October 18, 2018

Sounds of war in Israel, overhead and on my Twitter feed

When the first air-raid siren of summer 2014 screeched through Tel Aviv, my blood turned to ash. I was sitting in a coffee shop near my apartment, typing out a news piece on the disturbing increase in anti-Arab and anti-Jewish attacks throughout Israel, when the sound came — distinctly deeper than an ambulance, and guttural, with a metallic edge. War stuff. 

Wordlessly, a mother and father next to me, Tel Aviv-chic in pastels and eyeglasses, grabbed their two young girls by the hands and followed the baristas to the back. This particular coffee shop didn’t have a shelter, so we all just sort of squished into a utility closet to wait for the boom of the rocket we knew was flying toward us — either the boom of it hitting the ground or the smaller boom of its interception in the sky by Israel’s heroic Iron Dome defense system.

The kids squirmed, watching their parents’ faces for signs they should be afraid.

My mind was back in Gaza, December 2012, having tiny cups of coffee with three generations of the Al Kurdi family. I had just moved from Los Angeles to Israel to write freelance, and they had just lived through another war together: Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense, which killed more than 150 Palestinians. For the Al Kurdis, that meant saying goodbye to a baby cousin, their son’s Arabic teacher and dozens of friends. “They didn’t do any bad things to make Israel kill them,” Muhammad Al Kurdi, a skinny 16-year-old, told me, his eyes unfocused and his knee jiggling uncontrollably.

When I got home from the coffee shop last week, I scattered old pads of paper all over my living room, trying to find my notes from Gaza and the Israeli border communities I’d visited that winter. They were gone.

Gaza is only a one-hour drive south of Tel Aviv, but feels like a trip to the moon. And for the past year, since I’ve been writing for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, I haven’t been able to get permission from Hamas, Gaza’s ruling government party, to enter the strip. 

I messaged Khader, the Al Kurdi family’s second eldest, on Facebook. He would be around 23 years old now. On a still night on his patio two winters ago, Khader had told me he wanted to be a graphic designer, but that all his dreams stopped at the Gaza border fence.

“Are you OK?” I asked him in the Facebook message, not knowing what else to say. A rocket attack on Tel Aviv, Israel’s metropolitan center, would mean unparalleled wrath on Gaza City, where the Al Kurdis live.

Two full days later, Khader responded. “How can I be?” he asked.

“People are killed everywhere, homes are destroyed in hundreds, innocent people died under these homes. I didn’t sleep for the last 30 hours,” he wrote. “My neighbors’ house is totally destroyed. I can’t have peace cause I’m afraid that my house will be next, since some houses were destroyed randomly without warning people living in it.”

My gratitude to Israel for shooting down the rockets hurtling toward my apartment cannot be overstated. But it can screw with your head, clinging to the same army for protection that another people is praying for protection against.

Gaza, a caged plot of land half the size of San Francisco, has taken around 800 tons of explosives from Israel so far, in response to more than 1,000 rockets launched at Israel by Hamas from densely populated areas. As of press time, 188 Palestinians had been killed and more than 1,100 wounded, the majority of them reportedly civilians.

Thanks to the Internet, millions around the world have been watching this new F-16 assault on Gaza — called Operation Protective Edge — in real time. Images from the ground are as horrific as any in the history of modern warfare.

One video from a hospital room shows 4-year-old Sahir Abu Namous with the back of his head blown off, being shaken by his father: “Wake up son, I got you a toy,” the boy’s father tells the toddler, sobbing. Another photo shows a young woman cradling her dead 4-day-old baby, a hellish kind of sorrow rippling across her forehead. In the opening scene of a Vice News dispatch, first responders stumble out of the rubble waving newly detached limbs. A New York Times journalist shares a photo of 15 crude graves dug into the dirt, all designated for family members of Hamas police chief Tayseer Al-Batsh. They were killed in a single strike.

