Israeli envoy: Hillary Clinton led the way to Gaza cease-fire in 2012


Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador the the United States, credited Hillary Clinton with the leading role in achieving a cease-fire in Israel’s 2012 conflict with Hamas.

Clinton flew to the region and conducted shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel to end hostilities between Israel and Hamas through indirect negotiations. Dermer said that because of the quick cease-fire, the eight-day conflict was the only one of Israel’s three rounds of fighting with Hamas to not include an Israeli ground operation in Gaza.

“She came in and had to get it right, and had, I think, basically one shot,” Dermer said at an event hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. “A lot of lives were saved.”

Dermer said the talks defined “how the U.S. and Israel work together as allies.”

He also defended Israeli settlement expansion in areas that would likely be part of a Palestinian state in a negotiated agreement. Dermer admonished the international community for criticizing Israeli building in settlements that would likely remain part of Israel. And he said that settlers living deeper in the West Bank should, in the event of Palestinian statehood, be given the option of gaining citizenship in that state.

“When you think settlers are undermining the prospects of peace, you are saying Palestine must be ‘judenrein,'” he said, using a Nazi German term meaning “free of Jews.” “There is no reason, concretely and in principle, why Jews should not be able to live in a future Palestinian state.”

Early in the event, a protester disrupted Dermer, standing in front of him, holding a banner and yelling “Occupation is not a Jewish value. Settlements are an obstacle to peace. We need justice and peace. We need equality for all people in Palestine and Israel.” After security guards escorted her out, protesters outside chanted “Free, free Palestine.”

Dermer said the next U.S. president should pursue the peace process by engaging with the Palestinian Authority and the wider Arab world on parallel tracks. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested, Dermer said shared opposition to Iran and the Islamic State terror group could draw Israel and Arab states closer together.

“The Arab states in the region understand the dangers of Iran, understand the danger of ISIS, and see Israel as a potential ally in that struggle,” he said. “One of the opportunities for a new administration is to take this new realignment in the Arab world and see how to translate that into a policy that advances peace.”

Israel not optimistic about Syria cease-fire


Israel’s defense minister said he does not expect the newly negotiated Syria cease-fire to succeed.

Moshe Yaalon said Monday in a statement he is skeptical about the cease-fire, which the United States and Russia announced earlier in the day, because the Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front, two of the numerous factions involved in the Syrian civil war of nearly five years, were not involved in the process, Agence France Press reported.

The cease-fire is scheduled to begin Feb. 27.

Yaalon also said both Russia and the U.S. recognize Israeli freedom of action in Syria.

“Israeli action is based on a single principle: self-defense,” the statement said, according to AFP.

The virtues of isolation


By accepting a ceasefire with Hamas, Israel's leaders have revoked Israeli citizens' inalienable right to live free within secure borders. Choosing shame over victory, the government in Jerusalem has allowed the terrorist group ruling Gaza to dictate the timing and terms of the twelfth cease-fire agreement in less than two months. 

This sad state of affairs is the result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's acceptance of the inevitability of Hamas rule over Gaza. In response, the Israeli electorate is rapidly abandoning their elected leader: from a high of 82 percent, Netanyahu's approval rating has plummeted to 38 percent in less than a month.

What happened?

Israelis of every political persuasion, age, gender, religious stream and socio-economic strata have come to realize an essential truth: Israel can defeat Hamas and Islamic Jihad by temporarily occupying the Gaza Strip and demilitarizing these and other terrorist groups.

Similar to the US handling of a defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, quiet borders tomorrow are predicated on a focused, aggressive and comprehensive Israeli military campaign inside Gaza today. 

Much like other terrorist outfits, including Peru's 'Shining Path' and Sri Lanka's 'Tamille Tigers', the government in Jerusalem can end Hamas's genocidal reign within a relatively brief period.

First, Israel's leaders need to redefine the benchmark for victory.

The destruction of 31 terror tunnels is not a victory. Neither is the bombing of approximately 5,000 terrorist sites across the Gaza Strip. Killing a few Hamas head honchos has done little more than provide laudatory headlines for pro-government Israeli news outlets to print.

All these much-touted successes are little more than the means to what has not yet been defined as the end:

Safeguarding Israel's historic and human right to live as a sovereign country among the family of nations.

Israeli leadership has first procrastinated and then reluctantly approved measured, restrained operations against an enemy committed to a total war of extermination.

This latest ceasefire will do little more than preserve Hamas's self-proclaimed right to threaten every Israeli man, woman and child with rocket fire as it sees fit.

Interestingly, Israel's most eloquent defenders and harshest critics share one fundamental belief about the country: the Jewish nation is unlike any other.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is acting out of fear that if Hamas is eliminated, the world will turn against Israel, turning the Jewish State into an international pariah.

Yet Netanyahu and his supporters seem to have forgotten the most basic lesson of contemporary Jewish history: Israel's national aspiration has never been to be merely tolerated by the international community, but to plant the tree of liberty in the heart of the most despotic region on earth.

Let an impotent United States, certain European governments and of course the United Nations obsess over maintaining geopolitical stability.

Israel is the first and possibly last great hope for democracy in the Middle East. As such, the Jewish State must aspire to more than just exist. Israeli leaders are charged with a sacred duty: to provide for the well-being, individuality and happiness of every citizen. 

How does a ceasefire with 15,000 well-financed fanatics do that?
 

Kerry to Israel and Palestinians: Comply completely with cease-fire


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Israel and the Palestinians to “fully and completely” comply with the terms of their latest cease-fire.

Kerry issued a statement Tuesday evening after the open-ended truce went into effect at 7 p.m. Israel time.

Meanwhile, a second man who was critically injured in a mortar attack from Gaza on the Eshkol Region shortly before the start of the cease-fire died of his injuries. Some 182 rockets were fired at Israel on Tuesday before the cease-fire.

In his statement, Kerry said, “We hope very much that this cease-fire will prove to be durable and sustainable, that it will put an end to rocket and mortar attacks, and that it will help to bring about an enduring end to the conflict in Gaza.”

Kerry called for the acceleration of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.

He commended the Egyptians “for their role in hosting the negotiations in Cairo and for continuing to work to reach agreement on a cease-fire.”

According to reports, the open-ended cease-fire would see the immediate opening of border crossings from Gaza into Israel and Egypt, and the expansion of Gaza’s fishing zone. The second phase would begin in a month, with discussion of the construction of a Gaza seaport and the Israeli release of Hamas prisoners.

The sides have agreed to numerous cease-fires since Israel launched its military operation in Gaza early last month to stop rocket fire from the coastal strip.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank flooded the streets and gunmen fired into the air to celebrate the cease-fire agreement; Hamas claimed victory. Several senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders surfaced in public shortly after the start of the cease-fire for the first time since the start of Israel’s Gaza operation about seven weeks ago.

Six civilians in Israel, including one foreign worker, and 64 soldiers were killed in the operation known as Protective Edge. The Palestinian death toll stood at least 2,127, the Palestinian Health Ministry told an Israeli television station.

Israel-Gaza cease-fire extended 24 hours as progress made on long-term truce


Israeli and Palestinian officials reportedly have confirmed that the Gaza cease-fire will be extended by 24 hours.

The extension of the current five-day cease-fire, which is set to expire at midnight Monday, will allow the sides to continue to discuss a long-term truce.

The talks reportedly are being extended because of what has been characterized as significant progress in talks on an agreement.

A senior member of the Palestinian delegation told the French news agency AFP that there had been “progress,” with both sides demonstrating “a great degree” of flexibility.

Earlier Monday, following a security meeting at the Ashdod Navy Base, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the cease-fire talks.

“We are ready for any scenario – the Israeli team in Cairo has been instructed to insist on Israel’s security needs and the IDF is prepared for very action strong action if fire is resumed,” Netanyahu said.

He added, “It could yet take time and one must be patient and determined. The combination of persistence and strength will assist us in achieving the goal of this.”

The Qatari-based Al-Jazeera news channel reported late Monday night that the cease-fire agreement currently being considered favorably by both sides includes opening border crossings between Israel and Gaza, with building materials allowed into Gaza under international supervision and expanding the fishing area for Gaza boats. The discussion of building a Gaza seaport and releasing Palestinian prisoners is to be discussed within a month.

For Israelis in the western Negev, each day is ‘Russian Roulette’


When the tzeva adom, red alert, screams its siren as Yasmine Parda eats out in Ashkelon at her favorite restaurant, she waits and hopes for the best—no rocket shelters are reachable by foot within the siren’s reported 15-second warning interval.

“We sit in the restaurant and wait,” said the 27-year-old secretary as she stopped for a few moments along Yig’al Alon Street in Sderot on Aug. 14, the morning after a five-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was announced.

