Israeli reservists frustrated, willing to fight in Gaza again


At 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning, two days after the current round of fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas began, the phone rang in Rafi’s house in Jerusalem, calling him up for reserve service in his combat infantry unit.

Rafi, 28, who, like all the reservists interviewed for this story asked not to use his last name, threw a few things in a duffel bag, left his wife and his biotechnology start-up company and reported to a pre-arranged assembly point in Jerusalem. The reservists boarded buses and were driven to their supply base. Within hours, they were down south, near Israel’s border with Gaza.

The reserve troops trained on Saturday even though it was the Jewish Sabbath when Orthodox Jews like Rafi do not usually drive, use electricity or fire a gun. But Israel’s rabbis have ruled that during a time of war, the religious laws may be violated. By Sunday, they were ready for the ground operation in Gaza.

“I thought it’s about time – [Hamas] had been firing a lot of rockets on the south and building up their weapons stocks, and Israel cannot allow that to continue,” Rafi told The Media Line. “We kept training on the specific tasks that my unit was assigned to – learning the map and studying the trail we’d be taking into Gaza.”

After four days, a cease-fire was declared and Rafi, along with the 50,000 other reservists who had been called up, was demobilized and sent home.

“For about 15-minutes I was boiling with anger, because I don’t think the cease-fire is going to hold. We had an important job to do that is not being done,” he said. “But after 15 minutes I started thinking of the bigger picture and realized that the government is considering other issues like Iran and Egypt. In the bigger picture, it was probably better to solve the problem outside the field of battle.”

Not all reservists are this sanguine. Shai, 44, a tank commander and the father of three boys, did not have to obey the mobilization order for his unit as soldiers are not required to do reserve duty after age 40. Yet, he volunteered, eager to join the expected ground operation in Gaza.

“All of us in the unit badly wanted to go inside Gaza because we wanted to stop the rocket fire and you can’t do that unless you bring in ground troops,” he told The Media Line. “We knew we would lose soldiers but we wanted to do it for our country and for quiet.”

Shai thinks the truce will not hold, and those called up were being used for political maneuvering in advance of Israel’s election. He says the soldiers were sent to the border just to scare Hamas, with no real intention of launching an actual ground operation. He feels it is only a matter of time until the rocket fire resumes and he gets another call-up.

“Next time, I and my friends might not come,” he says angrily. “Since we’re over 40 it’s not mandatory. If I were outside Israel on vacation, I wouldn’t come back to be used as a pawn in a political game.”

Reservists play a more important role in the Israeli army than in perhaps any other army in the world. While Jewish men are drafted at the age of 18 for three years, and women for two, many men continue to perform reserve through their thirties. According to army figures, there are 176,500 active personnel and 445,000 reservists. Many Israelis routinely leave their families and businesses for up to a month each year, often a difficult disruption.

“I missed five days of school, two tests and one assignment,” Aharon, 26, a paratroop reservist who is studying law and business told The Media Line. “It was a horrible waste of time.”

He added, however, that he would show up if he was called again.

University officials said they would make special accommodations for students who had been called up, and most workplaces are used to employees taking time off for reserve duty. Aharon’s response is typical, say Israeli military officials.

“In times of crisis, the reservists show up and this time more people turned up than were needed,” army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich told The Media Line. “In my own unit, I called up two reservists and got dozens of phone calls from people who wanted to come and serve.”

Some military analysts say reservists’ frustration with what they saw as an inconclusive end to the fighting is natural, and will diminish over the next few months.

“They were called in to fight – they left their families and businesses and wanted to achieve victory,” Ami Ayalon, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service and former commander of Israel’s navy, told The Media Line. “We did not achieve victory or unconditional surrender the way wars used to end in the past century. You finish your training and then the operation is cancelled – it’s very frustrating.”

Other military analysts say that soldiers should be grateful that the ground operation was canceled.

“A wise soldier is never angry about not fighting and an experienced soldier does not feel bad if something was canceled,” Major General Emanuel Sakal, the former head of Israel army ground forces, told The Media Line. “With or without the reservists the story of Gaza will repeat itself again and again. There is no simple solution and the frustration the reservists felt is the same frustration all Israelis feel.”

Report: Palestinian killed, 19 hurt by IDF gunfire


Israeli soldiers reportedly killed one man and wounded another 19 near the fence which separates Gaza from Israel.

Troops opened fire in Khan Younis on Friday after “several rioters damaged the fence and attempted to cross into Israel's territory,” the IDF spokesperson told Israel’s Army Radio.

“IDF forces made efforts to disperse the rioters, and when they refused to leave warning shots were fired,” the army said.

According to the IDF, troops fired at the legs of the rioters who attempted to cross the border. One man who managed to enter Israel was detained and later returned to Gaza, according to the news site Ynet.

The Palestinian news agency Ma'an, which cited witnesses and medical officials in Gaza, reported the dead Palestinian was 21 years old and that another 18 were injured. A relative of the man told Reurters that the 21-year-old tried to hang a Hamas flag on the fence. An IDF soldier fired three times in the air and finally the man was shot in the head.

A top Islamic Jihad official, Nafez Azzam, condemned the incident and said it constituted a breach of the truce as well, the news agency said.

In the West Bank, IDF forces reportedly arrested a few dozen Hamas supporters, according to Army Radio. Four of those arrested are Palestinian parliamentarians, including the Parliament secretary general, Mahmoud al-Ramhi.

Cease-fire agreement between Israel and Gaza [FULL TEXT]


Following is the verbatim English text of the ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza that was reached on Wednesday with Egyptian mediation. The text was distributed by the Egyptian presidency.

Agreement of Understanding For a Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip

1: (no title given for this section)

A. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.

B. All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border.

C. Opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire.

D. Other matters as may be requested shall be addressed.

2: Implementation mechanisms:

A. Setting up the zero hour for the ceasefire understanding to enter into effect.

B. Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon.

C. Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding. In case of any observations Egypt as the sponsor of this understanding shall be informed to follow up.

Reporting by Marwa Awad; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Netanyahu hints at ‘severe military action’ if truce fails


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted on Wednesday that if an Egyptian-brokered truce with Islamist militants in Gaza did not work Israel would consider “more severe military action” against the Palestinian territory.

“I know there are citizens expecting a more severe military action, and perhaps we shall need to do so,” Netanyahu told a news conference as the ceasefire ending a weeklong Gaza offensive came into effect.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Crispian Balmer

Ban Ki-moon urges ‘maximum restraint’ after Israel-Hamas ceasefire


U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged Israel and Hamas to stick to pledges under a cease-fire deal which came into effect on Wednesday to end the eight-day conflict around the Gaza Strip.

“We urge the parties who agreed to the ceasefire to keep their promises. There may be challenges implementing this agreement,” Ban told reporters after talks with King Abdullah at the monarch's residence in the Jordanian capital.

Ban urged the two sides to exercise “maximum restraint.”

Israel’s battle damage report says Hamas crippled


Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense has crippled the military power of Gaza's ruling Islamist movement Hamas, the Israeli military said on Wednesday, as an Egyptian-brokered truce halted eight days of combat.

In a statement, the military named key militant leaders killed by Israel and listed weapons and bases destroyed.

Referring to the confrontation pitting Hamas rockets against Israeli air strikes and naval artillery as “the fighting in the south”, it said the offensive launched on Nov. 14 had “accomplished its pre-determined objectives.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the aim of the operation was to stop Hamas, Islamic Jihad and smaller militant groups firing rockets and mortar bombs at southern Israeli communities. The militants, who reject Israel's right to exist, say they are defending Gaza against Israeli aggression.

Israel targeted 1,500 sites, the military said in its detailed summary of the conflict, and the “command and control apparatus of Hamas was significantly struck”.

Targets included “19 senior command centres, operational control centres and Hamas' senior-rank headquarters, 30 senior operatives, hundreds of underground rocket launchers, 140 smuggling tunnels, 66 terror tunnels, dozens of Hamas operation rooms and bases, 26 weapon manufacturing and storage facilities and dozens of long-range rocket launchers and launch sites”.

“These actions have severely impaired Hamas's launching capabilities, resulting in a decreasing number of rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip,” the army said. Israel captured Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war and withdrew unilaterally in 2005.

It did not give any estimate of how many Palestinians were killed in its operation, but named seven senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives who had been “targeted.”

They included one man in charge of anti-tank operations, another in propaganda, a senior police officer, a man in charge of air defense and another responsible for tunnel operations in the south where Hamas has smuggled in weapons via Egypt.

Gaza health ministry officials say over 160 people were killed in Israeli air strikes and shelling in the narrow enclave, more than half of them civilians including 37 children.

The Israeli military said Hamas fighters and other militant groups fired 1,506 rockets from Gaza into Israel, of which 316 were launched on Nov. 15, the day after an air strike killed the acting head of Hamas's armed wing, Ahmed al-Jaabari.

Most of the rockets, 875, exploded in open country. Israel's Iron Dome interceptor missiles knocked out 421 in mid-air and 58 exploded in urban areas, killing five Israelis and wounding 240, the military's battle damage account said. Failed launches accounted for a further 152 rockets.

“These operational achievements provided the underlying framework for this evening's ceasefire agreement,” the Israeli military command said. The truce mediated by Egypt commits both sides to stop shooting, but leaves other parts of the agreement to be finalised.

“The 'Iron Dome' defense system has accomplished a high rate of successful interceptions (84 percent) and Hamas' accuracy with regards to hitting populated areas within Israel remained below 7 percent,” the statement said.

Israelis – especially in Tel Aviv which came under Gaza rocket fire for the first time – were grateful for the shield in the sky. But many question whether Hamas has been effectively disarmed and deterred by Israel's latest military onslaught.

