TIME

Plane Crashes in Bad Weather in Taiwan, Killing 51

(TAIPEI, Taiwan) — A plane making a second landing attempt in stormy weather crashed at an airport on a small Taiwanese island late Wednesday, killing 51 people and injuring seven, fire officials said.

Taiwan was battered by Typhoon Matmo early Tuesday morning, and the Central Weather Bureau was advising of heavy rain through the evening, even though the center of the storm was in mainland China.

The flight was heading from the capital, Taipei, to the island Penghu, halfway between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait. Pictures from the airport showed a handful of firefighters using flashlights to look at wreckage in the darkness.

Penghu is a lightly populated island that averages about two flights a day from Taipei.

Taiwan’s Central News Agency cites the Civil Aviation Administration as saying the flight carried 54 passengers and four flight crew and was operated by a Taiwanese airline, TransAsia Airways.

TIME

U.N. Rights Chief: Strong Possibility of Gaza Crimes

(GENEVA) — The U.N.’s top human rights official warned all sides in the two-week war in the Gaza Strip to not indiscriminately attack civilians, and that violations may amount to war crimes.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday that around three-quarters of the 650 Palestinians and around 30 Israelis killed in the conflict were civilians, and thousands more have been injured. The toll, she said, includes 147 children killed in Gaza over the past 16 days.

Pillay noted an Israeli drone missile strike in Gaza City that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced an Israeli strike and naval shelling that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.

“These are just a few examples where 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 47-nation U.N. Human Rights Council, which was convened by China and Russia, among others. “Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated.”

Israel launched its operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. The fighting escalated last week with an Israeli ground offensive.

Pillay also warned that Hamas and others were violating international law.

“Israeli children, and their parents and other civilians, also have a right to live without the constant fear that a rocket fired from Gaza may land on their houses or their schools, killing or injuring them,” Pillay said.

“Once again, the principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed during such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she added.

Pillay said not abiding by those principles could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Displaces 15,000 Nigerians After Civilian Massacre

The Islamic insurgency slaughtered dozens of civilians and has taken control of a strategic area in Nigeria

The insurgent Islamist group Boko Haram raided an army base in northeast Nigeria and massacred around 50 civilians in nearby villages over the weekend, filling a power vacuum in the region after the evacuation of Nigerian troops.

Recent attacks on villages in the region have killed 50 civilians and driven out 15,000 people, Reuters reports, further evidence that international efforts to tackle the Islamist group after its kidnapping of 200 girls earlier this year has failed to curb its violent activities.

The group now can move freely in a region with a major highway linking the northern and southern districts of Borno, bordering Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Boko Haram is pursing a scorched earth policy, security sources tell Reuters, driving out authorities who do not support their effort to create an Islamic state.

The five-year old insurgent group achieved global notoriety in April when its fighters kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern village of Chibok in April. So far, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been unable to retrieve them.

[Reuters]

TIME Flight MH17

Ukraine Says 2 Military Jets Shot Down Over East

As UK investigators began analysis of MH17 black boxes, and the bodies of Dutch victims were flown home

Ukraine said that two of its fighter jets were shot down Wednesday over eastern Ukraine, the Associated Press reports, less than a week after a passenger jet was downed in the same region. The news came as the two black boxes from the downed MH17 jet arrived in Britain and 40 of the recovered 200 bodies were being flown to the Netherlands.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that two of its military fighter jets were downed over eastern Ukraine. The two jets, both Sukhoi-25 planes, were shot down at 1.30pm local time over the Savur Mogila area. It is not yet known whether those on board have survived. A spokesperson for the ministry said the planes could have been carrying up to two people each.

Whilst the Ukrainian government tries to ascertain what has happened, the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch has begun to investigate the two flight recorders from flight MH17,, the BBC reports, which were handed over to Malaysian experts by Ukrainian rebels late Monday.

Aviation experts from the organization will try to download data from the black boxes in accordance with a request from Dutch authorities heading up the investigation. The data should be downloaded within the next two days and will then be sent to the Dutch investigators. It is hoped that the flight recorders will be able to confirm whether a missile hit flight MH17.

The black boxes’ arrival comes as the first 40 bodies of the 298 victims were being flown to Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It is expected that they will arrive at 4pm local time.

They will be met by members of the Dutch royal family and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as part of a national day of mourning for the deceased. 193 of the 298 passengers onboard flight MH17 were Dutch nationals.