Paya Amirov, Parda’s friend, described her life as a game of “Russian Roulette”—she can’t know whether the next minute, hour, or day will be quiet or chaotic, with the ever-present possibility of needing to drop everything and run from scorching metal and shrapnel that falls from the sky shortly after being fired from the neighboring Gaza Strip.

Michal Tweeto, who lives on Moshav Tkuma, a community next to Gaza, with her husband and three children, brought two of her kids—Tova, 5, and Avraham, 3—to a massive indoor playground and community center in Sderot so they could enjoy some respite for the day. In recent weeks, the kids have barely been able to leave the house. And even during this ceasefire, there’s no guarantee of safety.

“My kids are afraid. That’s the biggest problem for me,” Tweeto said. “I’m more afraid from the trauma than from the rockets.”

At the $5 million, 21,000-square-foot facility, which was built by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) in 2009, recreation rooms and play areas double as bomb shelters, giving parents like Tweeto the peace of mind that they enjoyed before 2001, when rocket fire from neighboring Gaza became a regular occurrence.

Located in an old warehouse on the eastern edge of Sderot, the facility has basketball courts, a café, computers and a small movie theater. On a recent visit, the happy screams of children playing rang through the air as parents sat at tables and socialized with each other.

This $5 million, 21,000 square foot indoor rec center in Sderot was built by the Jewish National Fund in 2009 as a response to rocket fire.

Just one mile away from the indoor playground, another stark reminder of life here, particularly for children, is made apparent by a large structure on an outdoor playground on Ha-Rakefet Street. Artfully built into the playground, the structure looks like a large friendly snake with a hollowed out interior play area.

This snake-like structure on an outdoor playground doubles as a bomb shelter.

Approaching it, though, a sign on it reads in Hebrew: “When the tzeva adom sounds, you have to enter under my protection beyond the orange line.”

This sign at an outdoor Sderot playground tells children to enter the inside of what is a playful looking snake if they hear the “red alert” siren.

Moshe and Linor Barsheshet, Netivot residents who came for the day to the indoor JNF playground with their two children, Haddas and Yonatan, left home for Beit Shemesh during the war and returned during the first cease fire two weeks ago.

Government officials asked residents in the south to return home, expecting that the cease-fire would hold—Hamas broke it on the morning of Aug. 8, firing a volley of rockets over the border and further shattering the confidence of many locals.

“It’s impossible to leave the house,” Moshe said.

Arnold Rosenblum, who came to Israel five years ago from Russia, recently moved to Sderot to enroll at Sapir College. Walking in the downtown shopping area, Rosenblum, 23, sat down for a few minutes to speak with a reporter.

“What can I say?” Rosenblum said, asked how the rockets and sirens have impacted his life. “We are getting used to this. First time is very hard and you really think maybe you should leave Sderot.”

After that initial shock, though, he said, the regular interruptions just become normal. “I say like this: if I made a choice to live here, no Hamas, no someone else can make me change my choice.”

During parts July and August, when classes at Sapir were cancelled due to the war in Gaza, Rosenblum worked at a plastics factory in town. He said that, during work, if the siren rang, people would have 13 seconds to find the nearest bomb shelter—he said that by the time the red alert goes off, two seconds have already been shaved off from the 15.

When he is home during the siren, he said his two and three-year-old nephews and nieces panic amidst the rush to get to a shelter.

“Everyone is screaming. Everyone is crying,” Rosenblum said, adding glumly when asked about the current lull in fighting: “It’s very sad.”

Hesitant to offer his opinion on the war and on the government’s decision, for now, to halt its operation, Rosenblum instead offered some dark humor:

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin asks God, ‘What do you think? When is it going to be the end of terrorism in Chechnya?”

“Not in your [presidential] term,” God said.

“[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu asks God,” said Rosenblum. “‘What do you think? When is it going to be quiet in Gaza?’”

“God said, ‘Not in my term.’”

Palestinians view Meshaal’s role during war as ‘positive’


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Despite talk of popular pique at Khaled Meshaal because of his accumulated wealth and impetuous goading of Israel from the safe distance of 1,200 miles while the Gaza Strip suffered carnage and devastation, the Hamas leader-in-exile has nevertheless emerged from the month-long siege of Gaza with a solid majority of Gazans feeling he casts a “positive” image. According to one Palestinian pundit, Meshaal is rising from the ashes of Gaza as the figure its residents most desire to lead them.

According to Dr. Hani Al-Basoos, a Gaza-based security and political analyst, it’s exactly the distance between Gaza and Doha where Meshaal lives that was instrumental in honing his image and solidifying his leadership role. Other leaders – the ones who remained in Gaza, albeit underground during the fighting — were removed from the public’s daily perception, Al-Basoos told The Media Line. “You could not see any one of them because they might be a target for an Israeli air strike.” Meshaal has profound edge over the Gaza-shut-in leadership in his ability to move around and be seen constantly on television, often from Qatar. His prominence in the Egyptian-mediated talks also provided him with access to Cairo that would arguably be denied to him because of Hamas’ relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood, banned and vilified by the Al-Sisi regime.

The 58-year old Hamas leader was born near Jerusalem and moved to Kuwait shortly after the outbreak of the 1967 war and joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1971. When former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991, Meshaal moved to Jordan where he became the Hamas bureau chief. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suffered one of the largest embarrassments during his first term of office in 1997 when he ordered Meshaal poisoned for his role in attacks against Israeli citizens. But the assassination attempt failed and resulted in a deal struck between Netanyahu and an angry King Hussein, through which Meshaal was provided with the antidote to the poison.

Following years of living in Damascus under the protection of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Meshaal was in all practicality exiled again as the civil war heated up, placing the Hamas leader in an uncomfortable political position. His move to Doha was predictable based on the strong support Qatar provides to Hamas. Once the fighting began in the Gaza Strip, his access and visibility became far greater than Gaza-based chief Ismail Haniyyeh or any of his other comrades and according to many, making him the best choice to lead Hamas.  

In the opinion of Al-Basoos, the Meshaal paradigm will stay around for the foreseeable future. “Any leader of Hamas that follows, will have to be outside of Palestine because he will have to have freedom of movement and a relationship with the international community,” the Islamic University professor told The Media Line. He said Hamas was losing popularity during the four or five months leading up to the Gaza war,  but has since regained what was lost and added to it as a result of its confrontation with Israel.  “Because of its ability to fight the occupation forces, it gained more popularity and if we have elections now, Hamas will most likely win,” he said.

During the first two weeks of fighting, the Arab World for Research and Development (AWRAD) polled 300 West Bank Palestinians and 150 Palestinians deemed to be “opinion leaders” on issues relating to the war. Because of the war, it was not possible to poll Gazans. The result of the citizens’ poll was that 66% of West Bankers – presumed to be Fatah-leaning – believe Meshaal played a positive role during the Gaza war while only 13% felt Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s role was equally positive. Although the “opinion leaders” disagreed, finding Meshaal’s role as negative, they did agree that “Abbas did not do a good job.”

“For the first time in three or four years, we’ve seen that support for Hamas has increased and bypassed Fatah in the West Bank,” said AWRAD General Director Dr. Nader Saeed, explaining that the questions were very specific to how every leader is dealing with the subject of a cease-fire.  

Hamas polled 31% “positive” to Fatah’s 25%. “This a major decline for support of Fatah from 40% and that’s an 11% increase of support for Hamas. For Meshaal, in terms of the resistance, in terms of the war in Gaza, he is doing well because he is part of a product position. But personally, I don’t think he has a chance [of winning out over Fatah/Abbas] among Palestinians because he is outside of Palestine and is seen as a follower of regional politics instead of Palestinian politics,” opined Saeed.

He also predicts that Hamas’ popularity will revert to pre-war levels and Meshaal’s personal popularity along with it. Disagreeing with Al Basoos, he says Palestinians will ultimately favor former Hamas Prime Minister Haniyyeh. “Under the rubble now, a great deal of the truth is missing. It’s a “lose-lose” situation for Hamas and Meshaal, ‘when things settle down in Gaza.’”

Saeed says the bigger question is what the future holds for Abbas and Fatah and whether their popularity will return. The Palestinian President was harshly criticized by the people for having what was perceived to be an inactive role and for keeping a low profile during the Gaza war.

 “I don’t think Abbas and Fatah will be able to return to their pre-war standing.” Hamas is going through a crisis and is trying to present itself as a defender of Palestinian rights, Saeed says. But the reality of it is that they are relying on Qatar and Turkey to support their position while it’s Egypt that is “the main pillar of Palestinian politics. People know that Egypt has fought wars for Palestine,” he says. He uses the waning popularity of Al-Jazeera television as proof of Qatar’s declining influence. The Qatar-based network has lost 50% (25%, down from 75%) of its Palestinian viewership during the past 3 years. “More and more people are seeing Al-Jazeera and Qatar as trying to divide Palestinians,” according to Saeed.