Editing by Alistair Lyon

Operation Pillar of Defense: Lessons learned


As Israel and Hamas mostly stilled their guns Wednesday night after reaching a cease-fire agreement, ending eight days of intense bombardment, both sides took home some new lessons about their foes.

By firing longer-range rockets capable of reaching Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Hamas demonstrated for the first time that it could expand the borders of the missile battleground to include the densely populated center of Israel. Even under severe aerial bombardment, Hamas managed to launch some 1,500 missiles over the course of the week. Some traveled as far as 50 miles.

But with its Iron Dome missile defense system, Israel showed how technology can be a game changer on the battlefield. Of the missiles targeted by Iron Dome, which is designed to knock down only missiles aimed at populated areas, approximately 80 percent to 90 percent were eliminated, the Israeli military said. In all, the Israel Defense Forces said Iron Dome downed 421 missiles.

“Eight days ago, Israel launched an operation after terror attacks from Gaza escalated,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday night. With several major terrorist commanders eliminated and much weapons infrastructure destroyed, he said, “we have decided to give cease-fire a chance.”

Israel suffered five fatalities in the fighting, all but one civilians. The Palestinians reported more than 140 killed, including militants and civilians. That’s approximately the same proportion of Israeli-to-Palestinian casualties the last time Israel and Hamas went to war, during the 22-day Operation Cast Lead launched in late 2008. But the Palestinian casualty rate this time was about one-third the rate of Cast Lead, when an average of 350 Palestinians were killed per week.

That’s probably because this round of fighting, which the IDF dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, did not include a ground invasion.

Palestinian casualties increased significantly during Israel’s ground invasion in the 2008-09 war, stoking international anger. As that war dragged on, Israeli critics said the military achieved diminishing returns the longer it stayed in Gaza and should have gotten out quicker.

This time, though Netanyahu threatened to send in ground troops — calling up 75,000 reserve troops and massing tanks on the Israel-Gaza border — he did not follow through on his threat.

Under the terms of the cease-fire, Israel agreed to halt its operation in Gaza, including targeted assassinations, and Palestinian terrorist groups agreed to stop their rocket fire and border attacks against Israel. Some sporadic fighting was still reported after the cease-fire went into effect Wednesday night.

So, who won, and what did the fighting accomplish?

If it holds, the cease-fire will have ended the rocket fire on southern Israel without any concessions to Hamas — a clear victory for Israel. The operation also enabled Israel to do some damage to Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure, including killing the Hamas military chief, Ahmed Jabari. The IDF was able to do it all without undertaking a risky ground invasion that could have ratcheted up the casualty count on both sides and fueled more international ire.

On the plus side for Hamas, the group showed that despite Israel’s ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip, terrorists are able to get their hands on increasingly potent and sophisticated weaponry, representing a greater threat to Israel. And despite Israel’s bombardment, Hamas’ rocket launching capability has not been destroyed. Few Israelis believe it’s anything but a matter of time before the rocket fire starts anew.

There are some very clear losers here.

Again, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority was left sitting on the sidelines while Hamas commanded Israel’s attention and claimed the mantle of the Palestinian cause. Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, have been frozen since 2009. While Hamas did not achieve any tangible gains from the fighting, Palestinians in the more moderate Fatah-ruled West Bank rallied to Hamas’ side. The notion that negotiation rather than violence is the path toward Palestinian statehood seems to have suffered yet another setback.

While Hamas was emboldened by the Egyptian government’s very public and sympathetic stance, the sympathy didn’t translate into any concrete assistance on the ground. Egypt’s prime minister visited Gaza during the fighting as a show of solidarity, but Egypt kept out of the fighting and retained its role as a broker between Israel and Hamas.

That’s a triumph for President Mohamed Morsi, who showed that despite his affiliation with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas is an offshoot of the Egyptian Islamist group — he could play the role of mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Egypt’s gain showed Turkey’s loss. Once Israel’s closest Middle East ally and a key conduit between Israel and the Arab world, Turkey was left on the sidelines of this conflict. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s description of Israel as a “terrorist state” may have won him fans among his Muslim base, but it also signaled that Turkey had lost its unique ability to act as a mediator in the conflict.

Finally, there’s the issue of cost for Israel. Each Iron Dome missile interceptor comes with a price tag in excess of $40,000, and Israelis suffered damage to infrastructure ranging from homes to schools to roads.

But President Obama has pledged to seek additional funding from Congress for the Iron Dome system. The United States already has sent Israel $275 million for Iron Dome over the last two years, and earlier this year the U.S. House of Representatives proposed an additional $680 million through 2015, with the Senate proposing an additional $210 million.

Iron Dome’s success during the fighting also could be a boon for Israel’s defense industry, as other countries facing similar rocket threats clamor for the pioneering missile defense system.

Whether that defense coupled with Israel’s offensive in Gaza is enough to deter Hamas from resuming its attacks remains unclear.

Israel and Hamas agree on cease-fire


Israel and Hamas agreed on Wednesday to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt on the eighth day of intensive Israeli fire on the Gaza Strip and militant rocket attacks out of the enclave, Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian sources said.

First word of the truce came from a Palestinian official who has knowledge of the negotiations in Cairo, where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was also pursuing peace efforts.

Asked whether a ceasefire deal had been reached, an Egyptian official in Cairo said: “Yes, and Egypt will announce it.”

Egyptian state TV had earlier said a news conference would be broadcast from President Mohamed Mursi's palace shortly.

Israeli sources said Israel had agreed to a truce, but would not lift its blockade of the Palestinian territory, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.

All the sources declined to be named or to give further details of the arrangements hammered out in Cairo.

More than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed in the fighting that began last Wednesday.

The ceasefire, if confirmed, was forged despite a bus bomb explosion that wounded 15 Israelis in Tel Aviv earlier in the day and despite more Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

After talks in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Clinton held a second meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before travelling to Egypt for discussions with Mursi, whose country has led mediation efforts.

In Tel Aviv, targeted by rockets from Gaza that either did not hit the city or were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome interceptor system, 15 people were wounded when a bus was blown up near the Defence Ministry and military headquarters.

The blast, which police said was caused by a bomb placed on the vehicle, touched off celebratory gunfire from militants in Gaza and had threatened to complicate truce efforts. It was the first serious bombing in Israel's commercial capital since 2006.

In Gaza, Israel struck more than 100 targets, including a cluster of Hamas government buildings, in attacks that medical officials said killed 10 people, among them a 2-year-old boy.

Israel's best-selling Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper had reported an emerging outline of a ceasefire agreement that called for Egypt to announce a 72-hour ceasefire followed by further talks on long-term understandings.

Under the proposed document, which the newspaper said neither party would be required to sign, Israel would hold its fire, end attacks against top militants and promise to examine ways to ease its blockade of Gaza, controlled by Hamas Islamists who do not recognize the Jewish state's right to exist.

Hamas, the report said, would pledge not to strike any Israeli target and ensure other Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip also stop their attacks.

Israel has carried out more than 1,500 strikes since the offensive began with the killing of a top Hamas commander and with declared aim of deterring Hamas from launching rocket attacks that have long disrupted life in its southern towns.

Medical officials in Gaza said 146 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, including 36 children, have been killed in Israel's offensive. Nearly 1,400 rockets have been fired into Israel, killing four civilians and a soldier, the military said.

Additional reporting by Ori Lewis and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo

Obama commends Netanyahu on ceasefire pledge


President Barack Obama on Wednesday spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and commended him for agreeing to the Egyptian government's ceasefire plan in the Middle East, the White House said.

Israel and Hamas agreed on Wednesday to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt to end eight days of fighting in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis.

“The president expressed his appreciation for the Prime Minister's efforts to work with the new Egyptian government to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and a more durable solution to this problem,” a White House statement said.

Obama reiterated his commitment to Israel's security and also said he was committed to seeking funds for joint missile defense programs.

Clinton says ceasefire comes at ‘critical’ moment


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday the ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza had come at a crucial time for countries of the Middle East.

“This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone for regional stability and peace,” she said at a joint news conference with her Egyptian counterpart, Mohamed Kamel Amr.

She also thanked Egypt's Islamist President Mohamed Morsi for his mediation efforts and pledged to work with partners in the region “to consolidate this progress, improve conditions for the people of Gaza, provide security for the people of Israel”.

Reporting by Shaimaa Fayed in Cairo and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Michael Roddy

Clinton heading to Israel for cease-fire talks


Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to Israel to discuss plans for a cease-fire.

Clinton, one of several world leaders who will arrive or have already arrived in Israel to press for a cease-fire, reportedly is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived Tuesday in Israel from Cairo, where cease-fire negotiations are under way. In the Egyptian capital he told reporters that an Israeli ground operation in Gaza would be a “dangerous escalation.”

“Immediate steps are needed by all to avoid a further escalation, including a ground operation which will only result in further tragedy,” Ban said. He did add that Israel has “legitimate security concerns.”

Ban also called for negotiations toward a two-state solution and “an end to the occupation.”

In Israel, he is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Netanyahu met Tuesday with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who said in a statement after the meeting that “Germany stands by our friends in Israel, and Israel has every right to defend itself and protect their own citizens against these missile attacks from Gaza into your country.” Westerwelle also called for all sides to take all steps necessary to put a cease-fire into place.

Obama speaks again with Morsi, Netanyahu


President Obama again spoke with the Egyptian and Israeli leaders about the Gaza violence.

Obama, who is on a tour of the Far East, spoke Monday with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Obama and Morsi “discussed ways to de-escalate the situation in Gaza, and President Obama underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire into Israel,” a White House statement said. “President Obama then called Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and received an update on the situation in Gaza and Israel. “In both calls, President Obama expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives, and agreed to stay in close touch with both leaders.”