All 200 of the recovered bodies arrived in Kharkiv, Ukraine in a refrigerated train carriage Tuesday, following repeated international demands for their safe return.

Following a solemn ceremony attended by ambassadors, soldiers and officials, 40 coffins were loaded onto two military planes bound directly for Eindhoven. They will then be taken to barracks south of Hilversum for identification. Rutte has warned, however, that this could take months.

Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17. All 298 people on board were killed. Washington said Wednesday that they had clear evidence the plane was downed by an SA-11 missile “fired from eastern Ukraine under conditions the Russians helped create.”

[BBC]

TIME Ukraine

2 Ukrainian Military Fighter Jets Shot Down

(KIEV, Ukraine) — Two Ukrainian military fighter jets have been shot down in the east, according to the country’s Defense Ministry.

The Sukhoi-25 fighters were shot down 1:30 p.m. local time Wednesday over an area called Savur Mogila.

Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky says the planes may have been carrying up to two crew members each.

TIME Ukraine

Bodies of Malaysia Jet Victims Leave Ukraine

A coffin containing the body of a victim of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is loaded onto a plane for transport to the Netherlands during a departure ceremony on July 23, 2014 in Kharkiv, Ukraine.
A coffin containing the body of a victim of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is loaded onto a plane for transport to the Netherlands during a departure ceremony on July 23, 2014 in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Brendan Hoffman—Getty Images

(KHARKIV, Ukraine) — Two military aircraft carrying the first bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines crash left the embattled plains of eastern Ukraine Wednesday, while British investigators began work on a pair of “black boxes” to retrieve data on the flight’s last minutes.

Pro-Russian rebels shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets, Kiev’s defense ministry said, as fighting flared again in the east.

The Dutch government declared a day of national mourning as the country prepared for the arrival of the first bodies in the afternoon. The crash on Thursday killed all 298 people — most of them Dutch citizens — aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Ukraine and western nations are pressing the pro-Russian rebels who control the crash site to allow an unfettered an investigation, something Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would use his influence to achieve. Though confident that a missile brought down the aircraft, U.S. officials say Russia’s role remains unclear.

Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said Wednesday that Dutch authorities had delivered the plane’s voice and data recorders to the agency’s base at Farnborough, southern England, where information will be downloaded. Experts will also check for signs of tampering.

Two military transport planes, one Dutch and one Australian, departed Ukraine at midday, heading for Eindhoven air base where the flights will be met by Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and hundreds of relatives.

For one grieving mother, the arrival of the bodies marked a new stage of mourning and brought to an end the pain of seeing television images of victims lying in the undulating fields or in body bags being loaded into a train.

“If I have to wait five months for identification, I can do it,” Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand, whose son, Bryce, and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers died in the crash, said before setting off for Eindhoven. “Waiting while the bodies were in the field and in the train was a nightmare.”

Dutch government spokesman Lodewijk Hekking said about 60 coffins were expected, but the number wasn’t immediately confirmed.

There was confusion as well about how many of the 282 corpses which the rebels said they have found were on the train which arrived in Kharkiv, a government-controlled city, on Tuesday.

Jan Tuinder, the Dutch official in charge of the international team dealing with the dead, said that at least 200 bodies were aboard the train and that more remains could be found once the body bags are examined fully.

The Dutch Safety Board announced that it will lead an international team of 24 investigators, and said unhindered access to the crash site — controlled by pro-Russian separatists — is critical.

“At the moment, there are no guarantees for the investigators’ safety” at the scene, the board said, adding that it “and other parties” are working to get access to the site and to secure it.

Rebel leader Pavel Gubarev wrote on his Facebook page that his men had retreated Wednesday from the villages of Chervona Zorya and Kozhevnya, which are on the Russian border about 45 kilometers (30 miles) from the scene of the crash. Gubarev said 30 rebels had been injured.

Wreckage of the Boeing 777 fell on territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists who have been battling the Kiev government since April. U.S. officials say the plane was probably shot down by a missile, most likely by accident.

The European Union on Tuesday imposed sanctions against more Russian individuals but refrained from targeting entire sectors of the Russian economy while waiting for clearer evidence of Moscow’s role in the disaster.

Senior U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday that Russia was responsible for “creating the conditions” that led crash, but they offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.

The officials, who briefed reporters Tuesday under ground rules that their names not be used, said the plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The officials cited intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists, some of which have been authenticated by U.S. experts.

The intelligence officials were cautious in their assessment, noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the passenger jet came from Russia.