“There were eight people there launching rockets,” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Peter Lerner tells me of the Al-Batsh family home. “That incident is being investigated.”

I’m frozen in front of my Twitter feed. I can’t sleep. Maybe I’m afraid that if I miss a name, or another photo of a “martyr” and his or her survivors, I might forget about Gaza again.

Lerner tells me the army does everything it can to avoid civilian casualties: It calls residents to warn them five to 10 minutes before their home will be bombed, he says, then strikes the building with a non-explosive warning missile.

Many Gazans say they’ve witnessed this system go wrong, or not happen at all. “Yasser receives a call from IDF. Evacuate in ten minutes,” Tweets human-rights worker Mohammed Suliman, 24, from Gaza City. “He wasn’t home though. His family was. Hysterically, he phoned home. No one picked.” 

Civilian visiting soldiers is first Israeli killed in Gaza conflict

A civilian bringing food to Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border was the first Israeli killed by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.

The 37-year-old man was pronounced dead upon arrival at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon on Tuesday afternoon; he had received emergency treatment in the field. He was visiting soldiers at the Erez border crossing when he was hit by mortar fire.

Nearly 200 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed during the first eight days of the operation.

About 40 rockets were fired at Israel during the 7 p.m. hour, bringing the day’s total to nearly 100.  Israel observed a cease-fire for about six hours on Sunday, but rockets from Gaza continued to rain down on Israel.

Following the resumption of Israeli attacks on Gaza Tuesday, Israel’s Air Force attacked 30 targets across Gaza, including 20 underground launchers, tunnels, an ammunition depot, and the house of an Islamic Jihad official, Haaretz reported, citing the Israel Defense Forces.

Also Tuesday afternoon, rocket fire from Gaza hit a second power line that provides electricity to Gaza, lowering the strip’s power supply by 20 percent. The Israel Electric Company said it will not repair the lines until it can be sure of its employees’ safety.

Netanyahu: Hamas leaves Israel no choice but to intensify Gaza op

Israel will “expand and intensify” its military operation against Hamas in the wake of a failed cease-fire attempt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

In an address to the nation Tuesday night, which came less than an hour after the announcement of the first Israeli death in the latest Gaza conflict, a civilian, Netanyahu said, “If there is to be no cease-fire, our answer is fire.”

“It would have been preferable to have solved this diplomatically, and this is what we tried to do when we accepted the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire, but Hamas leaves us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it,” he said.

Netanyahu said the campaign will continue until the military has eliminated the threats to Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said in the same address that the country is “determined to continue the operation” in Gaza and “will not compromise the security of the state.”

The person killed was a 37-year-old civilian who brought food and treats to Israeli soldiers operating near the Erez border crossing with Gaza. He was hit with a mortar fired from Gaza.

Nearly 200 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since the start of the operation.

Also Tuesday, 25 mobile bomb shelters donated by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews were placed in southern Israeli communities hard hit by rockets from Gaza, including Ashdod, Ashkelon and Lachish.

The group raised more than $2 million in the early days of Operation Protective Edge, now in its eighth day. Part of the funding was used to open an emergency support center for the elderly in areas affected by the rockets, providing assistance including delivering food and medicines, as well as staying in contact with them.

How is this Gaza conflict different from other Gaza conflicts?

In the past week, Israel has endured a thousand rockets.

Yet not a single Israeli has died so far from a rocket strike during the week-long conflict.

In many ways, Israel’s Operation Protective Edge — its third Gaza operation in six years — is much like previous Israeli campaigns in the territory. Israel has used airstrikes to exact a toll on Hamas and has massed troops on the Gaza border, threatening a ground invasion.

So far, Israel has conducted nearly 1,500 airstrikes over Gaza, with some 175 Gazans having died as of Monday.

But in the absence of Israeli fatalities, this conflict has been like no other in the country’s history. Despite Hamas rockets that travel farther than ever, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted 90 percent of the rockets heading toward population centers, and early-warning sirens and shelters have protected residents.