Israeli and Hamas officials are in Egypt negotiating the terms of a truce through third parties. Obama has said previously that Hamas must first end its rocket fire into Israel.

Morsi's sister died Monday. Netanyahu reportedly passed on a letter of condolence to the Egyptian leader.

Officials traveling with Obama have said that such calls and other interactions between the three nations' top echelons have become routine since Israel launched its air attacks on Gaza on Nov. 14 in retaliation for an intensification of rocket attacks on Israel.

Poll shows gap between Republicans and Democrats in backing Israel in Gaza


A CNN poll showed a considerable gap between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to backing Israel in the current Gaza conflict.

In the CNN poll published Monday, respondents were asked whether “Israel was justified or unjustified in taking military action against Hamas and the Palestinians in the area known as Gaza.” Among Democrats, 40 percent said Israel was “justified,” compared to 74 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of independents.

In all, 57 percent of those polled said Israel was justified in launching the operation in the Gaza Strip. The poll, carried out by ORC International in 1,023 phone interviews from Nov. 16 to Nov. 18, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Israel launched air and naval attacks on Gaza on Nov. 14 after an intensfication of rocket fire from Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.

Meanwhile in a Gallup poll, Americans cited keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon among the top three priorities of President Obama's second term.

Gallup asked respondents to rank 12 issues as “extremely,” “very,” “somewhat,” “not too,” and “not at all” important.

The top three ranked were taking “major steps to restore a strong economy and job market,” with 95 percent of respondents ranking it as “extremely” or “very” important; taking “major steps to ensure the long-term stability of Social Security and Medicare,” ranked “extremely” or “very” important by 88 percent of respondents; and preventing “Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” cited by 79 percent of respondents as “extremely” or “very” important.

The rankings broke the same when respondents were identified as Democrats, Republicans and Independent, although the numbers were slightly different.

Gallup polled 1,009 adults by phone Nov. 9-12. The results have a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

Amid conflict, Israel’s hospitals treat Gazan patients


(The Jerusalem Post) Israeli hospitals, amid the ongoing conflict, are treating dozens of patients of all ages who came to Israel from Gaza to get healthcare unavailable there, and are making provisions for accompanying persons.    

“We at Rambam Medical Center are taking care of sick children and adults, and we are not looking at their religion or where they come from. At the moment, we have four—a baby girl in the nephrology department, two children in oncology and an adult in urology,” Rambam director-general Prof. Rafael Beyar said.    

“Family members accompanied them,” he said. “It’s absurd that we are doing this at the same time Israelis are being attacked, but there is no other way. We are used to it. We are very far from politics.”   

Working in Haifa, Beyar was “extremely upset” when he learned that Arab students at the University of Haifa last week stood for a “moment of silence” when Ahmed Jabari, the terror chief of Hamas, was killed by the Israel Defense Forces.

“I just can’t accept that,” he said.    

Beyar also said that he had received no reports of any tension among Jewish and Arab personnel in his medical center. “We are used to working together to save lives.” 

The Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem said that in the past month, it has hospitalized six Gazan patients.    

Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer said that it provides medical center to several dozen Palestinians each month, and even now, there is no change. Most are children who are hospitalized for long periods or youngsters who underwent treatment and return periodically for follow-up, Sheba spokesman Amir Marom told The Jerusalem Post.    

“Just two days ago, a nine-year-old girl from Gaza who was hurt in her palm was brought to Sheba. Her father is an Arab journalists who writes from Gaza for an Israeli newspaper. She was accompanied by her mother. An Israeli boy who was wounded by a Gazan rocket that fell in Kiryat Malachi last week is in the same room with a Gazan girl whose fingers were amputated due to injury,” Marom said. “We regard our hospital as a bridge to peace.”    

Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said 50 patients and their accompanying relatives from Gaza are now hospitalized—both children and adults. Most of them are cancer patients. The relatives live in the hospital’s hotel, and there is a hospital employee who serves as a contact person and helps them.    

Medical treatment for Gaza residents allowed into Israel is paid for by the Palestinian Authority or by other bodies, including the Peres Center for Peace.

This story was written by The Jerusalem Post and is distributed with the permission of that newspaper.

Life in Southern Israel on hold during Gaza situation


Two weeks ago, Noami Cohen and Uzi Madar had a traditional engagement party for Jews from Arab countries called a “hina.” They dressed in colorful costumes, danced and partied with 120 of their friends. They were looking forward to their wedding and were expecting 500 guests.

But one day before the wedding scheduled to be held at the Agamim hall in the southern Israeli city of Beersheva, Israel killed Hamas military commander Ahmed Al-Jabari. Soon afterwards, rockets began landing throughout the south of Israel. The phone started ringing – was the wedding on or not?

“The Israeli Home Front Command (in charge during conflict) said we could go ahead with the wedding but we could only have up to 100 people,” Naomi, 23, told The Media Line. “I’m getting married once in my life, and I don’t want to make it smaller or be afraid during it.”

So Naomi and Uzi postponed the wedding. They went on Facebook and made dozens of phone calls. Relatives from Tunisia and France who had come for the wedding turned around and went home. The hall, the flowers, the DJ, and the honeymoon in the southern resort town of Eilat were all cancelled.

“I just couldn’t stop crying,” Naomi said. “I just feel so bad. Now, I have to start planning all over again. I waited for this so long, and then, boom, it’s just gone.”

Her fiancé Uzi, 27, who works for the army, said he watched the clock on Thursday night.

“Right now I was supposed to be breaking the glass, (a traditional Jewish custom to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD),” he remembers thinking. “It’s very depressing. We planned this for a whole year and then we couldn’t do it.”

Hundreds of weddings and other celebrations have been cancelled all over the south Israel – the region of the country most frequently targeted by Hamas rockets. Throughout the rest of the country, even when events have been held as scheduled, guests who live in the southern area have cancelled, afraid to be out driving when a missile hits.

“Everything has been cancelled since Thursday,” Shalom Gibli, the owner of the Agamim wedding hall, told The Media Line. “Usually we make people happy, and it’s always happy here, but now it isn’t. I told most of my workers to stay home.”

Agamim has two halls – one that can seat 1000 guests, and the other 500. Both are normally full every night, he says, and sometimes during the day as well for circumcision parties or other events. Gibli estimates he has already lost almost $200,000 in income. He says that even though legally he can charge Naomi and Uzi one-third of what they should have paid, his conscience won’t let him take any money.

But even without the wedding hall, Naomi and Uzi are already out thousands of dollars.

“We have to make new invitations, and we had already cooked a lot for the special Sabbath meals after the wedding,” Naomi said. “We will have to pay a cancellation charge on the honeymoon. We can’t get the DJ we booked so we’ll have to take someone more expensive. I cried for six hours on Thursday.”

Naomi lives in Moshav Zimrat, a small farming community just a few miles from the Gaza Strip. She says she hears the booms of rockets sent from Gaza exploding daily as well as Israel’s return air strikes.

“I don’t remember being as scared in my whole life as I was this past week,” she said. “I had to leave the house after being inside for almost a week – I was going crazy.”

She said her two-year-old niece is terrified every time the warning siren goes off. She freezes and is unable to move. Naomi says she lives in an old house and there is no reinforced room as is required in newer homes. She and her family go to an inside room when they hear the sirens.

Naomi says she’s tired of living with uncertainty, and Israel must strike hard against Hamas in Gaza.

“We’ve been living like this for too long,” she told The Media Line. “We have to deter them once and for all. We should cut off electricity and food. This is our country.”

She and Uzi have not yet set a new wedding date. She says she couldn’t bear to cancel a second time and will wait until the fighting ends before she gets married.

Israel-Gaza conflict: Low expectations


No one knows for sure why the Gaza hostilities began. 

We know that there had been weeks of intensifying rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, rockets fired by various Palestinian groups that were tolerated, even encouraged by the governing Hamas. And we know that the Israeli government had reached its limit of tolerance for such attacks, possibly, though not primarily, because elections are coming up, and the Israeli public wanted something done. We also know that what ignited the final escalation of this cycle of violence was Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ military chief on Nov. 14. We know that, following every such action, a barrage of rockets can be expected. We know, as well, that such a barrage is invitation for even more retaliation, and so on and so forth. 

Israelis got a glimpse last week of the damage Hamas can inflict on Israel; they discovered that Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are, indeed, within the reach of rockets from Gaza. That Hamas’ threats are no joke. But Israelis still don’t know why it all began. What was the calculus behind Hamas’ decision to allow and abet this growing harassment of Israeli civilians? What was the logic behind it, assuming there is some such logic? What was Hamas trying to achieve?

Not knowing Hamas’ goals is a problem for all those trying to assess Hamas’ ability to actually meet those goals. As this article was being written, attempts at negotiations were taking place to reach an agreement that would put an end to the fighting. Israelis will be happy if such agreement can end the barrage of rockets on its territory. Israeli leaders believe the country demonstrated last week that its citizens are willing to temporarily increase their own suffering in hope of getting a better long-term deal. And they also demonstrated the ability of Israel’s defensive tool — the Iron Dome — to dramatically decrease damage to Israel’s citizens in case of war. And that is an important message not just for Hamas, but also for all other potential attackers, such as Hezbollah and Iran. 

Of course, it is possible that Hamas had just miscalculated its way into this week of skirmishes; it is possible that its leaders did not quite understand that Israel had reached the boiling point. Back in 2006, when Ehud Olmert abruptly launched the second Lebanon war, it was widely assumed — even publicly admitted — by Hezbollah leaders that the other side didn’t see it coming. That Hassan Nasrallah believed he could kidnap Israeli soldiers and get away with it. So it’s possible that the leaders of Hamas are guilty of a similar misperception; it’s possible they didn’t expect the harsh response they got.