Jordan-based analyst Daoud Kuttab agrees that “Meshaal and Hamas came out of the war stronger than they were before the fighting, but says, “I don’t think this popularity will be long lived and I doubt it will translate directly to high votes in national elections,” he told The Media Line.

Kuttab says that the situation on the ground and internal Palestinian unity has precedence over all other issues and admonishes Palestinians not to accept conditions that go against their higher interests.

 “Qatar has acted as it has in the past using its money, media and other influences to remind the world that Qatar exists and must be taken seriously,” he said. The Egyptian website, “Dotmasr” quoted a former Egyptian official as saying Qatar paid Hamas $50 billion dollars not to agree to the first cease-fire proposed by Egypt, the acceptance of which would arguably have prevented 90% of the Palestinian casualties.

But Al-Basoos is skeptical of the report, calling it “baseless.” He says this is not the first time Qatar and Egypt have exchanged accusations.  While he says Qatar does not have the political and military capabilities that Egypt has, Doha, he says, would never use its money to harm the Palestinians.  He also says that Israel would never allow Qatar to be the mediator and Egypt is the only state that can “get the Palestinians and Israelis to some middle ground.”

Meanwhile, Kuttab says he would have liked Abbas or at least Palestinian Prime Minister Hamdallah to be in Gaza during the war.  “But,” he says, “the time for politics is after the guns stop.”

No sign of Gaza talks breakthrough as cease-fire nears end


Talks in Cairo on ending the Gaza war showed no signs of a breakthrough on Monday, with Israel and the Palestinians entrenched in their demands hours before the expiry of a five-day cease-fire.

The truce is due to run out at 5.00 p.m. EDT. A Palestinian source quoted by Egypt's state news agency MENA said Egyptian mediators were making “a big effort to reach an agreement in the coming hours”.

Both sides said gaps remained in reaching a long-term deal that would keep the peace between Israel and militant groups in the Gaza Strip, dominated by Hamas Islamists, and allow reconstruction aid to flow in after five weeks of fighting.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni addressed the prospect of renewed hostilities, while signaling that Israel would continue to hold its fire as long as Palestinians did the same.

“If they shoot at us, we will respond,” Livni, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet, told Israel Radio.

The Palestinian Health Ministry put the Gaza death toll at 2,016 and said most were civilians in the small, densely populated coastal territory. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed.

Late on Sunday, a Palestinian official said Israel's position in the talks, as presented to them by Egyptian mediators, was a “retreat from what had already been achieved and discussions had returned to square one”.

The official, who was not named, told MENA that Israel had toughened its stance and had presented “impossible” demands, particularly on security issues. He said the Palestinians would review the situation and offer their response on Monday.

“We are determined to achieve the demands of our people and foremost is ending the aggression and launching the rebuilding process and lifting the Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip,” MENA quoted the official as saying.

SECURITY

Netanyahu said on Sunday that any deal on the territory's future had to meet Israel's security needs. He warned Hamas it faced “harsh strikes” if it resumed its attacks.

Hamas also seeks the construction of a Gaza sea port and the reopening of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts, as part of any enduring halt to violence. Livni said such issues should be dealt with at a later stage.

Israel, which launched its offensive on July 8 after a surge in Hamas rocket fire across the border, has shown scant interest in making sweeping concessions, and has called for the disarming of militant groups in the enclave of 1.8 million people.

Hamas has said that laying down its weapons is not an option.

In Jerusalem, the Shin Bet internal security agency said it had arrested 93 Hamas activists in the West Bank over the past three months who had planned to carry out “serious attacks” in Israel, aiming to destabilize the region and eventually topple the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.

The Shin Bet allegations of a planned coup, in a statement that said Israeli authorities had confiscated 30 guns, seven rocket launchers and $170,000 from the group, were met with scepticism by Israeli media commentators.

“Would they have been able to do this? I don't know,” Roni Daniel, the well-connected military affairs correspondent for Israel's Channel Two television, said on-air.

Barak Ravid, the Haaretz newspaper's diplomatic affairs reporter, tweeted: “Israeli Shin Bet claims Hamas tried to take over the West Bank with 6 pistols, 7 RPG launchers and 20 M16 guns. Yeah right.”

The Gaza offensive has had broad public support in Israel, where militants' rockets, many of them intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, have disrupted everyday life but caused little damage and few casualties. By contrast, Israeli bombardment of Gaza has wrought widespread destruction.

The United Nations said 425,000 people in the Gaza Strip have been displaced by the conflict.

Israel and Hamas have not met face-to-face in Cairo, where the talks are being held in a branch of the intelligence agency, with Egyptian mediators shuttling between the parties in separate rooms. Israel regards Hamas, which advocates its destruction, as a terrorist group.

In Gaza, Pierre Krähenbühl, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said he hoped cease-fire talks would lead to substantial change on the ground.

“There has to be a message of hope for the people of Gaza, there has to be a message for something different, there has to be a message of freedom for the people, freedom to move, freedom to trade,” Krähenbühl told reporters.

Additional reporting by Maggie Fick in Cairo; Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; editing by Ralph Boulton

Islamic Jihad: Cease-fire agreement on Gaza expected next week


A spokesperson for the Islamic Jihad in Gaza said a cease-fire agreement will be signed with Israel next week, though Israeli officials have not confirmed this.

Yousef al-Hasayneh told the Ma’an news agency Friday that his group “expects a complete truce agreement to be signed right as the five-day cease-fire ends.”

Islamic Jihad fought alongside Hamas against Israel in hostilities that erupted on July 8 following an escalation in the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. On Wednesday night, Israel and Hamas agreed on a five-day cease-fire while the parties were discussing a permanent cease-fire during Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo.

The Palestinian delegation to Cairo “has made much progress in ending the siege and the offensive on Palestinians,” al-Hasayneh said, adding that the “final truce” would ease Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, expand the fishing zone and increase imports into Gaza, especially of construction materials.

But Israeli defense officials told Army Radio Friday that there were “areas of disagreement” and that it was too early to know whether an agreement could be reached. A meeting of the Israeli cabinet Friday ended without any dramatic decisions, Haaretz reported.

In his statement, al-Hasayneh said that construction of an airport and seaport in Gaza will be discussed a month after signing the agreement.

More than 1,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war. Sixty-five Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

Israel has demanded the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, while Hamas has demanded the construction of a seaport and airport, as well as the lifting of the blockade.

 

Rocket alerts sounded in southern Israel


Sirens warning of incoming rockets from Gaza went off in southern Israel on Wednesday, signaling a possible breakdown of a three-day truce about two hours before it was due to expire.

The Israeli military and police were checking whether any rockets had actually been fired or whether the sirens were a false alarm. Israeli radio stations reported at least two rockets had landed inside Israel, causing no damage or casualties.

A Hamas website reported that talks in Cairo had hit obstacles and Palestinian delegates were preparing to leave. But a source knowledgeable about the talks said earlier that though the sides were far apart, Egypt might try to get them to extend a truce for another 72 hours.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; editing by Andrew Roche

Netanyahu orders Israeli response to Gaza rocket fire, official says


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israeli military to respond to Gaza rocket fire moments before a three-day truce expired on Wednesday, an Israeli official said.

“With the breach of the cease-fire by Hamas, the prime minister and defense minister ordered the Israeli military to act in response. The order was issued before midnight,” the official told reporters speaking on condition of anonymity.

Hamas had denied involvement in one of two incidents of rocket fire aimed at Israel just before the truce expired at 2100 GMT.

Israel has so far had no comment on a deal Palestinians announced in Cairo saying they had agreed with Israel to extend that truce in a month-old war by another five days, or through Monday.

Reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan

BREAKING: Israeli police confirm rocket fired from Gaza landed in Southern Israel


Rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel two hours before the deadline of a 72-hour cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

One rocket exploded Wednesday night in an unpopulated area of the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, The Jerusalem Post reported. No damage or injuries were reported. Rocket sirens sounded in Ashkelon and surrounding areas.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army massed more troops along the Gaza border on Wednesday as the midnight deadline neared for the end of the temporary truce.

A news conference expected to be held by the Palestinian delegation to truce talks in Cairo at 9:30 p.m. reportedly was delayed until further notice.

Earlier Wednesday, the United States said it wanted a long-term cease-fire secured between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, but would settle for extending the temporary truce launched at midnight Monday if negotiators in the Egyptian capital cannot reach a larger accord by the deadline.

President Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu by phone on Wednesday, urging Netanyahu to reach an agreement that would end the violence.

According to Israel’s Channel 2, the Israeli team returned home from the indirect negotiations in Cairo.

Israelis, Palestinians begin new talks to end Gaza war


Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed indirect talks mediated by Egypt on Monday on ending a month-old Gaza war, Egypt's state news agency said, after a new 72-hour truce appeared to be holding.

The Israeli military said one rocket was launched at the Tel Aviv area, in Israel's commercial heartland, before the cease-fire began at 2100 GMT on Sunday and may have landed in the sea. Gaza's dominant Hamas group said it fired the missile.