Iron Dome was first used during Israel’s 2012 conflict with Hamas, though the system has added batteries and been more fully developed since. In that conflict, six Israelis were killed, five of them from rocket fire.

Hamas’ total failure this time to kill Israelis — though several have been injured by rockets — has allowed most Israelis to continue their daily lives. And even amid discussion of a cease-fire, it has given the army breathing room to continue its mission.

“We are striking Hamas with increasing strength,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Cabinet meeting Sunday, addressing Israeli citizens. “Regarding civil defense, one needs not only an Iron Dome but iron discipline as well. You have shown this up until now. This could yet take a long time, and we need both your support and your discipline.”

Israel’s goal in this conflict is to destroy Hamas’ rocket stocks and launchers while reasserting the Israel Defense Forces’ military deterrence. Meanwhile, the Israeli home front has been guarded by Iron Dome. Within seconds of when a rocket is launched, Iron Dome identifies the type of missile fired, maps where it came from and where it will land, and — if necessary — fires a missile to knock it out of the sky.

The missile defense system has managed to intercept about 90 percent of its targets.

“If anyone hit 9 of 10 in the majors, he would be cast in gold and sent to Cooperstown,” Eran Lerman, deputy chief of Israel’s National Security Council, told a Jewish Federations of North America delegation Monday, referring to America’s Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lerman hailed Israel’s “remarkable ability to defend ourselves technologically.”

Experiencing loss of life from war has been central to the Israeli experience. Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day, is a solemn occasion for the country. Civilian and military deaths have been a key part of the calculus of when to begin and end military campaigns.

With Protective Edge, Israel has so far experienced a new kind of conflict.

But Amichai Cohen, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, wrote that Iron Dome could lead to more blame being assigned to Israel because its civilians are less exposed to harm than is Gaza’s population.

“Given the real, yet much smaller threat that rockets pose to Israeli civilian lives after the invention of Iron Dome, there is a real question of whether the IDF’s freedom of action has been curtailed,” Cohen wrote in an email sent out Monday by his institute. “Is the IDF, in effect, penalized for this life-saving technology?”

One place that doesn’t benefit from Iron Dome is Sderot, a city in the western Negev that has been absorbing Qassam rockets from Gaza since 2000. Because Sderot is only about a half-mile from the Gaza border, Iron Dome doesn’t have time to intercept the rockets. Residents have 15 seconds from the time of a warning siren to run for shelter.

Speaking to leaders of North American Jewish community federations who came to show solidarity with the city, Sderot’s mayor, Alon Davidi, encouraged the Israeli army to fight until it eliminates Hamas’ offensive capabilities. He said that the long-range rockets now being fired into the rest of the country have made millions of Israelis understand what Sderot has had to endure.

“All of the country feels what it means to want to save your life,” Davidi said. “In Tel Aviv they have two minutes. We have 15 seconds. We have a joke: If we lived in Tel Aviv we could take a shower and make coffee” before seeking shelter.

“We pray the army can do the job and succeed with the operation,” he added.

Many Israelis would likely welcome the respite from running to bomb shelters that a cease-fire would provide. But Talia Levanon, head of the Israel Trauma Coalition, said that if this operation ends like Israel’s last in 2012, there will hardly be a break in the conflict for Sderot.

Whether “it’s called an operation or it’s called a war, we need to seek shelter with my children and grandchildren, “ Levanon said. “Right now we speak of a cease-fire. We’ll wait a year or two years for it to happen again. We’re always licking the wounds of the previous operation and preparing for next time.”

Rocket seriously injures Israeli teen in Ashkelon, dual citizens leave Gaza

An Israeli teenager was seriously injured by a rocket fired from Gaza that landed in Ashkelon.

Another Israeli man was wounded in the rocket strike on Sunday afternoon in a residential area of the city.