However, other possibilities must also be considered. Maybe Hamas needed the fight. Maybe it needed to reassert its presence as a player that can make things complicated for all parties just as the Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas, was going to the United Nations to get the coveted seat of an almost official member. Maybe Hamas was trying to send a message to a disappointing Egyptian government that had not yet proven itself to be the ally Hamas expected it to be. 

The raging events around Gaza are a distraction from more urgent matters engulfing the Middle East and threatening to turn 2013 into a year much more challenging and dramatic than the year that is about to end. Lost behind the Gaza headlines is the recent report that the Iranians have completed yet another step in building their nuclear program. Pushed aside from attention are the much more bloody — but repetitious — events in Syria. 

The nature of small wars such as the one involving Gaza is that the context is always overwhelmed by the details. Another siren, another rocket, another Israeli attack from the air, more reservists join the troops, more injured, and dead; the hours pass, the days pass, but after a while, it all becomes blurred and seems cyclical. Each rocket fired matters only the moment it hits, or, in most cases, misses. Each siren matters only for the couple of minutes until the danger is over. Most of the occurrences of the past week — which I write abut with the caveat of a Nov. 19 press time — were quickly forgotten, negligible in their impact on the larger scheme of things. 

The final outcome of the battle is what matters, and, strangely, while no one can quite explain why the war started, everyone has known from the outset how it is supposed to end: a cease fire, the return to the status quo. No more rockets fired at Israel; no attacks from the Israeli side. Until the next round. The Gaza pressure cooker had to let some steam off before returning to normal (which is hardly what people in most other countries would call “normal”).

There have been many complaints as the operation continued, related to the lack of “strategy” on the part of Israel (for some reason — maybe lack of expectations? — fewer such complaints were aimed at Hamas). These complaints have come mostly in two forms: 1.) that Israel should not fight a war against Hamas without coupling its effort with a parallel effort at advancing the peace process with the PA; and 2.) that it is time for Israel to abandon its policy of non-negotiation with Hamas and acknowledge reality — Hamas is here to stay.

These two alternative policies are both worthy of discussion, as long as one realizes that they contradict one another. If Israel negotiates with Hamas, it undermines the PA, the only partner Israel might have for a peace process. If Israel advances peace negotiations with the PA, it is likely to draw even more opposition from Hamas. Nevertheless, some serious people believe that at least one of the two options should be vigorously pursued by Israel, and some even believe that Israel can attempt to try both in parallel. At the bottom of these alternative policy paths, though, lie two assumptions that Israel doesn’t seem to accept, and hence doesn’t seem inclined to follow: 1.) that there’s no problem without solution, and 2.) that action is always preferable to inaction.

If one accepts these two assumptions, it is reasonable to be puzzled, even dismayed by Israel’s lack of “strategy.” It is clear, and not just in regard to the 2012 Gaza operation, that Israel operates under the supposition that no solution is currently available for the problem of Gaza and Hamas, and that inaction — in the larger sense — is indeed preferable to action. Israel believes that Hamas is an enemy with whom no negotiation can lead to resolution, and that this is a component of the larger problem of a Palestinian society that isn’t yet ready for peace. When Palestinians are ready — when they are ready not just to negotiate with Israel, but also to confront the radical factions within their own society — that will be the right time for an attempt at a resolution that demands action. But until then, Israel defies both above-mentioned assumptions: It believes that there’s no present agreement that will put an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and that the lack of a possible agreement makes a tense but quiet status quo the only thing it can hope to achieve. 

Hence, an operation with no “strategy.” A war of low intensity, but also of low expectations. An operation aimed at restoring a status quo that is far from satisfying to both Palestinians and Israelis. An operation that outsiders perceive with a measure of dismay: All this violence just to go back to what we had two months ago? All this violence, and no attempt to leverage it to achieve larger goals? 

The answer, sadly, is a resounding yes. The dead, the injured, the terrified, the heart-wrenching scenes, the scared innocents, the crying children, the wasted days, the sleepless nights, the constant worry, the shattered windows, the wasted resources, the sad realization that there’s no end — all this with no purpose other than to restore the status quo. That is what Israel wants for now. And as for Hamas: As I warned at the outset of this article, we have a problem with Hamas, beginning with the fact that we don’t quite understand what they want.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor.

A call from Tel Aviv: Freaked, at first


Is this a war?

It’s so hard to know these days. Wars used to happen on things called battlefields, where armies met, fought and met again.

What’s going on in Gaza and Israel is far murkier than that. In Israel, the rockets rain down on apartment buildings, fields, schools. The retaliation into Gaza, for all Israel’s careful targeting, must of necessity strike neighborhoods, homes, children.

This is not a war of tanks in the Sinai or dogfights over Damascus. It is a war of families huddled in stairwells, of bodies spilled out of cars. The wars of Israel get more intimate as the home fronts and battlefronts merge.

My friend Simone left a message on my cell phone when the fighting began. She had moved to Tel Aviv from Los Angeles less than a month ago, when her boyfriend, Wes, got a high-tech research job there. “You’ll love it,” I’d told her. “Most fun city in the world.”

“Rob,” Simone’s voice quavered. “I know it’s 3:30 in the morning, but we just heard explosions over Tel Aviv and I’m freaking out.”

Is it an existential war for Israel?

At first read, no: As of Monday, Israel has suffered just three casualties. Hamas is using weapons that are several rungs below conventional. No enemy armies are poised to invade, no enemy aircraft will — or perhaps even can — take to the skies.

But appearances are deceptive. No country can be expected to tolerate, as Israel has, its people being subject to unremitting terror from the skies. No country would accept that as “the price of doing business.” No economy or tourist industry or education system can function indefinitely under the constant threat of missile attack. As long as Hamas continues to procure, store and use rockets, Israel’s survival is at stake. Gaza 2012 is the latest battle in a war that began in 1948, when Arab nations rejected the Jewish sovereignty in Palestine, escalating in 1967 when Arab armies threatened to wipe Israel off the map, and again when Egypt sought its revenge in 1973. 

“The problem for the 1 million (out of a total of 7 million) Israelis who live in the southern part of the state closest to the Gaza Strip has been the ongoing unleashing of Hamas rockets against these southern communities,” Jerusalem Report writer Robert Slater wrote in an e-mail to friends. “Though casualties have been few, those 1 million Israelis live in constant dread that a rocket will fall on them.”

And it’s not just the south: Slater’s family in Jerusalem had to rush into a bomb shelter when air raid sirens went off there. Several rockets exploded near or above Tel Aviv.

We hear of all this instantly. The air raid sirens go off in Tel Aviv, and seconds later a push notification pops up on my iPhone. We Skype my brother-in-law as he sits with his daughter in a Tel Aviv cafe, waiting for the next round. I listen to live reports on Galei Tahal and Reshet Gimel, via an app called Israel Radio, as if I’m driving on the Ayalon Highway. My e-mail inbox fills up with first-hand accounts and cell phone video clips. My Twitter feed shows photos of friends in shelters, and of Palestinian children in Gaza mangled by Israeli retaliation. In intimate wars, there is no escaping the battle, or the images.

“Why is Hamas doing this?” a friend asked — because everyone sees the inevitable and fearsome retribution Israel is able to inflict.

The simplest answer is, because it’s Hamas. If Hamas cared about Palestinian children, it would cease its fire. If its warriors didn’t want to paint themselves in the blood of innocent women and children, it would stop. If it wanted to build the Gaza economy, with Israel as a partner, it would quit. But it can’t: Hamas is the heir to the same dead-end ideology that has compelled Arab nations to reject and battle Israel from the beginning of the state. This current conflict is one more skirmish in that longer war. Israeli tanks rolled across Gaza in June 1967 to thwart an Egyptian army advance — and the battle goes on.

Israel captured and then occupied Gaza for decades, then withdrew unilaterally to allow Palestinians to shape their own future. But Hamas decided the future lay in … 1967.

Israel, of course, is not what it was then. It has rockets that can intercept and shoot down rockets midair. It has cities and an economy far more resilient than it had decades ago. It has people who know — intimately — what it takes to live next to a neighbor who wants to destroy them.

By the time I checked back in with Simone, she had endured several air raid sirens, several fast walks to the shelter or reinforced hallways, where people brought their laptops and their dachshunds, and stood around and talked.

She told me she was now embarrassed to think how frightened she was in her first message to me.

“You kind of get used to it,” she said.

Israelis killed, Gaza shakes as Clinton seeks truce


Israeli air strikes shook the Gaza Strip and Gazan rockets struck across the border as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks in Jerusalem in the early hours of Wednesday, seeking a truce that can hold back Israel's ground troops.

Hamas, the Islamist movement controlling Gaza, and Egypt, whose new, Islamist government is trying to broker a truce, had floated hopes for a ceasefire by late Tuesday; but by the time Clinton met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu it was clear there would be more argument, and more violence, first.

Hamas leaders in Cairo accused the Jewish state of failing to respond to proposals and said an announcement on holding fire would not come before daylight on Wednesday. Israel Radio quoted an Israeli official saying a truce was held up due to “a last-minute delay in the understandings between Hamas and Israel”.

An initial halt to attacks may, however, not see the sides stand their forces down from battle stations immediately; Clinton, who flies to Cairo to see Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi later on Wednesday, spoke of a deal “in the days ahead”.

As she arrived in Israel after nightfall, Israel was stepping up its bombardment. Artillery shells and missiles fired from naval gunboats offshore slammed into the territory and air strikes came at a frequency of about one every 10 minutes.

After seven days of hostilities that have killed over 130 Palestinians and five Israelis, two of these on Tuesday, both sides are looking for more than a return to the sporadic calm that has prevailed across the blockaded enclave since Israel ended a much bloodier air and ground offensive four years ago.