TIME Israel

Kerry Cites Progress in Gaza Cease-Fire Talks

Israeli soldiers stand near their tank while smoke due to airstrikes and shelling rises from Gaza on July 22, 2014 near Sderot, Israel.
Israeli soldiers stand near their tank while smoke due to airstrikes and shelling rises from Gaza on July 22, 2014 near Sderot, Israel. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

(JERUSALEM) — Offering the first glimmer of hope for a Gaza cease-fire, the United States on Wednesday said negotiations to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas militants are making some progress even if an end to more than two weeks of bloodshed is nowhere near.

“We certainly have made steps forward,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Jerusalem, where he was meeting for the second time this week with United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon. “There’s still work to be done.”

He did not offer any specifics about the progress he cited in his third day of talks with Mideast leaders. He was in Jerusalem shortly after landing in Tel Aviv on an Air Force jet — one day after the FAA banned commercial flights into Ben-Gurion Airport because of a Hamas rocket attack nearby.

The U.S., Israel and the European Union all consider Hamas a terrorist organization. But the U.N. does not, and Ban said he and Kerry were jointly lobbying officials in the region to push Hamas and Israel to a cease-fire as soon as possible.

“We don’t have much time to wait and lose,” Ban told reporters before the meeting with Kerry. Neither Ban nor Kerry answered media questions during their brief remarks.

Kerry also offered “profound gratitude” to what he described as 30,000 Israelis who spontaneously lined Jerusalem streets on Wednesday for the funeral procession of Israeli soldier Max Steinberg, a 24-year-old American citizen who grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley and was killed in the fighting. “That’s a remarkable statement — we’re very grateful,” Kerry said.

Kerry also planned to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during what appeared to be a crucial day in the talks. U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

At the least, Kerry’s mission Wednesday sought to define the limits of what each side would accept in a potential cease-fire.

The FAA was going to reassess its ban on Ben-Gurion — which the State Department said does not apply to military aircraft — by midday Wednesday in Washington. The European Aviation Safety Agency also issued an advisory saying it “strongly recommends” airlines avoid the airport. Israeli officials said the precautionary U.S. step was unnecessary and “gave terror a prize” by reacting to Hamas’ threats. It also prompted a complaint to Kerry by Netanyahu.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “The FAA is in close touch with Israel (and) continues to monitor and evaluate the situation.”

More than 630 Palestinians and about 30 Israelis have been killed in the violence. Israel says its troops have killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen, while Gaza officials say the vast majority have been civilians, many of them children.

Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire proposal that has been offered by Egypt, which would be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007.

But Hamas has rejected repeated Egyptian truce proposals. The militant group, with backing from its allies Qatar and Turkey, says it wants guarantees on lifting the blockade before halting its fire. In addition to discussions with Egypt officials, including President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Kerry spoke several times Tuesday from Cairo with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiya.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu said the international community must hold Hamas accountable for the latest round of violence, saying its refusal to agree to a cease-fire had prevented an earlier end to the fighting. He has long accused Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, of not wanting a two-state solution.

Egypt has also been negotiating with some Hamas officials, but relations between the two sides have been strained since Egypt outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, which has ties to Hamas, after last year’s overthrow of former President Mohammed Morsi.

At least some diplomats also see cease-fire negotiations as an opportunity to revitalize stalled peace talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities that were personally shepherded by Kerry but broke off last April following nearly nine months of frustrated attempts. Both Ban and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri have pushed for broader talks than the cease-fire negotiations, and Shukri on Tuesday specifically called for action “to set in motion once again the peace process that Secretary Kerry has been so actively involved in so as to end this ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

It’s unlikely that Washington is ready to wade back into the morass of peace negotiations that broke off last April after nearly nine months of shuttle diplomacy by Kerry. But the new round of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants who control Gaza has reached the level of violence that U.S. officials warned last spring would happen without an enduring truce.

Kerry has stopped short of advocating a new round of peace talks. Still, he has left the door open for broad negotiations between Israel and Palestinian officials once a cease-fire is in place.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and expanded it last week to a ground war aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. Israel has struck almost 3,000 sites in Gaza, killed more than 180 armed Palestinians and uncovered 66 access shafts of 23 tunnels, its military said.

TIME Israel

The Immigrant Soldiers Dying for Israel in Gaza

The parents of Sergeant Max Steinberg grieve at his coffin during his funeral on July 23, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel.
The parents of Sergeant Max Steinberg grieve at his coffin during his funeral on July 23, 2014 in Jerusalem. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Young Jews come from across the U.S. and Europe to serve as 'lone soldiers' for the Israel Defense Forces

Max Steinberg was from Los Angeles. Nissim Sean Carmeli was from South Padre Island, Texas. Jordan Bensemhoun came to Israel on his own from Lyon, France.