“Hamas has chosen to attack our cities with massive and indiscriminate rocket fire,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting. “I said from the outset that we would respond in strength against this criminal firing at our citizens and this is what we are doing.”

“One must understand how our enemy operates,” he said. “Who hides in mosques? Hamas. Who puts arsenals under hospitals? Hamas. Who puts command centers in residences or near kindergartens? Hamas. Hamas is using the residents of Gaza as human shields and it is bringing disaster to the civilians of Gaza; therefore, for any attack on Gaza civilians, which we regret, Hamas and its partners bear sole responsibility.”

Early Sunday morning, four Israeli Naval commandos were injured in a ground battle on a beach near Gaza City, where they destroyed long-range rockets and its launcher, according to the IDF. Three Hamas fighters reportedly were killed in the clash.

Also Sunday morning, nearly 700 Palestinians with foreign passports, including dozens of  dual Palestinian-Americans, left Gaza for Israel. From there, they will travel to their other home locations.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, more than 800 rockets have been fired from Gaza on southern, central and northern Israel, according to the IDF. Some 147 rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

IDF forces have struck 1,320 of what it calls “terror targets” across Gaza, including 735 concealed rocket launchers, 64 training bases and militant compounds, 58 weapons storage and manufacturing facilities, 32 Hamas leadership facilities, 29 communications infrastructures and additional sites used for terrorist activities, according to the IDF.

Cities throughout northern Israel on Sunday checked and opened public bomb shelters, following two salvos of rockets fired from Lebanon since the start of Operation Defensive Edge.

Also Sunday, the Temple Mount was closed to visitors after Palestinians rioted, throwing rocks and explosives at Israeli policemen. Two officers were injured in the unrest.

Israel deploys more missile interceptors, Gaza death toll up to 121

Israel rushed an eighth missile interceptor battery into service on Saturday to counter stronger-than-expected rocket fire from Gaza as the military pounded positions in the Palestinian enclave for a fifth day, killing 15 people, medics said.

The Jewish state kept options open for a possible ground offensive into densely populated Gaza despite international pressure to negotiate a ceasefire in the conflict, which has killed 121 in the Islamist-ruled enclave since Tuesday.

Residents said a mosque in the central Gaza Strip was bombed to rubble. The Israeli military said the mosque had housed a weapons cache. Referring to Israel's prime minister, graffiti scrawled on one of the mosque's blasted walls read, “We will prevail despite your arrogance, Netanyahu.”

Eight other mosques have been damaged from bombing and 537 Gaza houses have either been destroyed or damaged, according to the Gaza-based Al-Mezan Association for Human Rights.

By Saturday, no Israeli had been killed by rockets salvoes out of Gaza, thanks in part to Iron Dome, a partly U.S.-funded interceptor system that operators said had exceeded expectations in shooting down missiles.

But racing for shelter from rockets has become a daily routine for hundreds of thousands of Israelis, and some 20,000 reservists have already been mobilized for a possible thrust into Gaza, the army said.

“We have upgraded the (Iron Dome) system recently from a number of aspects … We try always to be one step ahead of the enemy … and we see that its capabilities exceed our expectations,” a Defence Ministry official said on Israel Radio.

“In the past week we have carried out a very complex technological exercise to deliver the eighth system …We brought together all the components from the production line and within days we made it operational,” he added, saying that a ninth battery could be made ready within days.

Israel said it was determined to end cross-border rocket attacks that intensified last month after its forces arrested hundreds of activists from the Islamist Hamas movement in the West Bank after the abduction there of three Jewish teenagers who were later found killed. A Palestinian youth was then killed in Jerusalem in a suspected revenge attack by Israelis.



Asked if Israel might move from the mostly aerial attacks of the past four days into a ground war in Gaza to stifle the rocket salvoes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities.”

“No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power,” he told reporters in Tel Aviv on Friday, a day after a phone call with U.S. President Barack Obama about the worst flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence in almost two years.