A senior Israeli government official had said on Sunday Israeli negotiators, who had left Cairo on Friday hours before a previous three-day ceasefire expired, would return to Egypt to resume the talks only if the new truce held.

Hamas is demanding an end to Israeli and Egyptian blockades of the Gaza Strip and the opening of a seaport in the enclave – a project Israel says should be dealt with only in any future talks on a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians.

A month of war has killed 1,938 Palestinians and 67 Israelis while devastating wide tracts of densely populated Gaza, and Egypt's Foreign Ministry has urged both sides to work towards “a comprehensive and lasting cease-fire agreement”.

Gaza hospital officials say the Palestinian death toll has been mainly civilian since the July 8 launch of Israel's military campaign to quell Gaza rocket fire.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians, while heavy losses among civilians and the destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza have drawn international condemnation.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the new negotiations would be “the last chance” for an agreement. Israeli representatives are not meeting face-to-face with the Palestinian delegation because it includes Hamas, which Israel regards as a terrorist organization.

LONG-TERM TRUCE

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in a radio interview on Monday that disarming Gaza militants was crucial to sustain a long-term truce and he hoped this could be done by diplomacy rather than force.

“I certainly hope that there will be a diplomatic solution. If there will not be a diplomatic solution, I am convinced that sooner or later we will have to opt for a military solution of taking temporary control of Gaza to demilitarize it again,” he told Israel Radio.

Another sticking points in the Cairo talks has been Israel's demand for guarantees that Hamas would not use any reconstruction supplies sent to Gaza to build tunnels of the sort Palestinian fighters have used to infiltrate Israel.

Hamas has demanded an end to the economically stifling blockade of the enclave imposed by both Israel and Egypt, which also sees the Islamist movement as a security threat.

Israel has resisted easing access to Gaza, suspecting Hamas could then restock with weapons from abroad.

According to the United Nations, at least 425,000 displaced people in the Gaza Strip are in emergency shelters or staying with host families. Nearly 12,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli attacks.

In Gaza, shops began to open and traffic was normal as some displaced families returned to the homes they had been forced to abandon during Israeli attacks, expressing hopes that this truce would last after a series of failed ceasefires.

“God knows if it is permanent,” said Abu Salama, a resident of Gaza's Shejaia district, as he and his family headed home on a donkey cart. “A truce, no truce, it is becoming like Tom and Jerry. We want a solution,” he said.

TURKISH SHIPS

The new three-day cease-fire won praise from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who hoped it might lead to a durable cease-fire.

Israeli air strikes and shelling on Sunday killed nine Palestinians in Gaza, medics said, in a third day of renewed fighting since the last truce ended.

One air strike destroyed the home of Gaza City's mayor, Nezar Hijazi, across the street from the Reuters bureau where reporters and cameramen took cover as the explosion occurred. There were no casualties in the attack because Israel telephoned warnings to residents in the house and neighboring buildings.

The Israeli military said it targeted 11 “terror squads” in Gaza, among them gunmen involved in or preparing to fire rockets.

Since the previous ceasefire expired, Palestinian rocket and mortar salvoes have focused on Israeli towns and communities near the Gaza frontier in what seemed a strategy of sapping morale without triggering another ground invasion of Gaza.

Residents of those communities, who had been assured by the military they could return home when last week's truce began, have accused Israeli authorities of misleading them.

Israeli tanks and infantry left the enclave on Tuesday after the army said it had completed its main mission of destroying more than 30 tunnels dug by militants for cross-border attacks.

Four wounded Palestinians were flown into Ankara for medical treatment on Monday, the first sign of Turkey's promised plan to evacuate thousands from the Gaza Strip.

A Turkish aid group said it would send ships again to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza, four years after Israeli commandos stormed its flotilla bound for the Palestinian territory and killed 10 people in fighting with activists on board.

Mediators race against clock to extend Gaza truce


Mediators worked against the clock on Thursday to extend a truce between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, as the three-day ceasefire went into its final 24 hours.

Israel said it was ready to agree to an extension as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israelis and Palestinians on ending a war that has devastated the Hamas-ruled enclave. Palestinians want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza to be lifted and prisoners held by Israel to be freed.

“Indirect talks are ongoing and we still have today to secure this,” an Egyptian official said when asked whether the truce was likely to go beyond Friday.

“Egypt’s aims are to stabilise and extend the truce with the agreement of both sides and to begin negotiations towards a permanent agreement to cease-fire and ease border restrictions.”

The Palestinian delegation was expected to meet Egyptian intelligence officials late on Thursday evening.

After a month of bitter fighting, the two sides are not meeting face to face.

Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,874 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes into Israel.

An Israeli official said late on Wednesday that Israel “has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms” beyond Friday morning's expiry of the three-day deal, which took effect on Tuesday and has so far held.

A senior Israeli minister, Yaakov Peri, said on Army Radio that an extension would be “right for both sides” and added: “Let's hope that reason prevails.”

GAZA RALLY

In Gaza, Palestinian factions held a rally, with several thousand supporters urging Hamas to “bomb Tel Aviv”.

Mushir Al-Masri, a Hamas official, told the crowd that Israel should know that “our fighters are in the battlefield with their fingers on triggers”.

A senior official with Hamas's armed wing has threatened to quit the talks in Cairo unless progress is made towards meeting the group's demands. A Hamas source said it was ready to resume fighting once the truce ended if its demands were not met.

A Hamas refusal to extend the cease-fire could further alienate Egypt, whose government has been hostile to the group and which ultimately controls Gaza's main gateway to the world, the Rafah border crossing.

Israel's armed forces chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said that if Hamas broke the truce, Israel would use “whatever force necessary to ensure the security of Israeli citizens”.

A senior Israeli military officer, briefing foreign reporters, said it could take “months” for Hamas and other Palestinian groups to rebuild their domestic rocket production capacity.

“They started with around 9,000 rockets (in their total arsenal) and now they have a bit less than 3,000,” the officer said. “The majority are short-range, less than 40 km (25 miles).”

Finance Minister Yair Lapid said Israel's 2014 budget could absorb the cost of the conflict without raising taxes. But the Fitch ratings agency said budget planning next year might reflect the need to reverse recent falls in defence spending.

GROUND FORCES

Israel withdrew ground forces from Gaza on Tuesday, shortly before the 72-hour truce started at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT).

It showed signs of expecting the truce to last by lifting official emergency restrictions on civilians living near Gaza in Israel's south, permitting more public activities and urging residents to resume their routines.

In Gaza, where half a million people have been displaced by a month of bloodshed, some residents left U.N. shelters to return to neighbourhoods devastated by Israeli shelling.

President Barack Obama, backing efforts to broker a durable cease-fire, called for a longer-term solution that provides Israel with security while offering Gaza residents hope they will not be permanently cut off from the world.

While condemning Hamas for launching rockets against Israel from population centres, Obama urged an eventual formula to ease the hardships of ordinary Palestinians.

Efforts to achieve a lasting truce could prove difficult, with the sides far apart on their central demands, and each rejecting the other's legitimacy. Hamas rejects Israel's existence and vows to destroy it, while Israel denounces Hamas as a terrorist group and refuses any contact.

Humanitarian cease-fire called by Israel broken by rocket fire from Gaza


Israel’s military said it was observing a seven-hour unilateral humanitarian cease-fire.

Monday’s “humanitarian window” was set to last until 5 p.m., according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel said several rockets were fired into the country during its cessation of fire.

The Palestinians accused Israel of breaking the cease-fire less than two hours after it began, saying an 8-year-old girl was killed and some 30 people wounded in an Israeli strike on the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza.

The cease-fire does not include Rafah, in southern Gaza, which has seen heavy fighting in recent days as Israeli troops continued to search for tunnels leading from the strip to Israel, the IDF said before the start of the humanitarian window.

Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, warned, “If the truce is breached, the military will return fire during the declared duration of the truce.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the international media that Israel was aiming to divert attention away from its “massacres.”

“We do not trust such a calm and we urge our people to exercise caution,” Zuhri said.

More than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of Israel’s Gaza operation on July 8, according to reports citing the Gaza Ministry of Health. Nearly 270,000 have been displaced, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinians in Gaza.

Israel, Palestinians accept Egypt’s 72-hour truce bid


Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement agreed on Monday to an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire to end four weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash to the violence.

Egypt's plan called for a 72-hour-long truce to begin at 0500 GMT on Tuesday and then for representatives of Israeli and Palestinian factions to attend talks in Cairo to negotiate a longer-term agreement.

Palestinian groups, including envoys of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, met the head of Egyptian intelligence in Cairo earlier on Monday to formulate a plan to end the violence.

A few hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet agreed to accept Egypt's proposal, an official in his office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Israel has notified Egypt of its acceptance of its proposal for a ceasefire,” the official said.