Each of the young men left his country of origin to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and each was killed in action this weekend in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is more than two weeks into Operation Protective Edge, a military campaign against the Palestinian militant group Hamas. That campaign incorporated a ground invasion as of Thursday night that Israeli leaders say is helping to destroy Hamas’ ability to fire rockets – some 2,160 of which have been fired toward Israel since the latest round of hostilities began July 7 – as well as a network of tunnels that burrow deep into Israeli territory, allowing militants to attack. However effective that strategy might be, it exposes Israel’s soldiers to a higher risk of injury and death than bombardment from afar. The campaign has so far left 29 Israeli soldiers dead, as well as some 650 Palestinians.

Sgt. Steinberg, 24, was buried Wednesday in a funeral in Jerusalem that attracted some 30,000 mourners, including his parents, who are taking their first trip to Israel to bury their son. He was what people in the organized American-Jewish community would consider an Israel success story. He came to Israel with his sister in 2012 on Birthright, a program which brings loosely affiliated Jews from around the world – the U.S. and Europe in particular – on a free 10-day trip to Israel. By the end of the program, he was smitten. After a short time back in the U.S., he decided to join the IDF, and lobbied his superiors to be placed in a combat unit. One of the good friends he met along the way was England-born Josh Grant, who like Steinberg, came here as what Israelis refer to as a “hayal boded,” or lone soldier.

“He was a jobnik for a few months,” says Grant, using the slightly derogatory Israeli slang for someone who has a desk job in the army, “but all he wanted to do was combat. They said no way, but he convinced them.” Grant, who moved to Israel on his own from the city of Birmingham in England shortly after high school, went through intensive Hebrew-language classes with Steinberg as well as a basic training program for soldiers who may not be native Israelis but still want to serve.

Steinberg had to have back surgery this year that forced him to take a few months off from his service, and he was behind the curve of many of his cohort when he came back. While others finished their service in June, he had been due to finish in November. Many of his closest army buddies returned to their home countries weeks ago and “felt guilty,” as one of them put it, for not being around for their fallen comrade. Steinberg himself planned to go back to the U.S. after he finished his service (a fact confirmed by Steinberg’s family) and didn’t have a long-term plan to move to Israel permanently.

“Just before the war started, we were out for the night, celebrating another friend who had finished,” Grant, who as an active combat engineer was not authorized to discuss his opinions about the war in Gaza, told TIME. “I can’t quite believe he’s gone. To lose a friend like Max is heartbreaking. But he didn’t have a boring life, he’s done something worthwhile.”

That desire to do something meaningful, it seems, is part of what motivates thousands of young Jewish people to come to Israel every year and volunteer for the army, many in the context of immigrating and trying to integrate into Israeli society. There are currently 5,100 immigrants from other countries who are serving in the IDF, says Oded Forer, the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Absorption. These soldiers get a small additional monthly stipend and other benefits, Forer tells TIME, to show they are valued and to help them survive without family support.

“We escort them towards their recruitment and help them afterwards,” Forer says, noting that his ministry dedicates 17 million shekels – close to $5 million – for that purpose every year. “We are an immigrant state at the end of the day, so naturally there will be situations like this. Everyone who is part of the people of Israel carries the burden of defending the country, and this has been part of the ethos since the founding of the state.”

Some 30 years ago, for example, Mike Meyerheim left New Jersey to come to Israel and serve in the IDF. His war was the one in Lebanon, starting with Israel’s invasion in 1982. Today he is the director of the Lone Soldier Center, which provides support to up to 6,000 soldiers, numbering among them immigrants and native-born Israelis with no family to rely on. In the past few weeks, they’ve been visiting soldiers on the Gaza border and providing them with things as mundane as clean socks, underwear and additional food. The Israeli army operates so close to home that many soldiers come back each weekend with a bag of laundry, expecting Mom to do it.

“We take care of people year round with the hope we don’t go to war, but when we’re in the situation that we’re in today, we do everything we can to make sure they’re safe and in good spirits,” Meyerheim told TIME.