Casualties on both sides would probably increase significantly if Israel's formidable mechanized forces stormed into the largely urbanized enclave that runs 40 km (25 miles) down the Mediterranean coast.

Gaza medical officials said at least 81 civilians, including 25 children, were among the 121 dead so far from aerial strikes on the sliver-like territory into which nearly 2 million people are packed, many in dilapidated, flimsy dwellings.

Three militants and 12 other people, including two disabled women at a rehabilitation center and a 65-year-old man, were killed by air strikes early on Saturday, doctors there said.

One of the dead in an air strike that killed six people in a Gaza street was identified as the nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political leader in the territory.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking on why the rehabilitation center in an eastern district of Gaza City was hit by an Israeli tank shell. Four others including two children were wounded and in serious condition, medics said.

Washington affirmed Israel's right to defend itself in a statement from the Pentagon on Friday. But Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon he was concerned “about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect civilian lives and restore calm”, a Pentagon statement said. 

In Israel, a Palestinian rocket seriously wounded one person and injured another seven when it hit a fuel tanker at a service station in Ashdod, 30 km (20 miles) north of Gaza. Islamist militants in Gaza warned they would launch rockets at Tel Aviv's main international airport and warned airlines to stay clear.

Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, based in the Palestinian self-rule area of the West Bank, urged the United Nations Security Council to order an immediate ceasefire.

But Netanyahu said Israel's campaign “will continue until we are certain that quiet returns to Israeli citizens”. Israel had hit more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and there were “more to go.”

Israel's army chief, Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz, said his forces were ready to act as needed – hinting at readiness to send tanks and ground troops across the barbed-wire boundary into Gaza, as Israel last did for two weeks in early 2009.

If Israel launches a ground invasion of Gaza, it would be the first since a three-week war with Hamas in the winter of 2008-09 when 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed. The Israeli military issued a daily summary on Saturday, saying it had managed to strike at “10 terror operatives, six of whom were directly involved in the launch of rockets at Israel at the time of the targeting”.

The statement added that 68 rocket launchers, 21 militant compounds and 18 weapons-manufacturing facilities had been hit and militants had fired almost 700 projectiles into Israel.

Rockets have reached deeper than ever before into the Jewish state, with some landing up to 100 km (60 miles) from Gaza.


Abbas, who agreed a power-sharing deal with Gaza's dominant Hamas in April after years of feuding, called for international help. “The Palestinian leadership urges the Security Council to quickly issue a clear condemnation of this Israeli aggression and impose a commitment of a mutual ceasefire immediately.”

After the failure of the latest U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel, Abbas's deal with Hamas angered Israel.

Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport has been fully operational since the Israeli offensive began and international airlines have continued to fly in, with no reports of Gaza rockets – largely inaccurate projectiles – landing anywhere near the facility, inland from the Mediterranean coastal metropolis. The airport is within a zone covered by Iron Dome.

Fire was also exchanged across Israel's northern border on Friday. Lebanese security sources said two rockets were launched into northern Israel but they did not know who was responsible. Israel responded with bursts of artillery. Palestinian groups in Lebanon have often sent rockets into Israel in the past.

Israel's Gaza operation is the deadliest since November 2012, when around 180 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed during an Israeli air campaign to punish Hamas for missile attacks. That conflict was eventually halted with mediation from Egypt, then governed by Hamas's Muslim Brotherhood allies.

But Egypt, now ruled by the Brotherhood's enemies, is locked in a feud with Hamas over the group's alleged support for jihadi militants in Egypt's Sinai desert – something Hamas denies. Cairo said on Friday its “intensive efforts” with all sides to end the warfare has met only “intransigence and stubbornness”.

On Saturday, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing with Gaza, which it had largely sealed since the July 2013 ouster of President Mohamed Mursi, to allow ambulances ferrying wounded Gazans for treatment into Egypt, as well as 500 tonnes of Egyptian food and medical supplies into the enclave.