Afterward, Hamas Islamists who dominate Gaza announced their agreement to the truce as well.

“Hamas told Egypt a short while ago of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 following a surge in Hamas rocket salvoes. It escalated from air and naval barrages to overland incursions centred on Gaza's tunnel-riddled eastern frontier, but also pushed into densely populated towns.

Gaza officials say 1,834 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed, and more than a quarter of the impoverished enclave's 1.8 million residents displaced. As many as 3,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers in combat and three civilians to Palestinian cross-border rocket and mortar fire that has emptied many of its southern villages. “Iron Dome” missile interceptors, air raid sirens and public shelters have helped stem Israeli casualties.

Tensions from the fighting seemed to spread on Monday to Jerusalem, where a Palestinian driving an excavator ran over and killed an Israeli and then overturned a bus in what police described as a terrorist or nationalistically motivated attack.

Israeli police shot the excavator driver dead; there were no passengers on the bus.

Several hours later, a gunman shot and wounded an Israeli soldier a short distance away before fleeing on a motorcycle, police said.

FAILED CEASE-FIRES

Several previous truces barely held with each side refusing to accept terms put by the other, while this time, Egypt plans to convene the parties in negotiations for a longer term deal.

Earlier on Monday, Palestinians said Israel had bombed a refugee camp in Gaza City, killing an eight-year-old girl and wounding 29 other people, in an air attack they said disrupted the start of a previous truce effort.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said there had been no air strikes in Gaza for seven hours on Monday, during which time Israel said it was abiding by a humanitarian ceasefire to free up aid and allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the war to go home.

Israel said Gaza militants continued firing rockets and mortars during the truce period. There were no reported casualties.

Italy said it was sending 30 tons of supplies, including tents, emergency generators and water purification kits, to ease living conditions in Gaza.

Media in Britain reported that a British aid worker was killed on Sunday during an Israeli strike in Rafah while he was delivering supplies to a hospital. The British Foreign Office said it was looking into the report.

The military was wrapping up the main objective of the ground assault, the destruction of cross-border infiltration tunnels from Gaza, and it has told residents of some towns they could return home.

A military spokeswoman said some forces were still in action inside Gaza, but the operation was drawing to a close. Media reports said troops had destroyed the last tunnel on their list of targets.

Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Rome; Editing by Giles Elgood, Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis

Israel agrees to Egyptian proposal for Gaza ceasefire, official says


Israel agreed on Monday to an Egyptian proposal for a three-day ceasefire in a four-week-old Gaza war, to start at 0500 GMT (9 p.m. PST) on Tuesday, an Israeli official said.

“We agree to begin implementing the Egyptian initiative. If the cease-fire is upheld there will be no need for any presence of (Israeli) forces in the Gaza Strip,” said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Israeli media reports said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet had reached the decision in a round of phone calls.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Kevin Liffey

U.S. officials: Soldier’s capture during cease-fire ‘barbaric’


Obama administration officials called Hamas’ apparent capture of an Israeli soldier in the hours a cease-fire was supposed to be in effect “barbaric” and “outrageous.”

“That would be a rather barbaric violation of the ceasefire agreement,” Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, told CNN on Friday, referring to the apparent capture Friday morning of 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin in a firefight Israel says took place in the southern Gaza Strip hours after a humanitarian cease-fire was in place.

“This is an outrageous action and we look to the rest of the world to join us in condemning it,” Tony Blinken, a deputy national security adviser, told MSNBC.

Hamas has yet to confirm that it captured Goldin, 23, a Givati soldier from Kefar Saba. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed in the firefight.

Israel says truce over after soldier apparently captured in Gaza


Israel declared a Gaza ceasefire over on Friday, saying Hamas militants breached the truce soon after it came in effect and apparently captured an Israeli officer while killing two other soldiers.

Renewed Israeli shelling killed more than 50 Palestinians and wounded some 220, hospital officials said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into special session and publicly warned Hamas and other militant groups they would “bear the consequences of their actions”.

The 72-hour break announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting, and followed mounting international alarm over a rising Palestinian civilian death toll.

The ceasefire, which began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), had prompted Palestinian families to trek back to battle-devastated neighbourhoods where rows of homes have been reduced to rubble. It was to be followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution.

Egyptian officials said the invitation to negotiators still stood, but some Palestinian representatives had asked for a postponement until Saturday or Sunday to allow a new truce to be reached.

The Israeli military said that 90 minutes into the truce, militants attacked soldiers searching for tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip used to infiltrate fighters into Israel.

“Out of a tunnel access point or several, terrorists came out of the ground. At least one was a suicide terrorist who detonated himself. There was an exchange of fire,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Two of the soldiers were killed.

“The initial indication suggests that a soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident,” he said in a conference call with reporters. Mark Regev, a Netanyahu spokesman, said Hamas was responsible for the attack.

Asked if the ceasefire was over, Lerner replied: “Yes. We are continuing our activities on the ground.” He said Israeli forces were mounting an “extensive effort” to locate the soldier.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called on Hamas to release the soldier, identified by Israel as Second-Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23. Britain's Foreign Office said it was urgently looking into reports that he also held British nationality.

“We would encourage those who have influence with Hamas to get them back on the terms of the ceasefire and get them to abide by the agreements that they struck just yesterday,” Earnest said on CNN.

The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 50 people were killed and 220 wounded by Israeli shelling after the incident near the southern town of Rafah.

There was no immediate word from militant groups on whether any were holding the officer. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the dominant Hamas movement in Gaza, said Israel was trying to mislead the world and “cover up its Rafah massacre”.

A statement issued by Netanyahu's office said he spoke by telephone with Kerry and told him “the Palestinians had blatantly breached the humanitarian ceasefire” and attacked Israeli soldiers.

“Israel will take all necessary steps against those who call for its annihilation and terrorise its citizens,” the statement quoted Netanyahu as saying.

WARREN OF TUNNELS

The truce had left Israeli ground forces in place in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip and a military spokeswoman had said operations would continue to destroy a warren of tunnels through which the Islamist group has menaced Israel's southern towns and army bases.

Israeli officials have long voiced concern that militants would try to capture a soldier or an Israeli civilian. In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier snatched by Hamas five years earlier.

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on July 8, unleashing air and naval bombardments in response to a surge of cross-border rocket attacks. Tanks and infantry pushed into the territory of 1.8 million on July 17.

Gaza officials say at least 1,509 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and 7,000 wounded. Sixty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than 400 hurt. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets in Israel.

Eight rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza at Israel after the ceasefire began, the military said, adding that one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system and seven hit open areas.

Amid strong public support in Israel for the Gaza campaign, Netanyahu had faced intense pressure from abroad to stand his forces down.

International calls for an end to the bloodshed intensified after shelling on Wednesday that killed 15 people sheltering in a U.N.-run school in Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp.

CAIRO NEGOTIATIONS

Hamas, isolated in an Arab world concerned about the rise Islamist militancy, is seeking an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza. It also wants a hostile Egypt to ease restrictions at its Rafah crossing with the territory imposed after the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July.

Israel has balked at freeing up Gaza's borders under any de-escalation deal unless Hamas's disarmament is also guaranteed.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, in a speech read out on his behalf on state television on Friday, accused Israel of committing “war crimes against humanity” in Gaza. [Id:nL6N0Q73ON]

A senior State Department official travelling with Kerry in India had said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns would arrive in Cairo on Saturday and that Frank Lowenstein, the acting U.S envoy for Middle East peace, and another U.S. official, Jonathan Schwartz, would be there on Friday.

The Palestinian delegation would be comprised of Hamas, Western-backed Fatah, the Islamic Jihad militant group and a number of smaller factions, Palestinian officials said. But U.S. officials said Israel and the United States would not sit across the table from Hamas, which the two countries, along with the European Union, consider a terrorist group.

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, David Brunnstrom in New Delhi; Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Giles Elgood

Israel and Hamas agree on 72-hour humanitarian Gaza cease-fire


Israel and Islamist militant group Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire in their conflict in the Gaza Strip starting on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.

The ceasefire will begin at 8 a.m. local time (1.00 a.m. EDT) on Aug. 1, they said in a joint statement. The statement said “forces on the ground will remain in place” during the truce, implying that Israeli ground forces will not withdraw.

U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry has received assurances that all parties have agreed to the humanitarian ceasefire, the statement said.

“We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire,” Kerry and Ban said. “This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence.”

Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately travel to Cairo for negotiations with the Egyptian government to reach a durable ceasefire, the statement said.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 after Hamas rocket fire from Gaza intensified.

Gaza officials say 1,427 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and some 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Hamas shelling in Israel.

