TIME Palestine

Tensions Swell in the West Bank as Gaza Offensive Rages

An Israeli armed vehicle seen passing near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.
An Israeli armed vehicle seen passing near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Israel rejected a ceasefire proposal from U.S. Secretary or State John Kerry as thousands of demonstrators raged against the Israeli military’s military operation in the Gaza Strip

Tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories remained high Friday as Israel rejected a ceasefire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry amid ongoing clashes between protesters and Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.

At least five Palestinians were killed near the Qalandiyah checkpoint in the West Bank and another 200 injured after Israeli security forces fired live rounds into the crowd, reports The Los Angeles Times. An Israeli military spokesman told the Washington Post that an estimated 10,000 protesters “were rioting violently” on Thursday night, prompting the violent crackdown by riot police.

Israeli news outlets said the West Bank demonstrations were the largest since a five-year uprising in the territory ended in 2005. Palestinian leaders have called for the observance of a day of anger, which prompted Israel to dispatch thousands of security officials to Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of Friday prayers.

A number of diplomatic envoys, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have been canvassing the region to try to broker a truce.

In Cairo Friday for meetings with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Secretary Kerry called for a ceasefire on humanitarian grounds lasting at least five days amid a mounting civilian death toll in the conflict. Israeli’s security cabinet met Friday in Tel Aviv to discuss the temporary ceasefire and rejected the proposal, which would have gone into effect Sunday, reports Haaretz.

The Egyptian government tabled a U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal earlier this month calling for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas before negotiations over a seven-year blockade of Gaza commence. Israel endorsed the deal, while Hamas has continued to call for an end to the siege before signing a truce.

“The Israelis somehow seem to think they can do something through Egypt, where the present regime hates Hamas as much as it hates its own Muslim brethren,” Peter Sluglett, director of the Middle East Institute of National University of Singapore, tells TIME. “Really there is no future in that.”

Cairo has traditionally helped broker peace deals with Israel in the past, including the last ceasefire it signed with Hamas in 2012. However, experts say the calculus in Egypt has shifted since a military coup ousted the pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood from power a year ago.

Following the putsch, the Egyptian military dismantled numerous tunnels linking the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, which has increased the choke hold on the Strip’s economy and brought Hamas’s finances to a breaking point.

“What is important to me is there should be a genuine guarantee to lift the siege on Gaza,” said Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during an interview on BBC’s Hardtalk this week. “These promises have been made in the past. Nothing was done.”

Rather than continue to work through Cairo, analysts have suggested a shift to Qatar, where Meshaal is currently based.

“I genuinely believe that the international community should do a few things,” says Sultan Barakat, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “One is maybe turn its attention to Qatar instead of Egypt as a potential place for mediation given that Qatar, unlike Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, continues its contacts with Hamas.”

As diplomatic wrangling over a potential peace deal continued, Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip carried on.

The U.N. Offices for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on Friday that 814 people in the Palestinian coastal territory have been killed since the military offensive began, the vast majority of whom are civilians. At least 37 Israelis have died during the fighting, including two civilians and a foreign laborer.

On Friday morning, the Israel Defense Forces reportedly struck 30 targets and claimed to kill a senior Islamic Jihad militant.

TIME Israel-Gaza conflict

As Israel Fights Hamas in Gaza, Egypt Plays the Peacemaker Once Again

APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City on July 24, 2014. Adel Hana—AP

Egypt craves Western and Arab approval but fears strengthening Hamas

John Kerry, the beleaguered U.S. Secretary of State, arrived in Cairo Monday to try and broker another cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian militant group which controls the Gaza Strip. But it’s not the U.S. that’s most likely to get a deal done – it’s Egypt.

Egypt has often played the role of negotiator when conflicts between Israel and Hamas have bubbled up in the past. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak brokered a cease-fire between them in 2009. After Mubarak was given the boot in 2011, it was left to Mohamed Morsi to negotiate the next truce.

Cairo, though, has a rough road ahead. Israel and Hamas aren’t likely to seek a cease-fire just yet, as both are claiming successes in their latest bout of violence. Israel says it’s destroying Hamas’ tunnel network. Hamas, meanwhile managed to scare several international airlines away from flying to Israel for a few days for fear of rocket attacks. It also claimed to have captured an Israeli soldier.

Egypt’s position as peacemaker dates back to 1979, when then-president Anwar Sadat, exhausted by Egypt’s 30 years of war with Israel, signed a peace agreement between the two countries. It was a deeply controversial decision — Israel is not, and was not, considered a traditional ally by other Arab countries. Sadat was assassinated two years later.

“In the intervening 35 years [since 1979], Egypt has always played an important role, both because of its geography and the peace treaty,” says Robert Danin, Senior Fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations. “It is the largest Arab country and still has a leadership role.”

Yet for Egypt’s current president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who took control after playing a key role in ousting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi, the peace treaty and its accompanying accord agreeing to Palestinian autonomy no longer carry much weight.

“The view in the west is Egypt has traditionally played [the role of peacemaker] and this is a role they should play now,” says Eric Trager, Wagner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But Sisi is in an existential conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hamas is the Palestinian equivalent. Egypt views Hamas as the same as the enemy they’re fighting at home … It’s not going to offer cease-fire terms that are at all favorable to Hamas.”

International diplomacy isn’t exactly at the top of Sisi’s agenda, either. Facing upheavals in Egypt’s Western Desert and the Sinai, plus the ever-present threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s president has his own domestic conflicts to sort out.