Israeli commandos clash with Hamas gunmen in Gaza raid

Israeli navy commandos clashed with Hamas gunmen during a raid on the coast of the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the first such gunfight of a six-day Israeli offensive on the territory aimed at stopping Palestinian rocket fire.

The Israeli force was attacking a site in northern Gaza used to launch long-range rockets when it came under fire, a military statement said. The commandos returned fire and managed to hit the launch site, the statement said, adding that four soldiers were lightly wounded in the clash.

Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing.

Israel says a ground invasion of Gaza remains an option, and it has already mobilized about 20,000 reservists to do so, but most attacks have so far been from the air, hitting some 1,200 targets in the territory.

The Islamist group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, striking deeper in the country than ever before.

The cross-border violence shows no signs of abating despite mounting international pressure on both sides to end the violence. The U.N. Security Council called for a cessation of hostilities and Western Foreign Ministers were due to meet on Sunday to discuss the need for a ceasefire.

Still sirens went off throughout the night in Israel, sending residents running for safe rooms and bomb shelters.

Israeli aircraft carried out a series of attacks in Gaza, including against a police headquarters and a security compound, Palestinian officials said.

A woman and a three-year-old girl were killed in the air strikes, officials said, bringing the six-day Palestinian death toll to 149, many of them civilians.

Israel says Hamas puts innocent Gazans in harm's way by placing weaponry and gunmen in residential areas. A senior Israeli military officer said aircraft had aborted “hundreds” of strikes to avoid collateral damage and that targets bombed were meant to impact Hamas fire capacity.

No Israeli has been killed by the cascade of Hamas rockets, many of which were shot down above Israeli towns by Iron Dome, a partly U.S.-funded interceptor system. Israel rushed an eighth Iron Dome into service on Saturday to counter stronger-than-expected rocket fire from Gaza.

Fire was also exchanged across Israel's northern border.

Rockets fired late on Saturday from Lebanon hit Israel, and the military said it responded with artillery fire at the source of the launch.

Southern Lebanon is a stronghold of Hezbollah, a Shi'ite Muslim group that battled Israel seven years ago and is engaged in Syria's civil war in support of President Bashar al-Assad; but there are also Palestinian groups in the same area.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the rocket fire from Lebanon, though it was unclear what kind of influence or presence the Islamist group had there.

Hamas: Airlines should avoid Israel’s airport

Hamas warned airlines to stay away from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, threatening to target it with rockets.

Friday’s warning by Hamas’ armed wing, reported by Reuters, came on the fourth day of Israel’s operation against Hamas in Gaza. The campaign, Operation Protective Edge, was launched after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza.

“The armed wing of Hamas movement has decided to respond to the Israeli aggression and we warn you against carrying out flights to Ben Gurion airport, which will be one of our targets today because it also hosts a military air base,” Reuters quoted a statement by Hamas’ Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades as saying.

Hamas claimed earlier that it already had fired at least one rocket toward the airport, although no such hit was reported.

The terrorist group said it had issued the warning so that airlines could avoid injury to passengers.

Several rockets from the Gaza Strip were fired toward the greater Tel Aviv area on Friday morning. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted three projectiles. No injuries were reported.

Incoming air traffic was halted as sirens were sounded in the area, an airport spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post. Flight traffic was resumed as normal after the sirens subsided.

A spokesman for the Airports Authority said that a siren had sounded at Ben Gurion and that all activity had stopped for about 10 minutes, but that the siren was part of a general alert in the Tel Aviv area and not a direct threat to the airport.

Terrorists in Gaza have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel this week, reaching deeper into the country than ever before. On Friday, one man suffered very serious injuries when a rocket explosion caused a fire near a gas station in Ashdod.

Israeli aircraft have launched more than 1,000 strikes on suspected terrorist sites in Gaza. Palestinian emergency care officials have said at least 100 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the attacks.