ELECTION

Netanyahu, who faces an election in two months that he is, for now, favoured to win, told Clinton he wanted a “long-term” solution. Failing that, Netanyahu made clear, he stood ready to step up the military campaign to silence Hamas's rockets.

Hamas for its part is exploring the opportunities that last year's Arab Spring has given it to enjoy favour from the new Islamist governments of states once ruled by U.S. proteges, and from Sunni Gulf powers keen to woo it away from Shi'ite Iran. It has used longer-range missiles, some sent by Tehran, and hopes to eclipse Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas has spoken of an easing of Israel's blockade on the 25-mile slice of Mediterranean coast that is home to 1.7 million people. It may count on some sympathy from Morsi, though Egypt's first freely elected leader, whose Muslim Brotherhood inspired Hamas's founders, has been careful to stick by the 1979 peace deal with Israel struck by Cairo's former military rulers.

Clinton, who broke off from an Asian tour with President Barack Obama and assured Netanyahu of “rock-solid” U.S. support for Israel's security, spoke of seeking a “durable outcome” and of Egypt's “responsibility” for promoting peace.

She repeated international calls for the kind of lasting, negotiated, comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian settlement that has eluded the two peoples for decades – something neither of the two warring parties seems seriously to be anticipating.

“In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region,” Clinton said.

“It is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza. The rocket attacks from terrorist organisations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored.

“The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

“SELF-DEFENCE”

Netanyahu, who has appeared in no immediate rush to repeat the invasion of winter 2008-09 in which over 1,400 Palestinians died, said: “If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that.

“But if not, I'm sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people.”

As Israeli aircraft have carried out hundreds of strikes on rocket stores, launchpads and suspected Hamas command posts since assassinating the head of its military wing a week ago, tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers have been preparing tanks and infantry units for a possible invasion.

During the night, explosions again rocked the city of Gaza and other parts of the Strip, while rockets from the enclave, some essentially home-made, others Iranian-designed and smuggled through tunnels from Egypt, landed in southern Israel.

One reached as far as Rishon Lezion, near Tel Aviv, on Tuesday, the latest to jar Israel's metropolis, long untroubled by Hamas attacks. Another rocket fell close to Jerusalem, the holy city claimed by both sides in the conflict.

Medical officials in Gaza said 31 Palestinians were killed on Tuesday. An Israeli soldier and a civilian died when rockets exploded near the Gaza frontier, police and the army said.

Gaza medical officials say 138 people have died in Israeli strikes, mostly civilians, including 34 children. In all, five Israelis have died, including three civilians killed last week.

AMMUNITION STORES

Obama, whose relations with the hawkish Netanyahu have long been strained, has said he wants a diplomatic solution, rather than a possible Israeli ground operation in the densely populated territory, home to 1.7 million Palestinians.

Israel's military on Tuesday targeted more than 130 sites in Gaza, including ammunition stores and the Gaza headquarters of the National Islamic Bank. Israeli police said more than 150 rockets had been fired from Gaza by the evening.

“No country would tolerate rocket attacks against its cities and against its civilians,” Netanyahu said with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Jerusalem from talks in Cairo, at his side. “Israel cannot tolerate such attacks.”

Critics have accused Israel of using disproportionate force that has killed civilians. Israel accuses Hamas of putting Gaza's people in harm's way by siting rockets among them.

Media groups have criticised attacks on Gaza media facilities. On Tuesday, three local journalists died in air strikes on their vehicles.

A building housing AFP's bureau was bombed. The French news agency said its staff were unhurt. Israel's military said it had been targeting a Hamas intelligence centre in the tower.

Hamas executed six Palestinians accused of spying for Israel, who a security source quoted by Hamas Aqsa radio said had been “caught red-handed” with “filming equipment to take footage of positions”. The radio said they had been shot.

Militants on a motorcycle dragged the body of one of the men through the streets.

A delegation of nine Arab ministers, led by the Egyptian foreign minister, visited Gaza in a further signal of heightened Arab solidarity with the Palestinians.

Economic costs of Gaza fighting


Last Friday, Moshe Ahituv (not his real name) received another call-up from the Israeli army. A captain in the home front command, he had already completed 43 days of army reserve service this year.

Moshe, 40, is an English teacher and the father of two toddlers. His wife is a physical therapist and they are about to purchase their first apartment in Jerusalem. He says the emotional cost of the fighting in the Gaza Strip has already taken a toll.

“The kids aren’t sleeping well, and my three-year-old daughter is behaving badly at nursery school,” he told The Media Line. “It’s also frustrating for me. I spend a lot of time on buses getting from home to my base. I could be home with the kids then or working to bring home money to my family.”

There is also an economic toll. While the government will pay for his missed days at work, he will not receive compensation for the private tutoring hours he has been forced to cancel, which amounts to $400 per week.

Israelis and Palestinians are paying a heavy economic price for the cross-border fighting in Gaza. From orange trees in Gaza damaged during an Israeli airstrike to small restaurants in southern Israel who have no customers, to tourists cancelling trips to Israel and Bethlehem, to destroyed buildings in Gaza, the economic costs on both sides is astronomical.

The business information company IDI estimates the fighting in Gaza will cost the Israeli economy $75 million dollars per day in lost productivity. Many small businesses in southern Israel, in particular, are suffering.

“Usually on the weekends we are full, but this past weekend we had just two tables – both of journalists,” Elad Zaritsky, 35, the owner of Linda, a bistro restaurant in the Mediterranean coastal city of Ashqelon, told The Media Line. “We’ve already lost thousands of dollars and we simply can’t continue like this. If the fighting continues much longer, we may have to close.”

Zaritsky says small businesses like his operate with only a narrow profit margin. He says the restaurant has been open for five years. Four years ago, during Cast Lead, Israel’s last major ground operation in Gaza, his business also suffered. The government did give him compensation, but he says it did not nearly cover his losses.

Tourism in Israel is also beginning to suffer, although this is the low season for tourism, between the Jewish holidays of the fall; and Chanuka and Christmas in a few weeks.

“Incoming groups for the near future are down 10 percent and individual bookings are down 15 percent,” Ami Etgar, the general director of the Israel Incoming Tour Operator Association told The Media Line. “But groups that are already here have not left.”

Across the border, inside Gaza, life has virtually come to a standstill. While most residents keep a stock of food supplies including flour, oil, sugar and tea in their homes, most shops and businesses remain closed.

“Banks are closed and ATM machines are running out of cash,” Azzam Shawwa, the general manager of the Quds Bank told The Media Line. “But who wants to risk going out when there are airstrikes?”

Shawwa said there is also concern about the electricity supply to Gaza. While Israel has continued to provide power to the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, the electricity must go through transformers to change the voltage. Some of those transformers have been destroyed in Israeli airstrikes, and the spare ones are already being used, he said.

“Even before this, some places only had electricity for 12 hours a day,” Omar Shaaban, an economist at Palthink, a Gaza-based think tank told The Media Line. “Now some places only have electricity for six hours a day. Some of us have generators, but there is a shortage of fuel for the generators. I just turned my generator on to answer some emails, but I’m going to have to turn it off soon.”

Shaaban says it’s too early to assess the economic damage caused by the Israeli airstrikes, which have killed at least 95 Palestinians and wounded hundreds. Dozens of buildings in Gaza have been completely destroyed.

“Our economy is losing at least $2 million dollars per day,” Shaaban said. “And that’s in addition to the agricultural sector which has already lost $25 million dollars. The economy has been completely suspended. Agricultural products were supposed to be exported this week from Gaza, but now that didn’t happen.”

Back across the border in Israel, more people seem to be staying home, even in areas that have been relatively free of missile strikes.

“There are many fewer passengers going from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Raof Basila, an Arab citizen of Israel who drives a shared-taxi between the two cities. His colleague, Fadi Abu Katish, agrees. He told The Media Line that while fifty drivers normally transport more than 1,500 passengers each day, the drivers are now alone in their vehicles.

Basila added a pensive note. “People are afraid to go out,” he said. “It is not good for either side. Both sides need peace.”

Israel says it prefers diplomacy but is ready to invade Gaza


Israel bombed dozens more targets in the Gaza Strip on Monday and said that, while it was prepared to step up its offensive by sending in troops, it preferred a diplomatic solution that would end Palestinian rocket fire.

Egypt said a deal for a truce could be close, though by late evening there was no end to six days of heavy missile exchanges as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed his next steps with his inner circle of senior ministers.

U.S. President Barack Obama called Egypt's President Mohamed Mursi, who has been trying to use his influence with Hamas, his fellow Islamists who run Gaza, to broker a halt. Obama “underscored the necessity of Hamas ending rocket fire”, the White House said.

The leader of Hamas, speaking in Cairo, said it was up to Israel to end a new conflict that he said it had started. Israel, which assassinated a Hamas military chief on Wednesday, says its air strikes are to halt Palestinian rocket attacks.

To Mursi and in a subsequent call to Netanyahu, Obama said he regretted the deaths of Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Israeli attacks on the sixth day of fighting raised the number of Palestinian dead to 101, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said, listing 24 children among them. Subsequent deaths raised the toll in Gaza to 106. Hospital officials in the enclave said more than half of those killed were non-combatants. Three Israeli civilians died on Thursday in a rocket strike.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, touring the region in the hopes of helping to broker a peace deal, arrived in Cairo, where he met Egypt's foreign minister in preparation for talks with Mursi on Tuesday. He also plans to meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

With the power balances of the Middle East drastically reshaped by the Arab Spring during a first Obama term that began two days after Israel ended its last major Gaza offensive, the newly re-elected U.S. president faces testing choices to achieve Washington's hopes for peace and stability across the region.