One of the Lone Soldier Center’s volunteers, Nissim Slama, came to Israel 10 years ago from France, and found himself serving in what is referred to here as the Second Lebanon War, when Israel and Hizbollah went to war with each other in 2006. “The lone soldiers are paying a high price in Gaza for their motivation and dedication,” said Slama, who was on his way Tuesday to the funeral of Jordan Bensemhoun, the dual French-Israeli citizen, in the city of Ashkelon. “They come from abroad and want to defend Israel and ensure the state’s survival…but it’s always a harder life for them, being here without the usual level of family support.”

Bensemhoun came to Israel as a high school student and stayed on, leaving behind his family in southeastern France. He was recruited two years ago, and in February, posted a picture of his uniformed self on Facebook showing his wings and arm-patch of the elite Golani Brigades he had been inducted into, with the optimistic message: “I’ll be back in a few months!”

TIME China

Think Your Flight Delays Are Bad? Try China, Where the Military Hogs Most of the Skies

Airplanes At The Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Air China aircraft stand parked at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Even in this era of jam-packed commercial air travel, the armed forces still control most of China’s airspace

Last week, I flew in and out of Shanghai over two days. Both flights idled on the tarmac for more than one hour. I felt rather lucky.

Airport delays are such a constant in China that a mere one-hour wait is practically a gift from the aviation gods. International flight monitors put Chinese cities at the bottom of a list of on-time takeoffs at major airports worldwide. On July 21, nearly 200 flights leaving from Shanghai’s two airports, Pudong and Hongqiao, were cancelled. Around 120 more planes were delayed from takeoff by two or more hours.

The same day, a notice attributed by state media to the Civil Aviation Administration of China warned that a dozen airports in eastern Chinese metropolises would suffer even more serious delays through August 15. The reason? An unnamed “other user” would be hogging the skies. That aerial monopolist is thought to be the Chinese military, which even in this era of jam-packed commercial air travel still controls most of China’s airspace. On July 23, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, tweeted a picture of dejected looking passengers camped out on the floor of the airport in Dalian, a port city in northeastern China. The cause, according to the paper, was mass cancellations stemming from “planned military activity.”

On Monday, Jiao Xuening, a resident from the southern city of Shenzhen, described on his Chinese social-media account how he had been stranded at a Shanghai airport for almost six hours. “At first I was disgruntled,” he wrote. But then he listened to a stream of flight cancellations over the loudspeaker. “I was told my flight was merely four hours delayed and was not cancelled, so I became happy again.”

On July 22, the Shanghai Daily, the state-controlled newspaper in China’s most populous city noted that Pudong airport’s outbound on-time rate had nosedived to 26% the day before. “Shanghai’s air traffic control authority has refused to explain” the Shanghai Daily complained of the delays. “With the authority remaining tight-lipped about the reasons behind this, speculation has been rife on the Internet.”

Such conjecture, though, can be dangerous. Earlier this month, some people had speculated online that a dragnet around a “high-ranking official” had perhaps prompted the grounding of planes in Shanghai. The Chinese authorities didn’t take kindly to such gossip; nearly 40 “rumor-mongers” were detained or “held” for wondering online about the flight cancellations, according to the Shanghai Daily.

The chronic flight delays are a huge hassle. But the opacity surrounding their circumstances also speaks to the inefficiencies of doing business in China. In the first half of 2014, non-financial foreign direct investment in China dipped, compared to the same period the year before. Government paranoia about social instability is such that Facebook, Google and Twitter are inaccessible within mainland China. Major foreign news websites are also blocked by censors. Basic things overseas businessmen expect to do can’t be done.

Then there’s the suffocating air pollution, which has dissuaded some expatriates from traveling to China, much less living here. Now, with the routine airport delays, it’s no longer practical to, say, fly from Hong Kong to Shanghai in the morning, attend a few meetings and then return to Hong Kong by the evening. A Beijing-Shanghai-Beijing run makes more sense by the punctual high-speed train service. But that still means committing around 10 hours to traveling the rails.

In the meantime, customer-service representatives for Chinese airlines are trying to cope as best they can. Political sensitivities are such that the carriers cannot complain about the Chinese air force’s monopoly of the skies. Employees for Air China and China Southern said they were only informed about the continuing air congestion the day after the latest round of delays began on July 21. Air China says it will send text messages to passengers’ cellphones to update them on the latest scheduling. “Most of our customers understand the situation,” said an Air China customer-service staffer in a somewhat beleaguered tone. To cope with the long waits in airports notorious for meager services, the statement attributed to the Civil Aviation Administration of China dispensed further advice: “Flight passengers please bring with you food and water.”

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

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.”

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