Man seriously injured in rocket explosion near Ashdod

A rocket hit an oil truck near the coastal city of Ashdod and its explosion seriously wounded a man.

At least eight Palestinians, including a 10-year-old girl were killed overnight Friday in air strikes, international media reported, quoting Palestinian emergency care officials.

The explosion near Ashdod was the result of a volley of eight rockets launched from Gaza on Friday at Israel’s southern coastal plain. The man sustained life-threatening injuries to his legs from the explosion, which happened near a gas station, Army Radio reported. Another two people were injured from shrapnel from the same explosion.

Earlier on Friday, militants in Lebanon fired mortar rounds into Israel as it entered the fourth day of its offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The rounds exploded near Metula at the northern tip of the Galilee early on Friday, but resulted in no casualties and no damage to property, Army Radio reported. It was the first time since the launch of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza that Israel was targeted from the north.

The Israel Defense Forces fired back into Lebanon, hitting an area close to the Lebanese village of Hatzbiyah. Lebanese media reported that blood was found at the site from which the fire was launched into Israel, suggesting casualties from the Israeli response.

Also on Friday, projectile detection systems set off alarm sirens in Haifa for the first time since the start of the operation, which began earlier this week after Hamas militants launched dozens of rockets into Israel’s south. No hits were detected. Haifa City readied and opened its shelters on Wednesday, as Hamas fired rockets at Zichron Ya’akov, a suburb of the northern city.

A woman in her seventies collapsed and died on Friday of heart failure while running to a shelter in Wadi Nisnas, a neighborhood in downtown Haifa with Jewish and Arab residents.

Approximately 350 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel, 90 of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome projectile defense system, which engages inbound objects only if their trajectory is likely to result in impact in populated areas.

The Israel Air Force has carried out approximately 900 strikes in Gaza during the operation, Israel Radio reported. Palestinian officials said the strikes resulted in the deaths of close to 100 of Palestinians, including civilians.

Of the eight killed overnight, the New York Times reported, five were members of a single family in the southern city of Rafah, and one was a ten year old girl in the same town.

U.N.’s Ban: Hamas stopping rocket fire would stop escalation

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said an end to Hamas rocket fire was the only means of preventing an Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

“Today we face the risk of an all out escalation in Israel and Gaza with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing,” Ban said Thursday at a Security Council session on the latest outbreak of hostilities.

Ban’s casting of the responsibility for ending the conflict principally on Hamas was unusual for a U.N. official.

Palestinian and Israeli representatives addressed the session of the council, the only body with decisions that have the force of international law.

Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, played the sound of a warning siren during his address. “Imagine having only 15 seconds to find a bomb shelter,” he said. “Now imagine doing it with small children or elderly parents or an ailing friend.”

Israel launched a counteroffensive on Thursday after an intensification of rocket fire. More than a hundred Palestinians have been killed so far in strikes by Israeli combat aircraft on suspected terrorist targets.


Jewish group leads protests blaming Israel for escalating violence

Protests against Israel organized by Jewish Voice for Peace drew 1,000 demonstrators in 15 cities, organizers said.

Protests took place in Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco, among other cities, according to Rabbi Alissa Wise, a a member of the group’s rabbinic council. Jewish Voice for Peace is allied with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Sponsors of the Boston protest, which attracted about 100 people, included the American Friends Service committee, Grassroots International and Ads Against Apartheid, a group that has run an anti-Israel poster campaign on the Boston transit system.

After a rally on the Boston Common, the group, including students and members of faith and labor groups, marched through downtown and picketed briefly in front of three companies they say are complicit in the violence. One was Macy’s, which was targeted as part of a boycott campaign against SodaStream products made in a West Bank settlement, and TIAA-CREF, a retirement investment fund.

“We are here to condemn Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians, to mourn the loss of lives, and to hold accountable the corporations that enable this violence,” said Lisa Stampnitzky, an activist with the Boston chapter of JVP.