ROCKET FIRE

Militants in the Gaza Strip fired 110 rockets at southern Israel on Monday, causing no casualties, police said. Israel said it had conducted 80 air strikes on the enclave. The figures meant a relative easing in ferocity – over 1,000 rockets have been fired in the six days, and 1,350 air strikes carried out.

For the second straight day, Israeli missiles blasted a tower block in the city of Gaza housing international media. Two people were killed there, one of them an Islamic Jihad militant.

Khaled Meshaal, exile leader of Hamas, said a truce was possible but the Islamist group, in charge of the Gaza Strip since 2007, would not accept Israeli demands and wanted Israel to halt its strikes first and lift its blockade of the enclave.

“Whoever started the war must end it,” he told a news conference in Cairo, adding that Netanyahu, who faces an election in January, had asked for a truce, an assertion a senior Israeli official described as untrue.

Meshaal said Netanyahu feared the domestic consequences of a “land war” of the kind Israel launched four years ago: “He can do it, but he knows that it will not be a picnic and that it could be his political death and cost him the elections.”

For Israel, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon has said that “if there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack”.

Yaalon also said Israel wanted an end to guerrilla activity by militants from Gaza in the neighboring Egyptian Sinai peninsula.

Although 84 percent of Israelis support the current Gaza assault, according to a poll by Israel's Haaretz newspaper, only 30 percent want an invasion.

DIPLOMACY “PREFERRED”

“Israel is prepared and has taken steps, and is ready for a ground incursion which will deal severely with the Hamas military machine,” an official close to Netanyahu told Reuters.

“We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel's population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required. If diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative but to send in ground forces,” he added.

Egypt, where Mursi has his roots in Hamas's spiritual mentors the Muslim Brotherhood, is acting as a mediator in the biggest test yet of Cairo's 1979 peace treaty with Israel since the fall of Hosni Mubarak early last year.

“I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict,” Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil, who visited Gaza on Friday in a show of support for its people, said in an interview in Cairo for the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.

Egypt has been hosting leaders of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller armed faction.

Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had also been to Cairo for truce talks. A spokesman for Netanyahu's government declined comment on the matter.

Egypt's foreign minister, who met U.N. chief Ban on Monday, is expected to visit Gaza on Tuesday with a delegation of Arab ministers.

THOUSANDS MOURN FAMILY

Thousands turned out on Gaza's streets to mourn four children and five women who were among 11 people killed in an Israeli air strike that flattened a three-story home the previous day.

The bodies were wrapped in Palestinian and Hamas flags. Echoes of explosions mixed with cries of grief and defiant chants of “God is greatest!”.

Those deaths drew more international calls for an end to hostilities and could test Western support for an offensive that Israel billed as self-defense after years of cross-border rocket attacks.

Israel said it was investigating the strike that brought the home crashing down on the al-Dalu family, where the dead spanned four generations. Some Israeli newspapers said the house might have been targeted by mistake.

In scenes recalling Israel's 2008-2009 winter invasion of the coastal enclave, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border.

Israel has also authorized the call-up of 75,000 military reservists, so far mobilizing around half that number.

The Gaza fighting adds to worries of world powers watching an already combustible region, where several Arab autocrats have been toppled in popular revolts in the past two years and a civil war in Syria threatens to spread beyond its borders.

In the absence of any prospect of permanent peace between Israel and Islamist factions such as Hamas, mediated deals for each to hold fire unilaterally have been the only formula for stemming bloodshed in the past.

Hamas and other groups in Gaza are sworn enemies of the Jewish state, which they refuse to recognize and seek to eradicate, claiming all Israeli territory as rightfully theirs.

Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian Territories in 2006. A year later, after the collapse of a unity government under President Mahmoud Abbas, it seized Gaza in a brief civil war with Abbas's forces.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Dan Williams and Peter Graff; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

West Bank Palestinian protester dies


A Palestinian protester shot by Israeli troops during a protest against the Gaza operation has died.

Rashid Tamimi, 31, died Monday after being shot Saturday during a protest in the West Bank, Ynet reported.

Protests against Operation Pillar of Defense continued throughout the West Bank on Monday, according to reports.

Also on Monday, an Israeli car caught on fire after being hit by a bomb thrown by a Palestinian protester in the Binyamin region of the West Bank.

More images as Israel-Gaza fighting continues


Drawing 1,400, peaceful L.A. pro-Israel rally turns ugly near its end [VIDEO]


With an Israeli flag wrapped around him, Rabbi Dov Elkins stood with a crowd outside the Federal building in West Los Angeles on Sunday to participate in a pro-Israel rally.

“We’re here to support Israel,” Elkins, 75, said, joined by his wife, Maxine. Residents of Princeton, N.J., the couple were in L.A. visiting their children and grandchildren; they had attended Shabbat services at the Pico-Robertson shul the Happy Minyan on Saturday, and when the rabbi announced that a pro-Israel event would be taking place the next day, they decided to attend. 

“We wouldn’t be anywhere else,” Maxine Elkins, 65, said, adding, “I’m a Jew, and this is the least American Jews can do — to come here and support Israel.”

As many as 1,400 demonstrators turned up on the afternoon of Nov. 18 to support Israel, according to police on the scene.  They came in the wake of the recent violence between Israel and Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. For approximately one week, Israel has responded to ongoing, indiscriminate Palestinian rocket fire with targeted air strikes aimed at killing Hamas military leaders and destroying weapons caches.

Story continues after the jump.

Video by Jay Firestone

The demonstration was organized by the pro-Israel organizations Stand With Us, the Israeli-Leadership Council (ILC) and the Zionist Organization of America-Western Region (ZOA). Jews of all denominations came out for the rally, staged outside the Westwood Federal Building at the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Veteran Avenue, including Americans, Israelis and Jews of Iranian heritage.

About 100 pro-Palestinian supporters held a counter-demonstration across the street, on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard.

For the most part, the three-hour event was peaceful, but during the final hour, the situation became heated when a fight reportedly broke out between a pro-Palestinian protestor and pro-Israel protestor. Police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol officials were on scene.

In response, pro-Israel supporters charged over to the Palestinian side of the street. Police officers stepped in to bring the Israel protestors back to their side.

Demonstrators waved Israeli and American flags along with signs with slogans such as: “Israel Deserves Security;” “Hamas is the Enemy of Peace;” “Gaza Children Deserve Education Not Military Training” and more.

Community leaders supporting Israel included Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine and Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, a 2013 mayoral candidate. Also present were Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, West Coast director of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Stewart Vogel of Temple Aliyah, Rabbi Avi Taff of Valley Beth Shalom, Rabbi Jason Weiner, a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue.

“We are here to protest the necessity of peace, the danger of those who would seek to destroy us and our determination to live both in strength and with justice and with peace,” Wolpe said.

Am Yisrael Chai,” he added.

Other speakers included Israeli actress Noa Tishby, ILC chairman Shawn Evenhaim, Roz Rothstein, CEO of Stand With Us and Orit Arfa, executive director of the ZOA-West.

Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, a nonprofit that organizes Iranian-American Jews in political, civic and Jewish life, was among a group of Iranian-American Jews in attendance. In addition, the Israeli Scouts of Los Angeles, a youth group from the San Fernando Valley, brought 47 teens.

All ages attended to show support for Israel. Chloe Bismuth, a 20-year-old UCLA student who said she travels to Israel every year, showed up with her knuckles painted to spell out “Israel” and tiny Israeli flags painted onto her cheeks. Israel is a “country all of us as Jews should rely on,” she said, “all of us who believe in democracy.”

Pinhas Avgani, 63, Israeli and a Woodland Hills resident, was among the dozens who gathered on the sidewalk at the southwest corner of Wilshire-and-Veteran to chant and wave flags, standing as close to the street as police officers would allow.

“When [Palestinians] put weapons down, there will be peace. If Israelis are going to put their weapon down, Israel will disappear,” Avgani said.

Naz Farahdel, a 24-year-old Iranian American Jew and a law clerk at the city attorney’s office, turned out with two friends, also Iranian American Jews.

The pro-Israel side aimed for a broad celebration of Israel. Upbeat Israeli music played loudly; people came together for Israeli dancing, and the crowd sang the Hatikva.

Until the pro-Israel charge across the street, the pro-Israel side stayed on the southwest and southeast corners of Wilshire-and-Veteran.  A line of hundreds of demonstrators began at the southwest corner of the intersection, extending eastward, halfway down the block toward Sepulveda Boulevard. People led Israel chants, speaking into bullhorns. Passing cars honked horns and waved Israeli flags out of the windows. Meanwhile, LAPD helicopters circled overhead.

On the Palestinian side demonstrators carried signs expressing support for Palestinians and also denouncing Israel and the United States: “Resist Zionism and Imperialism;” “Let Gaza Live: Free Palestine” and “Stop U.S. Aid to Israel.”  One banner read: “It’s not a war. In Palestine, it’s genocide.”

When the pro-Israeli group crossed the street after the disruption began, Rothstein called the Israel protestors back to their side. Soon, nine California Highway Patrol and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vehicles parked in a line in the center of Wilshire. Police officers stationed themselves on foot at all four corners of the intersection, keeping the crowds to the sidewalk. Officers stood by the parked vehicles.

Chants turned ugly. When the Palestinian side chanted, “Free, free Palestine,” a man on the Israel side yelled back, “Bomb, bomb Palestine.”

Angering many on the Israel side, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator tied an Israel flag to his leg and let it drag in the street. A group of male teenagers, a middle-aged man and two elderly women on the Israel side responded by yelling out insults and curses.

