIME.

Israel and Hamas had agreed to a five-hour humanitarian cease-fire Thursday to allow the U.N. to deliver aid and supplies to the people of Gaza.

“Three mortars hit the Eshkol Regional Council area in southern Israel,” says the Israeli spokesperson. “The mortars landed in open area and there have been no fatalities or injuries.”

The incident is said to have happened around 12 p.m. local time, two hours after the cease-fire came into effect. Hamas has not yet issued a statement.

The Israeli spokesperson added that the military had previously said they would “respond immediately” if Palestinian militants breached the cease-fire agreement. However, she refused to comment on whether the Israel Defense Forces had any plans to retaliate.

The ongoing conflict, which began July 8, has seen 220 Palestinians and one Israeli killed, according to Palestinian and Israeli officials. The Palestinian health ministry say 1,450 Palestinians have been wounded as a result of Israeli strikes.

Israeli leaders have said the country began the military operation in a bid to stop Palestinian rocket attacks.

Thursday’s brief cease-fire comes two days after a cease-fire brokered by Egypt brokered failed. Though Israel agreed to Egypt’s terms, Hamas rejected them and launched more rockets into Israel.

TIME Middle East

Israel and Hamas Begin Humanitarian Cease-Fire

The crew of an Israeli self-propelled 155 mm howitzer of an artillery unit deployed at an unspecified location next to the Israeli border with Gaza prepares to fire toward targets in the Gaza Strip, 16 July 16, 2014.
The crew of an Israeli self-propelled 155 mm howitzer of an artillery unit deployed at an unspecified location next to the Israeli border with Gaza prepares to fire toward targets in the Gaza Strip, July 16, 2014. Atef Safadi—EPA

The two parties have begun observing a five-hour humanitarian cease-fire, as cross-border fighting has killed more than 220 Palestinians and one Israeli

(JERUSALEM) — Israel and Hamas began observing a five-hour humanitarian cease-fire on Thursday, after fighting raged until moments before the start of the pause and Israel vowed it would retaliate if Hamas breaks the calm.

At least three people were killed in the southern Gaza town of Rafah when an Israeli tank shell hit a house, Palestinian officials said, and Israel’s military said it thwarted an attack by more than a dozen Gaza militants who tunneled under the border.

The pause comes on the 10th day of fighting that has seen Israel carry out more than a thousand air strikes on the embattled Palestinian territory as Hamas has fired a similar number of rockets into Israel, extending their range to the country’s economic and cultural heartland.

The cross-border fighting has so far killed more than 230 Palestinians and an Israeli, according to officials.

The two sides agreed to the cease-fire following a request by the United Nations, to allow Palestinians to stock up on food, water and other necessities.

As the cease-fire began, the Bank of Palestine opened one of its branches in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood, with hundreds of people lining up to withdraw money.

While both Israel and Hamas said they would respect the pause in fighting, Israel said it would not hesitate to retaliate for any attacks.

“If the humanitarian window is exploited by Hamas for attacks against Israel, we will respond,” Israel’schief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz, told Israeli Channel 2. “If we need to attack we will act without hesitation.”

Fighting continued early Thursday in the lead-up to the cease-fire, with the military saying it foiled an attack by 13 militants who sneaked into Israel through a tunnel from Gaza. Israeli aircraft struck the fighters at the mouth of the tunnel some 250 meters (820 feet) inside Israel, near a kibbutz.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said the military believed at least one militant was killed in the strike and that the remaining fighters appeared to have returned to Gaza through the tunnel. Footage released by the military showed a number of individuals creeping slowly toward what appeared to be a hole in the ground. A separate shot showed an explosion from an airstrike on the tunnel entrance.

Lerner said the attack “could have had devastating consequences” and said the militants were armed with “extensive weapons,” including rocket-propelled grenades.

Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility for the infiltration, saying in a statement that “during the withdrawal after the completion of its mission,” the militants were struck by “jet fighters.” It said the group returned safely, however, and that no one was killed.

Lerner said the cease-fire would go ahead despite the incident. It was the second time militants attempted to sneak into Israel in this round of fighting. Last week, four fighters were killed when they infiltrated Israel from the sea.

The military also said 15 rockets were fired at Israel Thursday morning, including toward areas in the center, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

In fighting early Thursday, Israeli aircraft struck 37 targets, including the homes of senior Hamas leaders Fathi Hamad and Khalil al-Haya, the military said.

The killing of the three people by the tank shell in Rafah was confirmed by the Hamas-run police and Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra.

The Gaza Interior Ministry had earlier said that 30 houses were struck in the Israeli raids. Four people were killed and a 75-year-old woman died of wounds suffered the day before, the ministry said.

Egypt has meanwhile resumed efforts to broker a longer-term truce after its initial plan was rejected by Hamas earlier in the week. Hamas, which seized Gaza seven years ago, wants international guarantees that the territory’s blockade by Israel and Egypt will be eased significantly and that Israel will release Palestinian prisoners.

A senior Hamas official said the group’s deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, met with Egyptian officials Wednesday night to present Hamas’ demands for a cease-fire, which were also delivered to Jordan and the U.N. The official said Hamas wants countries other than Egypt to be involved in forging an agreement to end the fighting, a sign of Hamas’ mistrust of Cairo.