The United Nations said nearly a quarter of the 1.8 million Palestinians in the Mediterranean enclave had been displaced, with more than 220,000 seeking shelter in U.N. facilities. Eight U.N. employees have been killed in the conflict.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Sandra Maler

Israeli concerns about Turkey and Qatar fuel dispute with Kerry


Behind the feud between John Kerry and Israel over the secretary of state’s efforts to broker a Gaza cease-fire is a larger tension concerning the role of Turkey and Qatar in Palestinian affairs.

Israeli officials rejected the proposal for a cease-fire advanced by Kerry in part because of what they see as the outsize influence on his diplomatic efforts of these two regional powers with agendas increasingly seen as inimical to Israeli interests. While both countries are traditional U.S. allies, they are also supportive of Hamas.

“Qatar, financially and politically, diplomatically and through Al Jazeera, is supporting a terrorist group,” an Israeli official told JTA. “Instead of contributing to the development of the area, they are contributing to terror in the region.”

Israeli officials point to the anti-Israel rhetoric of Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has reached new heights during the current conflict, with his suggestion that Israel is worse than the Nazis.

Israel prefers to have Egypt as the main interlocutor because the country’s current military-backed government has a deep antipathy toward the Islamist Hamas movement.

Israel had previously embraced an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that was rejected by Hamas, which saw its terms as decidedly unfriendly.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East in Obama’s first term, said that Turkey and Qatar are necessary interlocutors because Hamas needs credible representatives of its interests in the negotiating process and because the two countries are not tempted to sabotage cease-fire efforts.

“I understand why Israel and Egypt are uncomfortable seeing regional actors friendly to Hamas involved in these talks. If they are not involved, they could spoil a cease-fire,” said Wittes, who is now the director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy. “You have to get them engaged so they have reason not to act in an unconstructive manner.”

Tensions between Israel and the Obama administration over Kerry’s cease-fire efforts escalated over the weekend.

In comments to the Israeli press by unnamed Israeli officials, Kerry was depicted as a hapless bumbler who, however unwittingly, seemed to be negotiating on behalf of Hamas.

U.S. officials have told Israeli and U.S. media that they are offended by the Israeli backlash.

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Israeli leaders to tone down the attacks on Kerry, saying such broadsides undermined Israel’s ability to face down its true enemy, Hamas.

“I understand there are disagreements between the United States and Israel, and maybe the secretary of state and Israel,” he said. “But those disagreements do not justify the ugly name calling. It undermines the relationship of the only true ally Israel has. In times of disagreement, one needs to embrace our friends.”

The exact nature of Kerry’s cease-fire proposal and how it came to be rejected by Israel’s Security Cabinet is not clear. But it is clear that the Security Cabinet’s eight ministers believed that it was tilted toward Hamas.

In a briefing for Israeli reporters, a senior American official is said to have argued that the document the Cabinet reviewed was simply one including the latest ideas for consideration and not a final draft.

Israeli officials, speaking anonymously to the Israeli media, have said they understood it as a final draft and that, in any case, even being asked to consider such a document was deeply unsettling.

Israelis say they were offended by the document’s detailed emphasis on what would be seen as wins for Hamas: Talks on opening borders and transfer of emergency funds to pay the salaries of employees in Gaza who had worked for the Hamas-led government and now are supposed to be incorporated into the Palestinian Authority under the recent Palestinian unity agreement.

Israel’s concerns, including the removal of rockets and missiles from Gaza and the destruction of a tunnel network that reaches inside Israel, were confined in the document to three words: “address security issues.”

There were also concerns, shared by Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Western European countries, that the proposal would strengthen Hamas at the expense of the P.A.

On Sunday night, President Obama called for an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a White House readout describing the phone call.

The readout nodded to Israeli concerns by reaffirming U.S. support for Egypt’s cease-fire efforts, while also stressing that Obama’s cease-fire call was building on Kerry’s efforts.

The readout also emphasized the importance of addressing Gaza’s economic plight, something that Hamas has made into a key precondition for a cease-fire.

“The President underscored the enduring importance of ensuring Israel’s security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority,” the readout said. “The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”

 

Dermer: Attacks on Kerry ‘unwarranted’


Israeli criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry is “unwarranted,” the Israeli ambassador to Washington said, as U.S. officials made public their unhappiness with the attacks.

“Israel appreciates that President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who is here today, have strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself. We also appreciate their efforts to help achieve a sustainable ceasefire,” Ron Dermer said Monday at an assembly of Jewish leaders and top U.S. officials to show support for Israel during its war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“I speak directly for my Prime Minister here,” he said. “The criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good faith efforts to advance a sustainable cease-fire is unwarranted.”

Dermer was referring to a barrage of criticism over the weekend, much of it leaked through the Israeli press, aimed at a cease-fire proposal presented last week by Kerry to the Israeli government.

Israeli officials, speaking anonymously, told Israeli media that the document seemed to lean toward Hamas, specifying as topics of negotiation the opening of border crossings and salaries for officials of the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip while only referring broadly to “security issues” for both sides.

Israel wants a cease-fire to stipulate the dismantling of Hamas’ rockets and the destruction of its tunnels into Israel.

Rice in her remarks at the same gathering said the Obama administration was “dismayed by some press reports in Israel mischaracterizing (Kerry’s) efforts last week to achieve a ceasefire. We know these misleading reports in turn raise concerns here at home in America.”

U.S. officials had over the weekend told reporters anonymously that they were appalled by the attacks on Kerry, but Rice’s public airing suggested how seriously the White House took the matter.

In her briefing with reporters Monday, Kerry’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, suggested the Israeli officials behind the campaign were behaving inappropriately to a friend.

“Our view is it’s simply not the way that partners and allies treat each other,” she said. “So it was important, in our view, to lay out on the record what the facts are about what has happened here, and we’re certainly hopeful that we can all focus moving forward on how we achieve a ceasefire and not on other misinformation campaigns.”

The solidarity rally, held at the national Press Club and organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jewish Federations of North America, drew top lawmakers, including Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D0Md.), the House minority whip.

Obama tells Netanyahu he wants immediate humanitarian cease-fire


President Obama told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he wants an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian” cease-fire in the war with Gaza, based on a process Israel has made clear it opposes.

The statement Sunday afternoon from the White House describing a phone call between the two leaders referred to cease-fire talks led in recent days by Secretary of State John Kerry which culminated in a proposal rejected unanimously on Friday by Israel’s security Cabinet.

“Building on Secretary Kerry’s efforts, the president made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the statement said.

Israeli leaders rejected Kerry’s proposal in part because it envisions talks with Hamas toward ends that Israel believes would reward a group it rejects as illegitimate, including opening Gaza’s borders.

Additionally, Israel wants any cease-fire to allow Israeli troops to continue tracking and destroying tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israel, which Israel says were in place to facilitate a massive terrorist attack on Israeli communities.

Obama in his statement addressed some of the Israeli concerns, assurances that were not made explicit in drafts of Kerry’s proposal leaked to media over the weekend.

“The president underscored the United States’ strong condemnation of Hamas’ rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself,” the statement said. “The president also reiterated the United States’ serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.”

The statement from Obama also nodded to another Israeli demand, that Gaza be demilitarized, although it suggested this was a long-term goal.

“The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza,” it said.

So far the conflict launched July 8 has killed more than 1,020 Palestinians, most of them civilians, as well as 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel.

 

Hamas requests additional 24-hour cease-fire as rocket fire continues


Hamas asked for an additional 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire, after Israel called off its own 24-hour  unilateral cease-fire due to continued rockets fired from Gaza.

Hamas requested a 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire to begin at 2 p.m. on Sunday through Robert Serry, the United Nations envoy to the Middle East Process.

“In response to U.N. intervention and considering the situation of our people and the occasion of Eid, it has been agreed among resistance factions to endorse a 24-hour humanitarian calm, starting from 2 p.m. on Sunday,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

Rockets from Gaza continued to be fired at Israel after 2 p.m.

Israeli officials indicated that Israel would not recognize Hamas’ request until it stopped firing rockets, according to reports.

Israel observed a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire  from 8 a.m. on Saturday, during which time Gazan civilians stocked up on essential supplies and buried their dead. Israel offered to extend the cease-fire by four hours, and later by 24 hours, but was rebuffed in the form of rockets fired from Gaza. Israel continued to observe a cease fire until mid-Sunday morning when volleys of rockets led the security Cabinet to order the Israel Defense Forces to continue its strikes on Gaza.

Israel’s security Cabinet on Friday unanimously rejected a cease-fire proposal made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, which  was seen as giving Hamas significant concessions, and not giving Israel the right to continue to seek and destroy terror tunnels.

Also on Sunday, a reservist soldier died from injuries sustained on Saturday night in Gaza, bringing the IDF death toll to 43.

Israel extends Gaza humanitarian ceasefire for another 24 hours


Israel's security cabinet approved extending the humanitarian cease-fire begun early on Saturday until midnight local time (1700 EST) on Sunday, an Israeli government official said.

