Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet on Wednesday approved continuing the assault launched on July 8 in response to a surge of rocket attacks by Gaza’s dominant Hamas movement. But Israel also sent a delegation to Egypt, which has been trying, with Washington’s blessing, to broker a ceasefire.
Gaza officials say over 1,390 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have now been killed in the battered enclave and close to 8,000 have been injured. Israel has lost 56 soldiers to Gaza clashes and 3 civilians to Palestinian shelling.
UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon was incensed on Wednesday at the deaths of at least 15 Palestinians among thousands sheltering at a school whose UN Administrator said appeared to have been hit by Israeli artillery.
“It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice,” Ban said.
“Such a massacre requires an earthquake-like response,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, whose group has kept up dozens of daily rocket launches deep into Israel. The Israelis have kept casualties from the salvoes low with nine Iron Dome interceptor batteries and air-raid sirens that send people to shelters.
Rolling Israeli ground assaults on residential areas have displaced more than 200,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians. The tiny territory's infrastructure is in ruin, with power and water outrages.
Both sides have voiced openness to a truce, but their terms diverge dramatically. Israel wants Gaza stripped of infiltration tunnels and rocket stocks. Hamas rules that out, and seeks an end to a crippling Gaza blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt, which view the Palestinian Islamists as a security threat.
The negotiations are further complicated by the fact Israel and the United States shun Hamas as a terrorist group, while the go-betweens - Egypt, Qatar and Turkey - disagree on Gaza policy.
In the absence of a deal, Israel has ordered its ground forces to focus on locating and destroying a warren of tunnels with which Hamas has menaced its southern towns and army bases.
Major-General Sami Turgeman, Chief of Israeli Forces in Gaza, said they were “but a few days away from destroying all the attack tunnels”. The Army said 32 of the secret passages had been found so far and half of them blown up.
Israeli Military losses are more than five times those from the last Gaza ground war, in 2008-2009, but Israeli opinion polls show strong public support for fighting on until Hamas is quelled.
Netanyahu faces intense pressure from abroad to stand down, however. The US and the UN Security Council have urged an immediate, unconditional ceasefire by both sides in Gaza to allow in humanitarian relief and for further talks on a more durable cessation of hostilities.
The White House on Wednesday voiced worry at the deaths in Jabalya and other U.N.-run shelters shelled during the clashes.
“We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in U.N.-designated shelters in Gaza,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan.
“We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” she added, referring to three cases in which the UNRWA aid agency reported rockets found at its schools.
Meanwhile, U.N. human rights Chief Navi Pillay on Thursday slammed what she said was Israel’s “deliberate defiance” of international law during the Gaza conflict.
Pillay lambasted the country’s attacks on homes, schools, hospitals and United Nations facilities in Gaza.
“None of this appears to me to be accidental. There appears to be deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel,” she told reporters.
Separately, the Pentagon said it had allowed Israel to stock up on grenades and mortar rounds from a US munitions store located in Israel as part of bilateral emergency preparedness arrangement.
Source: Reuters; AFP