Around 3:45 p.m., Rothstein, in cooperation with law enforcement, told demonstrators on the Israel side to go home. Rothstein had initially told law enforcement that the event, which began at 1 p.m., would end no later than 3:30 p.m. By this time, attendance of both sides had dwindled, but a sizable Israel group and a small Palestinian group remained.

LAPD officers accompanied the Palestinian protestors as they crossed to the pro-Israel side to walk toward their cars in the Federal building parking lot, where most of the demonstrators from both sides had parked. “We want to get those folks safety out of here,” a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official told Rothstein.

Rothstein joined a police officer in a police car and using the car’s loudspeaker asked everyone on the Israel side to leave, as the car inched slowly in front of the pro-Israel crowd. “Thank you for your cooperation. Thank you for being here,” she said.

By 4 p.m., most demonstrators on both sides departed.

Rothstein acknowledged that the pro-Israel side had engaged in some bad behavior. “It is kind of why I sometimes worry about putting these things on. You never know who is going to show up,” she said. “But it’s a community and we have a tapestry.”

While the Palestinian side was small compared to the Israel side on Sunday, on Nov. 15, hundreds of pro-Palestinians had rallied outside the office of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, near Wilshire and Barrington avenue. There, one attendee blamed Israel for the recent violence. “It’s saddening but it’s not shocking, and if you’ve been following the news today [Nov. 15] it had been reported that Israel had broken the cease-fire first. Unfortunately Western media has not been quick to follow up on that regard,” she said.

“But regardless I support neither Hamas or Israel. What I support is the liberation of the Palestinian people,” she added.

In addition to Sunday’s rally, local initiatives are showing solidarity with Israel, including a project organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles that enables people to post messages onto the Federation website in support of the children of Israel.

Truth and consequences: When Hamas targeted The Holy City


Jerusalemites have an age-old custom of ushering in the holy Sabbath earlier — a full 36 minutes before sunset — than anywhere else in the world. So, last Friday evening, I rushed through the Old City’s Arab souk, weaving my way past Christian pilgrims, Korean tourists and Israeli bargain hunters to reach the Kotel, aka the Western Wall. There, under the joyful supervision of Jerusalemite Rabbi Chaim Cheshin, I was about to usher in 25 hours of cellphone- and Facebook-free bliss.

At the Wall, Friday night prayers are all about joy, singing and — yes, even dancing — black- frocked Chasidim commingling with freshly scrubbed North American students. Lekhah Dodi is the poetic tefilah that welcomes in the Sabbath Queen.

“Come in peace … come in joy accompanied by you faithful …” rings out its final line.

In a nanosecond, any thoughts of peace or spirituality were erased. First a siren, followed by escalating bullhorn pleas from police for the hundreds of the faithful to rush for cover at the entrances to the ancient Kotel tunnels.

For this Friday night at least, the profane defeated the holy. Hamas had chosen to expand its deadly rockets to target the city holy to three faiths.

Later, when I reached my daughter’s place in Rehavia, in West Jerusalem, we adults had some explaining to do to my five grandchildren. “Why did Bubbe and Ema rush us to the bottom of the staircase?”

“Why are the sirens so loud?”

“When will the next azaka [alert] come?”

“Why are they trying to hurt us?”

Why, indeed.

Go explain Hamas to a child in Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba and, yes, even in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Go ahead, adults — explain to them how in the hell did the world allow these religious thugs to amass thousands of rockets, deploy them from among their own civilians? How is it that NGOs, Christian activists and tenured professors continue to bestow the mantel of victimhood on thugs who hide behind the skirts of women and in bunkers under hospitals? How come so many in the international media depict suicide bombings and thousands of Hamas rocket attacks as legitimate responses to Israeli “occupiers” who occupy not one millimeter of the Gaza Strip?

Most of all, explain to those children the source of Muslim Brotherhood-inspired hatred of Jews and Judaism not seen in the world since Nazi Germany.

But this not 1938 or 1942. Today, the Jews have a democratic state and a military that deploys drones, not to indiscriminately kill the innocent and guilty, but to efficiently target mass murderers and terrorists.

Israelis have had enough. They see what is happening in Syria, and right, left and center, Israelis have come together to tell the world they will not subcontract the safety of their kids or mortgage their future to the whims of a cynical and uncaring international community.

It’s an important message surgically delivered by the Israel Defense Forces.

We can only hope and pray that Israel does what it has to to remove Hamas’ terrorist threat once and for all — whatever it takes.

On Shabbat morning, I was speaking to a friend of mine who is the maître d’ at the King David Hotel. I asked him what his Friday night was like in East Jerusalem. He told me how his granddaughter started shaking with fright when the sirens went off.

There we were, two grandfathers looking at each other for a long moment, silently reflecting on the same question: What will it take for our grandchildren to be able to live in peace?

I have no magic formula, but this past Shabbat in Jerusalem underscored one uncomfortable but unshakable truth: Peace will never be possible in the Holy Land unless and until the evil that is Hamas is uprooted.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.  He spent the last ten days in Israel.

Israel shoots down Hamas rocket fired at Tel Aviv


Israel's “Iron Dome” interceptor system shot down two incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip on Sunday night and no casualties or damage was reported, a police spokesman said.

Hamas, Gaza's Islamist rulers, claimed responsibility for firing at the city.

It was the second strike on Israel's commercial capital on Sunday. In the earlier attack, one person was hurt by falling debris from a rocket that was intercepted south of the city.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Crispian Balmer

Tens of millions of hackers target Israel government Web sites


More than 44 million hacking attempts have been made on Israeli government web sites since Wednesday when Israel began its Gaza air strikes, the government said on Sunday.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said just one hacking attempt was successful on a site he did not want to name, but it was up and running after 10 minutes of downtime.

Typically, there are a few hundred hacking attempts a day on Israeli sites, the ministry said.

Attempts on defence-related sites have been the highest, while 10 million attempts have been made on the site of Israel's president, 7 million on the Foreign Ministry and 3 million on the site of the prime minister.

Screenshot from Groupon.co.il which was hacked by Pakistani hackers.

A ministry spokesman said while the attacks have come from around the world, most have been from Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“The ministry's computer division will continue to block the millions of cyber attacks,” Steinitz said. “We are enjoying the fruits of our investment in recent years in developing computerised defence systems.”

Steinitz has instructed his ministry to operate in emergency mode to counter attempts to undermine government sites.

Both sides in the Gaza conflict, but particularly Israel, are embracing the social media as one of their tools of warfare. The Israeli Defense Force has established a presence on nearly every platform available while Palestinian militants are active on Twitter.

“The war is taking place on three fronts. The first is physical, the second is on the world of social networks and the third is cyber,” said Carmela Avner, Israel's chief information officer.

Last month, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said cyberspace is the battlefield of the future, with attackers already going after banks and other financial systems. U.S. banks have been under sustained attack by suspected Iranian hackers thought to be responding to economic sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to negotiate over its nuclear program.

Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Stephen Powell

Gaza journalists wounded by Israeli attack on buildings


Israeli aircraft hit two Gaza media buildings on Sunday, wounding eight journalists and drawing concern from press covering the fighting between Palestinian militants and the Jewish state.

The Israeli military said the attacks were pinpoint strikes on Hamas communication devices located on the buildings' roofs, and accused the Islamist group of using reporters as human shields to try and protect their operations.

Britain's Sky News, German ARD, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya, Beirut-based al Quds television and other broadcasters operate from the two buildings, which are a block apart. One employee from al Quds TV lost his leg in the early morning strike.

The attack came on the fifth day of heavy air strikes on the coastal enclave which Israel says are needed to halt repeated militant rocket launches into its territory.

The Foreign Press Association covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories issued a statement in which it expressed concern over the bombings and quoted a U.N. Security Council resolution that condemned attacks against journalists.

Israeli military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich denied that journalists were the target of the strike.

“Hamas took a civilian building and used it for its own needs. So the journalists … were serving as human shields for Hamas,” she said.

The military added that in order to avoid worse casualties, it had refrained from firing at an Hamas operations room which it said was located inside one of the buildings.

Abdel-Ghani Jaber, director of a private Palestinian media production company, said two of his employees were wounded when the blast shattered the windows of his office.

“I was asleep when it happened … I jumped from the mattress because it sounded so near,” Jaber said, “I wanted to look out the window when someone told me the building was being bombed and I started to run. As I ran a second missile hit just above our floor and damaged a room in my office.”

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, journalists held a protest against Sunday's strikes. Palestinian government spokeswoman Nour Odeh said the attacks were “a clear message against the freedom of journalism and opinions”.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned the raid and said that: “Israeli forces jammed the broadcasts of a number of local radio stations.”

An Israeli military spokesman said the army had cut into a Hamas radio frequency on Sunday and used it to broadcast warnings to residents to get away from Hamas properties and avoid becoming casualties.

In a 2008-2009 war against Hamas, Israel attacked one of the same buildings that was blasted on Sunday, again accusing Islamist militant of operating out of the tower block.

Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Crispian Balmer

Obama: Missile fire from Gaza must stop first


President Obama told the Egyptian and Turkish leaders that a resolution to the Gaza-Israel violence must begin with an end to rocket fire into Israel.

“If we’re serious about wanting to resolve this situation and create a genuine peace process, it starts with no more missiles being fired into Israel’s territory, and that then gives us the space to try to deal with these longstanding conflicts that exist,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference in Bangkok, the first leg of his tour of Asian countries.

Obama said he had spoken multiple times with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who happened to be visiting Egypt during the current crisis.

Story continues after the jump.

 

Both leaders are among a handful of nations that have close ties with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.

Obama repeated his assertion that Hamas and other terrorist groups were responsible for the recent intensification of the violence.

“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here was that’s causing the current crisis, and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles,” the U.S. leader said. “They were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.