“At the request of the United Nations, the cabinet has approved a humanitarian hiatus until tomorrow (Sunday) at 24:00. The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will act against any breach of the cease-fire,” the official, who was not named, said in a statement.

Late on Saturday, militants ignored an Israeli announcement that it would extend the truce by four hours and resumed firing rockets into Israel from Gaza around two hours after the end of the initial 12-hour cease-fire period. It began at 8 a.m. (0100 EST) on Saturday.

After the ceas-efire began early on Saturday, Gazans took advantage of the lull in fighting to retrieve their dead and stock up on food, flooding into the streets to discover scenes of massive destruction in some areas.

At least 1,033 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting since July 8 when Israel launched its offensive, aimed at ending rocket fire by Islamist militants out of Gaza.

Israel said five more of its soldiers were killed in pre-truce fighting in Gaza and two others died of their wounds in hospital, bringing the army death toll to 42 as troops battled militants in the tiny Mediterranean enclave that is home to 1.8 million Palestinians.

Three civilians, including two Israeli citizens and a Thai laborer, have been killed by rockets fired from Gaza.

Israel's and Hamas's positions remained far apart regarding a long-lasting halt to hostilities.

Hamas said it would only endorse the cease-fire if Israel removes its troops from the areas into which it has entered in the Gaza Strip.

“Any humanitarian calm that does not include the withdrawal of occupation soldiers from the Gaza Strip and enable the people to return to their houses and to evacuate the wounded is not acceptable,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman.

Israel rejects Kerry’s proposed cease-fire


Israel rejected U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s cease-fire proposal.

“We are not announcing that it has been achieved tonight,” Kerry said in Cairo on Friday night. “The world is watching tragic moment after tragic moment unfold and wondering when both sides are going to come to their senses.”

Kerry said he wanted a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire during which the sides would discuss “fundamental” issues that could extend the truce, according to a BBC reporter covering the press conference, but did not add details.

Israeli media had earlier reported that Israel’s security Cabinet rejected the truce because it did not allow Israel adequate means to demolish Hamas’ tunnel system.

It was not clear what limits Israel rejected, because multiple reports suggested the cease-fire included an allowance for Israel to continue dismantling the tunnels.

There was no official word of Hamas’ reaction, but reports on CNN and Israel Radio said the group, which controls Gaza, rejected the cease-fire precisely because it allowed Israel to remain in the tunnels.

A U.S. official told JTA that Kerry would continue to try to achieve a cease-fire.

Israel says Hamas built the tunnels to carry out terrorist attacks inside Israel.

Israel’s army meanwhile announced the latest Israeli casualty, Sgt. Guy Levy, 21, who died in fighting on Friday.

That brings to 35 the number of Israeli soldiers killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict, which started July 8 when Israel launched air strikes after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza. Another three Israeli civilians have been killed. More than 820 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians.

Israel agrees to 12-hour Gaza cease-fire


Israel has agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire in fighting with militants in the Gaza Strip to start at 8 a.m. (1 a.m. EDT) on Saturday, a military spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman said that during the brief truce, troops would keep searching for tunnels used by militants and that the military will “respond if terrorists choose to exploit this time to attack Israel Defense Forces personnel or fire at Israeli civilians.”

“Gaza civilians who have been requested to vacate from their residents are to refrain from returning,” the spokeswoman said.

Crunch time for Gaza truce talks as death toll passes 800


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed regional leaders to nail down a Gaza cease-fire on Friday as the civilian death toll soared, and further violence flared between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Mediators hope any truce in the Gaza Strip can coincide with a Muslim festival that starts next week, and are looking to overcome seemingly irreconcilable demands from Israel and Hamas-led Islamist fighters, locked in conflict since July 8.

As the diplomacy continued, so did the fighting.

Gaza officials said Israeli strikes killed 33 people on Friday, including the head of media operations for Hamas ally Islamic Jihad and his son. They put the number of Palestinian deaths in 18 days of conflict at 822, most of them civilians.

Militants fired a barrage of rockets out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel, including at the country's main airport. No injuries were reported, with the Iron Dome interceptor system knocking out many of the missiles.

The Gaza turmoil stoked tensions in the nearby West Bank, where U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governs in uneasy coordination with Israel.

Medics said five Palestinians were killed in separate incidents near the cities of Nablus and Hebron, including one shooting that witnesses blamed on an apparent Jewish settler.

On Thursday night, 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza near the Palestinian administrative capital Ramallah – a scale recalling mass revolts of the past. Protesters surged against an Israeli army checkpoint, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and Palestinian medics said one was shot dead and 200 wounded when troops opened fire.

Israel said an army reservist was killed in Gaza on Friday, bringing to 34 the number of soldiers lost in a ground advance it says aims to destroy dozens of cross-border tunnels used by Hamas to threaten its southern farming villages and army bases.

It also announced that a soldier unaccounted for after an ambush in Gaza six days ago was definitely dead, although his body had not been recovered. Hamas said on Sunday it had captured the man, but did not release a photograph of him.

Three civilians have also been killed in Israel by rockets from Gaza – the kind of attack that surged last month amid Hamas anger at a crackdown on its activists in the West Bank, prompting the July 8 launch of the Israeli offensive.

NEGOTIATIONS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Friday to discuss a limited humanitarian truce under which Palestinian movement would be freed up to allow in aid and for the dead and wounded to be recovered.

A Palestinian official close to the negotiations said Turkey and Qatar had proposed a 7-day halt to the fighting, which had been relayed to Israel by Kerry while Hamas considered it.

An Israeli official acknowledged that the proposal had been received, but said any decision by the Netanyahu government would likely come after Hamas had delivered its own response.

Israel insists that, even if such a cease-fire is agreed, its army will continue digging up tunnels along Gaza's eastern frontier, a mission that could take between one and two weeks.

Netanyahu has said a truce should also lead to the eventual stripping of Gaza's rocket arsenals – something Hamas rules out.

“We must stop the rocket launches. How this is done – whether through occupying (Gaza), or broadening (the operation), or (international) guarantees, or anything else, I have to see it with my own eyes,” said police minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch.

The rockets have sent Israelis regularly rushing to shelters and dented the economy despite Iron Dome's high rate of success.

A Hamas rocket intercepted near Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to halt American commercial flights to Israel's main international gateway. Some European carriers followed suit.

Jolted by the blow at the height of an already stagnant summer tourism season, Israel persuaded U.S. authorities to lift the flight ban on Thursday, after which the European aviation regulator removed its own advisory against flying to Ben Gurion.

In the second such salvo in as many days, Hamas said it fired three rockets at the airport on Friday, an apparent bid to cripple operations there again. There was no word of impacts at Ben Gurion, whose passenger hall emptied at the sound of sirens.

HAMAS WANTS GAZA OPENED UP

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had on Wednesday voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza's 1.8 million people. Hamas wants Egypt to open up its border with Gaza, too, and demands that Israel release hundreds of prisoners rounded up in the West Bank last month following the kidnap and killing of three Jewish seminary students.

Such concessions appear unlikely, however, as both Israel and Egypt consider Hamas a security threat.

One Cairo official said next week's Eid al-Fitr festival, which concludes Ramadan, was a possible date for a truce. But U.S. officials were circumspect on progress made by Kerry, whose mediation has involved Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Abbas, as Washington, like Israel and the European Union, won't deal directly with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist group.

“Secretary Kerry has been on the phone all morning, and he will remain in close touch with leaders in the region over the course of the morning as he continues work on achieving a cease-fire,” said a senior U.S. State Department official in Cairo, which has been Kerry’s base over the last four days as he has tried to bring about a temporary end to the conflict.

On Thursday, a U.S. official said Kerry was seeking a way of bridging gaps between Israel and Hamas but that the diplomat would not stay in the region “for an indefinite amount of time”.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza by the fighting, many of them seeking shelter in buildings run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

An UNRWA spokesman said the agency had tried in vain to arrange with Israel to evacuate civilians from the school in northern Beit Hanoun before it was shelled on Thursday.

Scores of crying families who had been living in the school ran with their children to a hospital a few hundred meters away where the victims were being treated. Laila Al-Shinbari, who was at the school when it was hit, told Reuters that families had gathered in the courtyard expecting to be evacuated shortly in a Red Cross convoy.

“All of us sat in one place when suddenly four shells landed on our heads … Bodies were on the ground, (there was) blood and screams. My son is dead, and all my relatives are wounded, including my other kids,” she said, weeping.

3 senators urge Obama to let Israel neutralize Hamas ahead of cease-fire


Three senators urged President Obama to ensure that Israel removes Hamas’ military threat before a cease-fire is in place.

“The threats posed by Hamas rockets and tunnels whose only purpose is to kill and kidnap Israelis are intolerable, and Israel must be allowed to take any actions necessary to remove those threats,” Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Lindsey Graham (R- S. C.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a letter Wednesday. “Any effort to broker a cease-fire agreement that does not eliminate those threats cannot be sustained in the long run and will leave Israel vulnerable to future attacks.”