Egypt, the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, has often served as a mediator between Israeland Hamas. But Hamas’ position vis-a-vis Egypt has been weakened following the ouster last year of President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist and close ally of Hamas.

Egypt’s new leaders have since launched a sweeping crackdown on Hamas, shutting down a network of smuggling tunnels along the border that were the Islamic militant group’s key economic lifeline — and weapons supply route.

The official spoke of condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the diplomatic steps with the media.

___

Laub reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.

TIME Middle East

American Teen Beaten in the Middle East Returns to Florida

Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, and his mother flew back to Tampa on a flight arriving from New York and were greeted by about 50 cheering supporters

(TAMPA, Fla.) — The Palestinian-American teenager who relatives allege was beaten by Israeli authorities returned home to Florida late Wednesday, saying he will never think of freedom in the same way again.

Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, and his mother flew back to Tampa on a flight arriving from New York and were greeted by about 50 cheering supporters waving American and Palestinian flags. The Khdeirs had flown out of Israel earlier in the day.

“I am only 15 but I will never think of freedom the same as I did two months ago,” Tariq said upon arrival at Tampa International Airport. “No child, whether they are Palestinian or Israeli, deserves to die.”

The teenager said the thoughts and prayers of the supporters had helped him, adding “I got through these past two weeks because I knew you were all thinking of me.”

Now, he said, he just wanted time with friends and to relax. “It feels so good to be back in Tampa. Can I even put it in words? I can’t wait to go back to play with my friends and go fishing,” he added, speaking only minutes.

Hassan Shibly, the teen’s attorney and the executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had said Tariq suffered head trauma and had to receive stitches on his face when beaten two weeks ago as he was arrested during a protest. Supporters say Tariq’s beating was videotaped. The Israeli justice ministry has said an investigation has been opened into the footage.

There were no immediately apparent signs of injuries to Khdeir on his arrival.

Israeli authorities released Tariq shortly after his arrest and sentenced him to nine days of house arrest while they investigated what they say was his participation in violent protests over the death of Tariq’s cousin, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. His family denied that he participated in the protests. Palestinians suspect Mohammed Abu Khdeir was killed by Israeli extremists exacting revenge for the abduction and killings of three Israeli teens in the West Bank last month.

His mother, Suha Khdeir, said Wednesday in Tampa that the last two weeks had been a “nightmare.” She wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke and added she was “grateful” for the support she received at home in the Tampa area.

“I cannot begin to describe to you the pain I felt when I looked at his face for the first time after that beating,” she said.

Friends and family have said Tariq went on a vacation to visit relatives he hadn’t seen in about 10 years — not to be part of a conflict. They have described him as a good student who likes basketball, soccer and video games.

Tariq’s arrest happened shortly before Israel attacked Gaza to stop Hamas members from launching rockets into its territory. Earlier Wednesday, Israel and Hamas agreed to a five-hour U.N. brokered “humanitarian” pause to their 9-day-long battle, offering the most encouraging sign yet that the fierce fighting could come to an end. Israel’s bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 200 Palestinians, including four boys struck on a beach Wednesday by shells fired from a navy ship.

TIME Israel

Israel, Hamas Agree to Temporary Humanitarian Cease-Fire in Gaza

Sister of a Palestinian boy from Baker family, whom medics said was killed along with three other children from same family by a shell fired by Israeli naval gunboat, mourns during their funeral in Gaza City
The sister (C) of a Palestinian boy from the Baker family, whom medics said was killed along with three other children from the same family by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat, mourns during their funeral in Gaza City July 16, 2014. Mohammed Salem—Reuters

Israel and Hamas have reportedly accepted plea for a five-hour "humanitarian pause" to fighting in Gaza brokered by the United Nations.

Updated July 16, 7:40 p.m. ET

Hamas agreed to accept a humanitarian cease-fire for a five-hour period on Thursday, as requested by the United Nations. “The group agrees to a ceasefire for five hours,” starting from 10:00 am (0700 GMT) Thursday, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zukhri said in a statement to Agence France-Presse. Hamas’ agreement comes after Israel already approved the deal, which United Nations Special Coordinator Robert Serry called a “humanitarian pause.”

Serry asked for the “pause” in the region on an Israeli television station on Wednesday evening so that humanitarian aid can be delivered to Gaza.

A spokesperson at the United Nations told TIME the cease-fire is a temporary cease-fire which would not prejudice larger efforts to bring a cease-fire to the region.

The request for a temporary cease-fire comes after the militant group Hamas on Tuesday declined an Egyptian effort to call a longer-lasting truce.

At least 200 Palestinians and one Israeli have died since this latest bout of fighting began 9 days ago, CBS News reports. A rocket attack in Gaza City Wednesday reportedly killed four young boys playing on the beach, the New York Times reports. UN officials say at least 75% of the Palestinian casualties have been civilians.

During a statement on foreign policy Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said that Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks, noting he is proud that the “Iron Dome” system the U.S. helped fund is working. But he added the U.S. is working to pursue a long-term cease-fire in the region.

“The Israeli people and Palestinians deserve to live in peace,” Obama said.

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