“So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Obama said he was “actively” working with all parties to end the missile fire, and he wanted to see progress in the next 48 hours.

“What I’ve said to President Morsi and Prime Minister Erdogan is that those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future,” he said.

Israel hits Hamas government buildings, reservists mobilized


Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas government buildings in Gaza on Saturday, including the prime minister's office, after Israel's cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

Palestinian militants in Gaza kept up cross-border salvoes, firing a rocket at Israel's biggest city Tel Aviv for the third straight day. Police said it was destroyed in mid-air by an Iron Dome anti-missile battery deployed hours earlier, and no one was injured.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, said Israeli missiles wrecked the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh – where he had met on Friday with the Egyptian prime minister – and struck a police headquarters.

In the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.

With Israeli tanks and artillery positioned along the Gaza border and no end in sight to hostilities now in their fourth day, Tunisia's foreign minister travelled to the enclave in a show of Arab solidarity.

Officials in Gaza said 41 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians including eight children and a pregnant woman, had been killed since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.

In Cairo, a presidential source said Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi would hold four-way talks with the Qatari emir, the prime minister of Turkey and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in the Egyptian capital on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis.

Egypt has been working to reinstate calm between Israel and Hamas after an informal ceasefire brokered by Cairo unraveled over the past few weeks. Meshaal, who lives in exile, has already held a round of talks with Egyptian security officials.

Israel uncorked its massive air campaign on Wednesday with the declared goal of deterring Hamas from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years. The salvoes recently intensified, and are now displaying greater range.

The operation has drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called Israel's right to self-defense, along with appeals to both sides to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas, shunned by the West over its refusal to recognize Israel, says its cross-border attacks have come in response to Israeli strikes against Palestinian fighters in Gaza.

“We have not limited ourselves in means or in time,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israel's Channel One television. “We hope that it will end as soon as possible, but that will be only after all the objectives have been achieved.”

Hamas says it is committed to continued confrontation with Israel and is eager not to seem any less resolute than smaller, more radical groups that have emerged in Gaza in recent years.

The Islamist movement has ruled Gaza since 2007. Israel pulled settlers out of Gaza in 2005 but maintains a blockade of the tiny, densely populated coastal territory.

RESERVE TROOP QUOTA DOUBLED

At a late night session on Friday, Israel's cabinet decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000, political sources said.

The move did not necessarily mean all would be called up or that an invasion would follow. Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the sandy border zone on Saturday, and around 16,000 reservists have already been summoned to active duty.

The Gaza conflagration has stirred the pot of a Middle East already boiling from two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spread beyond its borders.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Israel and Egypt next week to push for an end to the fighting in Gaza, U.N. diplomats said on Friday.

Hamas's armed wing claimed responsibility for Saturday's rocket attack on Tel Aviv, saying it had fired a longer-range, Iranian-designed Fajr-5 at the coastal metropolis, some 70 km (43 miles) north of the Gaza Strip.

After air raid sirens sounded, witnesses saw two white plumes rise into the sky over the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv and heard an explosion when the incoming rocket was hit.

The anti-missile battery had been due to take delivery of its fifth Iron Dome battery early next year but it was rushed into service near Tel Aviv after rockets were launched toward the city on Thursday and Friday. Those attacks caused no damage or casualties.

In Jerusalem, targeted by a Palestinian rocket on Friday for the first time in 42 years, there was little outward sign on the Jewish Sabbath that the attack had any impact on the usually placid pace of life in the holy city.

In Gaza, some families abandoned their homes – some of them damaged and others situated near potential Israeli targets – and packed into the houses of friends and relatives.

ISRAEL'S GAZA TARGETS

The Israeli army said it had zeroed in on a number of government buildings during the night, including Haniyeh's office, the Hamas Interior Ministry and a police compound.

Taher al-Nono, a spokesman for the Hamas government, held a news conference near the rubble of the prime minister's office and pledged: “We will declare victory from here.”

A three-storey house belonging to Hamas official Abu Hassan Salah was also hit and totally destroyed early on Saturday. Rescuers said at least 30 people were pulled from the rubble.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama commended Egypt's efforts to help defuse the Gaza violence in a call to Morsi on Friday, the White House said in a statement, and underscored his hope of restoring stability there.

On Friday, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil paid a high-profile visit to Gaza, denouncing what he called Israeli aggression and saying Cairo was prepared to mediate a truce.

Egypt's Islamist government, freely elected after U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak fell to a popular uprising last year, is allied with Hamas but Cairo is also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

In a call to Netanyahu, Obama discussed options for “de-escalating” the situation, the White House said, adding that the president “reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives”.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-09, killed over 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died.

But few believe Israeli military action can snuff out militant rocket fire entirely without a reoccupation of Gaza, an option all but ruled out because it would risk major casualties and an international outcry.

While Hamas rejects the Jewish state's existence, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in areas of the nearby West Bank, does recognize Israel but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Israel, Gaza fighting rages on as Egypt seeks truce


Israel bombed militant targets in Gaza for a fifth straight day on Sunday, launching aerial and naval attacks as its military prepared for a possible ground invasion, though Egypt saw “some indications” of a truce ahead.

Forty-seven Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 12 children, have been killed in Israel's raids, Palestinian officials said. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three people and injuring dozens.

Israel unleashed its massive air campaign on Wednesday, killing a leading militant of the Hamas Islamist group that controls Gaza and rejects Israel's existence, with the declared goal of deterring gunmen in the coastal enclave from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years.

The Jewish state has since launched more than 950 air strikes on the coastal Palestinian territory, targeting weaponry and flattening militant homes and headquarters.

The raids continued past midnight on Sunday, with warships bombarding targets from the sea. And an air raid targeted a building in Gaza City housing the offices of local Arab media, wounding three journalists from al Quds television, a station Israel sees as pro-Hamas, witnesses said.

Two other predawn attacks on houses in the Jebalya refugee camp killed one child and wounded 12 other people, medical officials said.

These attacks followed a defiant statement by Hamas military spokesman Abu Ubaida, who told a televised news conference.

“This round of confrontation will not be the last against the Zionist enemy and it is only the beginning.”

The masked gunman dressed in military fatigues insisted that despite Israel's blows Hamas “is still strong enough to destroy the enemy.”

An Israeli attack on Saturday destroyed the house of a Hamas commander near the Egyptian border.

Casualties there were averted however, because Israel had fired non-exploding missiles at the building beforehand from a drone, which the militant's family understood as a warning to flee, and thus their lives were spared, witnesses said.

Israeli aircraft also bombed Hamas government buildings in Gaza on Saturday, including the offices of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and a police headquarters.

Among those killed in air strikes on Gaza on Saturday were at least four suspected militants riding motorcycles, and several civilians including a 30-year-old woman.

ISRAELI SCHOOLS SHUT

Israel said it would keep schools in its southern region shut on Sunday as a precaution to avoid casualties from rocket strikes reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the past few days.

Israel's “Iron Dome” missile interceptor system destroyed in mid-air a rocket fired by Gaza militants at Tel Aviv on Saturday, where volleyball games on the beach front came to an abrupt halt as air-raid sirens sounded.

Hamas' armed wing claimed responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, the third against the city since Wednesday. It said it had fired an Iranian-designed Fajr-5 at the coastal metropolis, some 70 km (43 miles) north of Gaza.

In the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.

Israel's operation has drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called Israel's right to self-defense, but there was also a growing number of calls from world leaders to seek an end to the violence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron “expressed concern over the risk of the conflict escalating further and the danger of further civilian casualties on both sides,” in a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a spokesperson for Cameron said.

The United Kingdom was “putting pressure on both sides to de-escalate,” the spokesman said, adding that Cameron had urged Netanyahu “to do everything possible to bring the conflict to an end.”

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said the United States would like to see the conflict resolved through “de-escalation” and diplomacy, but also believes Israel has a right to self-defense.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said in Cairo as his security deputies sought to broker a truce with Hamas leaders, that “there are some indications that there is a possibility of a ceasefire soon, but we do not yet have firm guarantees.”

Egypt has mediated previous ceasefire deals between Israel and Hamas, the latest of which unraveled with recent violence.

A Palestinian official told Reuters the truce discussions would continue in Cairo on Sunday, saying “there is hope,” but it was too early to say whether the efforts would succeed.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official declined to comment on the negotiations. Military commanders said Israel was prepared to fight on to achieve a goal of halting rocket fire from Gaza, which has plagued Israeli towns since late 2000, when failed peace talks led to the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising.

Diplomats at the United Nations said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Israel and Egypt in the coming week to push for an end to the fighting.

POSSIBLE GROUND OFFENSIVE

Israel, though, with tanks and artillery positioned along the frontier, signaled it was still weighing a possible ground offensive into Gaza.

Israeli cabinet ministers decided on Friday to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000 and around 16,000 reservists have already been called up.

Asked by reporters whether a ground operation was possible, Major-General Tal Russo, commander of the Israeli forces on the Gaza frontier, said: “Definitely.”

“We have a plan. … It will take time. We need to have patience. It won't be a day or two,” he added.

Another senior commander briefing reporters on condition of anonymity said Israel had scored “good achievements” in striking at nearly 1,000 targets, with the aim of ridding Hamas of firepower imported from Libya, Sudan and Iran.

A possible move into the densely populated Gaza Strip and the risk of major casualties it brings would be a significant gamble for Netanyahu, favorite to win a January national election.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year's period of 2008-09, killed over 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict.

But the Gaza conflagration has stirred the pot of a Middle East already boiling from two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spread beyond its borders.

One major change has been the election of an Islamist government in Cairo that is allied with Hamas, potentially narrowing Israel's maneuvering room in confronting the Palestinian group. Israel and Egypt made peace in 1979.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Todd Eastham

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