It’s easy to assume that a prolonged war between Israel and Hamas would benefit Egypt, who wants to see Hamas weakened. But Danin thinks otherwise, as Egypt’s Arab partners put pressure on it to act.

‘”At a certain point [conflict] isn’t [beneficial],” says Danin. “When things get out of hand, the perception in the Arab world is that Israel is slaughtering Palestinians … it puts Egypt in a difficult position.”

Egypt’s acting as a negotiator not only appeases the Arab world — its financial backers in the Gulf States particularly — but the U.S. as well.

“Sisi needs to establish his credibility in the West,” says Dr. Claire Spencer, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House. Brokering a cease-fire presents “Egypt as a power to be reckoned with,” she adds.

If Egypt can help put an end to Israel’s current invasion in Gaza, it will be lauded as a peacemaker and a key player in international diplomacy. Yet Sisi may have darker motives for getting involved with negotiations. Cairo’s current record on rule of law, democracy and human rights is dubious, to say the least. The recent sentencing of three Al-Jazeera journalists to seven years in jail is only one example of this. “When people are focusing on Israel this is good,” says Danin. “It means people aren’t focusing on Egypt.”

Sisi, then, is torn. Arranging a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will paint him as a hero to the West and the Arab world, both sick of the bloodshed in Gaza. Yet any cease-fire that benefits Hamas will cost him support amongst his party and strengthen an enemy. Caught in this deadlock, a truce looks unlikely. Whatever Sisi suggests, Hamas is almost sure to refuse.

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 Palestine

Watch: Paramedics in Gaza Face Incoming Fire to Save Lives

Paramedics work 24-hour shifts under heavy shelling

+ READ ARTICLE

Paramedics are often among those first to a horrific scene. But in the latest flare-up between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, the AFP reports, they are also coming under fire or witnessing the deaths of children and colleagues.

“The ambulance worker is the one who arrives first so he sees with his own eyes what has happened, what the injuries look like, what the situation is, what the truth is,” Adel al-Azbut, 30, a paramedic, told AFP.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday condemned the shelling of the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir El Balah that left at least five people dead and added to a growing fear that few safe havens are left in the enclave.

Paramedics had to bury a colleague who was killed this week when his ambulance was hit by an Israeli rocket. “The situation is very hard. We’re in a war that is affecting everyone—the citizens, the paramedics themselves,” said Jihad Selim, a paramedic shift supervisor. “They don’t go home. They’re only able to check on their families by phone—it’s tense.”

At least 632 Palestinians had been killed as of Wednesday, a figure that UNICEF reported includes at least 121 children under the age of 18. Almost 30 Israelis have died in the offensive, nearly all of them soldiers.

TIME Israel

Kerry Lands in Israel in Attempt to Broker Ceasefire

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Relatives mourn Palestinian Mohammad al-Hamaydeh during his funeral in Gaza Strip on July 22, 2014 Eyad Baba—AP

As latest death toll from the offensive rose to 650 Palestinian dead, and 30 Israeli

Updated 7:12am

Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv Wednesday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as the Israeli offensive into the Palestinian coastal strip entered its third week.

Kerry hopes to broker a deal for what the U.N. described as an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in the escalating war in Gaza. The bloodshed showed little sign of abating throughout Tuesday evening. The Israel Defense Forces reported 30 “terrorists” had been killed in the past 24 hours, while Hamas fired barrages of rockets back into Israel.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 650 Palestinian fatalities, of which 77% were civilians, according to the latest figures from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). At least 30 Israelis have been killed during the conflict, the majority of which are soldiers. Two Israeli soldiers were killed during Tuesday evening’s operations. An additional 135,000 Palestinians are currently displaced across the Gaza Strip.

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief came close to accusing Israel of perpetrating war crimes by taking insufficient care to avoid killing civilians. “There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” said Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Analysts say the IDF’s continued onslaught targeting Hamas is unlikely to alter Gazans’ feelings toward the Islamist organization.

“Every time Israel engages in an over-the-top reaction to assaults by Hamas, the more the people in Gaza rally around Hamas and become more sympathetic to it,” Lina Khatib, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, tells TIME. “When civilians are attacked by Israel, the sense of resentment amongst the population in Gaza grows and Hamas can capitalize on the sense of grievance.”

Despite the acceleration of diplomatic initiatives across the region, the conflict showed little sign of ebbing as of Wednesday.

Israel continues to support a cease-fire proposal tabled by Cairo earlier this month, but Hamas has refused to accept a truce until the crippling, seven-year blockade on the Strip is lifted.

In Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s position to Ban Ki-moon and chided Hamas’ refusal to sign an agreement. “In the face of such wanton terrorism, no country could sit idly by,” said Netanyahu. “We did not seek this escalation, Mr. Secretary.”

Ban, who has been traveling across the Middle East for three days attempting to rally support for an armistice, remained unequivocal in his stance.

“My message to Palestinians and Israelis is the same: stop fighting, start talking and take on the root causes of the conflict so we are not back to the same situation in another six months or a year,” he said. “I urge you to demonstrate fortitude by exercising maximum restraint. Recovery and reconstruction are more needed than ever.”

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 Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME dancing

This Video of an Old Man Dancing Will Brighten Your Day

Forever young

The elderly man in this video may need two canes to walk, but he doesn’t need them to dance.

The user who uploaded this video to Facebook, Edgard Eleuterio Daza, gave it a short and sweet caption that sums the whole thing up pretty well: “Eternamente joven.”

Translation: forever young.

TIME Palestine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME United Nations

U.N. Security Council Holds Urgent Meeting on Gaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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