While expressing sympathy for the death of both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, the senators wrote that Hamas’ “primary goal is to destroy Israel. We must do everything possible to ensure they do not succeed.”

Cardin, along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), also wrote to Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, on Wednesday to express “our strong objections” to his calling Israel’s operations in Gaza an “atrocious action.”

“We respectfully request that your future comments recognize the fact that the ‘atrocious action’ is the deliberate terrorist attack on civilians — not the measured response of a nation-state trying to defend its citizens,” the Cardin and Ayotte wrote.

They said Ban’s pronouncement “lends a degree of perceived legitimacy that terrorist organizations do not deserve” and also “undercuts the legitimate right of the nation-states to defend their citizens.”

In a third letter concerning the war between Israel and Hamas, Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.) wrote to Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, to condemn Wednesday’s decision by the U.N. Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry focusing mostly on Israel’s actions in Gaza without addressing allegations that Hamas hides its weapons and fighters among civilians.

“Hamas’ continued use of civilians as human shields is a direct violation of international law,” the Congress members wrote in a two-page letter that also condemned Hamas’ use of schools, hospitals and mosques “as covers for their rocket launchers and weapons caches.”

Separately, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), a physician, called on Israel not to target medical facilities.

“I am distressed by reports that Israel has attacked hospitals, ambulances and medical personnel in its on-going military offensive in the Gaza Strip,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

“Palestinian health and emergency workers are unable to reach the dead and wounded in many parts of Gaza due to the danger of being attacked themselves,” McDermott said. “I call on America’s long-time friend and ally Israel to abide by international humanitarian law and cease all attacks against health facilities and workers.”

 

Tunnel vision: Why Hamas’ tunnels are the new front in the war with Israel


Until this latest war, if you asked most Israelis about the threat from Gaza, they would probably start talking about Hamas rockets.

But that has changed over the last few days of fighting, for two reasons: One, the much-heralded success of the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has all but neutralized Hamas’ rocket threat.

Two, and far more troubling for Israelis, they have woken up to the true extent of the subterranean threat from Gaza: the tunnels that snake underneath the densely populated coastal territory into Israel proper.

What do the tunnels look like?

The tunnels are hardly crude. With years of experience digging passageways under the Egypt-Gaza border to smuggle weapons, people and goods into the blockaded territory — including items as large as cars — Hamas knows how to burrow.

The tunnels discovered by the Israel Defense Forces are reinforced by concrete walls and ceilings. Some are 90 feet deep and extend more than a mile in length, terminating inside Israel not far from residential neighborhoods. Israeli troops have discovered phone lines, electricity wires, pulley systems and stockpiles of explosives and weapons in the tunnels.

Many of the tunnels have multiple branches and a multitude of exit points, which explains why the precise number the IDF says it has found keeps fluctuating. As of Tuesday, the number was 66 access shafts as part of 23 tunnels.

The tunnels begin inside buildings in Gaza, where digging easily can be hidden from outsiders, including the omnipresent Israeli drones that scrutinize goings-on in the coastal strip.

Their end points inside Israel are difficult to detect because the terminus often isn’t dug out until Hamas fighters are ready to pop up and perpetrate an attack. When the moment arrives, Hamas assailants dig the last few feet and emerge from the hole — heavily armed, usually well camouflaged and sometimes disguised as Israeli soldiers.

Why is this threat so significant?

Israel has yet to figure out an effective way to systematically address the multitude of threats the tunnels present.

Hamas could use them to kidnap Israeli soldiers or civilians, as it did with Gilad Shalit in 2006. Israeli troops have found Hamas infiltrators in recent days armed with tranquilizers and handcuffs for just such an operation, according to the IDF.

For its part, Hamas has made clear that one of its main goals is to execute a successful kidnapping. An abducted Israeli could be used to bargain for the release of Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli prisons. That would give Hamas a way to demonstrate to its constituents that it can deliver for Palestinians and “resist the occupation” in a way that President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority cannot.

Infiltrators also could use the tunnels to sneak behind enemy lines and perpetrate attacks inside Israeli cities, towns or kibbutzim.

The “terror tunnels,” the IDF said in a statement, are meant “to carry out attacks such as abductions of Israeli civilians and soldiers alike; infiltrations into Israeli communities, mass murders and hostage-taking scenarios.”

With so many Israeli troops active in the area around Gaza, Hamas also is using the tunnels to ambush IDF soldiers. Four Israeli soldiers were killed Monday morning after an infiltration; two died Saturday during an earlier infiltration.

Israel has been killing most of the infiltrators, but not all. Some have managed to scurry back into the tunnels leading toward Gaza. There have been at least five tunnel infiltration attacks.

How can Israel combat the tunnel threat?

For now, unlike with the rocket fire, there’s no technological fix to the tunnel problem. Instead, Israel’s primary method for combating the tunnels is decidedly low-tech.

Israeli ground troops are looking for tunnel openings in the buildings they’re searching inside Gaza. Troops in Israel near the border are mobilized and on the lookout for new infiltration attempts. Residents of the Israeli communities near the border area have been warned on several occasions over the last few days to stay inside on lockdown.

It seems that the extent to which the ground underneath the Gaza-Israel border resembles Swiss cheese has caught the IDF — and the Israeli public — by surprise.

What does the discovery of all these tunnels mean for the duration of this war?

Before Israel launched its ground invasion on July 17, the Israeli government seemed reluctant to send troops into Gaza and pay the price in Israeli blood, Palestinian collateral damage and international censure that a ground invasion probably would entail. Israel quickly agreed to a cease-fire offer a week into the conflict (Hamas ignored it) and gave Hamas at least two other lulls in which to change its mind.

But now that Israel has awakened to the true extent of the tunnel threat and Israeli troops are already fighting and dying in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems determined to have the IDF destroy as many tunnels as it can.

“The operation will be expanded until the goal is achieved: restoring quiet to the citizens of Israel for a long period,” Netanyahu said Monday, keeping things vague enough so as not to be boxed into a corner.

If the war ends before the tunnel threat can be addressed adequately, the IDF’s job in Gaza will have been left unfinished. Though Israelis are agonizing over the death toll on their side — which already has exceeded the toll from the last two Gaza conflicts combined — they don’t want those soldiers to have died in vain.

This is seen inside Israel as a war of necessity, not of choice.

Will international pressure end the war soon?

With the Palestinian death toll soaring since the launch of the ground invasion, international pressure for a cease-fire is growing. On Sunday, President Obama called for an “immediate cease-fire,” and the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session to demand an immediate end to the fighting. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cairo on Monday to try to negotiate some kind of an end to the crisis.

While Israel’s eagerness for a cease-fire and well publicized efforts to avoid civilian casualties bought it some time early on, the escalating violence and rapidly mounting Palestinian civilian deaths — including several well-documented cases of Israeli strikes killing children, wiping out multiple members of the same family and targeting a hospital — are shifting international opinion away from Israel’s favor.

It remains to be seen how long Netanyahu can withstand the pressure, or how the fighting that lies ahead will affect the calculus.

For its part, Hamas doesn’t appear to want to stop fighting, either. It views every Israeli death as a triumph and every Palestinian civilian death as fodder with which to build international criticism of Israel. Hamas may already have captured the body of one Israeli soldier who is presumed to have died in a missile attack on an armored personnel carrier; they’d love to use the opportunity the fighting presents to accomplish their goal of capturing a live one.

How are ordinary Israelis reacting?

One of the remarkable things about Israel is that even though it is buffeted by threats on nearly every side and often finds itself engaged in bloody battles, for the most part the fighting happens elsewhere.

The mini-wars with Hamas in 2009 and 2012 were fought on Gaza’s turf, not inside Israel. Violence in the West Bank generally stays in the West Bank. The 2006 Second Lebanon War took place in Lebanon, not Israel. Yes, both the Gaza conflicts and the Lebanon war involved deadly rocket fire into Israel, but there were no pitched battles on Israeli streets. The real battlefield was elsewhere.

The last major exception to that rule was a decade ago during the second intifada, when Israeli buses, restaurants and nightclubs became the front line. The erection of the West Bank security fence helped end those attacks by making it harder for terrorists to get into Israel.

But now the existence of tunnels through which terrorists can infiltrate the country again threatens to bring the war into Israel, and that’s a frightening thought for Israelis.

The country still well remembers the Maalot massacre of 1974, when Palestinian terrorists slipped across the border from Lebanon and took more than 100 children hostage at a school in the northern Israeli town of Maalot. More than 25 Israelis were killed during that incident, which ended when Israeli troops stormed the school building.

With the Israeli death toll rising fast, this war already has turned into a nightmare for many Israelis, particularly those burying their loves ones. But there’s a reason IDF troops are still pushing hard in Gaza: They’re working to avert something worse.