Boston’s Jewish community did not stage any counter protests.

“We’re devoting all our energies to supporting Israelis who are facing an impossible situation with a reprehensible enemy sworn to Israel’s destruction,” said Elana Margolis, assistant director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

A rally in support of Israel is being planned by the Boston chapter of StandWithUs, a national pro-Israel organization with a presence on college campuses, according to Aviva Malveira, a recent Boston University graduate who is now the group’s New England campus and community organizer.

“It’s important to speak out on behalf of Israel,” Malveira told JTA. “It’s unfortunate and sad that Jewish Voice for Peace aligns itself with an anti-Israel agenda. They blame solely Israel for the lack of peace and place no responsibility on the Palestinian leadership.”

Wise said that JVP mourns all of the victims of the conflict and that it would be shortsighted to view last month’s kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens as the launch of the current fighting.

“This is a conflict that goes back 47 years,” she said, referring to the 1967 Six-Day War. “To not see that context would miss the story.”

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), who has led trade and academic delegations to Israel, said in a statement to JTA that the state’s residents extended their concern to all those in the region.

“It is difficult to imagine that only a few weeks after our most recent visit, sirens warn of rocket attacks from Gaza over Tel Aviv,” Patrick said. “We hold close in our hearts our friends and loved ones in the region, and all innocent Israelis and Palestinians who are living in fear as a result of the recent violence.”

Separately, Ads Against Apartheid issued a statement Thursday condemning the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority for taking down its pre-approved posters without prior warning, claiming it was the result of pressure from pro-Israel groups.

MBTA Spokesman Joseph Pesaturo in an email to JTA that after additional scrutiny by the transit authority the three posters were removed four days before they were scheduled to come down.

“The ad was deemed to be in noncompliance with the MBTA’s court-approved advertising guidelines,” Pesaturo said.

He said it was the responsibility of the agency’s advertising contractor to inform the ad buyer.

Stepped-up Gaza operation could last long time, Israeli defense chief says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli military to “take off the gloves” against Hamas, as Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon prepared the public for a long campaign in Gaza.

“Hamas chose to escalate the situation and it will pay a heavy price for doing so,” Netanyahu said Tuesday morning as he entered meetings with defense officials at the Kirya Military Headquarters in Tel Aviv hours following the launch of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.

Responding to a continuing rocket barrage from Gaza on southern Israel in the past several days, including at least 80 rockets fired Monday evening, the Israel Defense Forces struck 50 Hamas targets starting at about 1 a.m.  Tuesday.  The targets included concealed rocket launchers, weapons factories and the homes of top Hamas operatives, according to the IDF.

Protective Edge will expand in the coming days, including preparations for a ground invasion of Gaza, the IDF told reporters. Several thousand more reservists are expected to be called up in the coming days in addition to the 1,500 reservists called up thus far.

Yaalon called for patience at the start of the operation.

“We are prepared for a campaign against Hamas, which will not end within days,” he said Tuesday morning. “Hamas is leading the current confrontation to a place in which it seeks to exact a heavy price from our home front.”

Israel’s Home Front Command declared a special situation in southern Israeli communities located within 25 miles of the Gaza border that allows Israeli authorities to set rules during times of military conflict in order to maintain public safety. It also protects employees living in the area from being fired from their jobs if they miss work.

“The situation in the south has become insufferable,” Interior Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told reporters. “We cannot allow over a million citizens be held hostage in bomb shelters.” He added that Hamas is responsible for bringing back the calm.

Egypt reportedly continues to work to bring about a cease-fire in which Hamas agrees to halt rocket fire on southern Israel and Israel agrees to halt aerial strikes on targets in Gaza.

Summer camp and high school matriculation exams, as well as exams and studies at Ben Gurion University, have been closed amid the falling rockets.  Events with more than 300 people also have been ordered canceled in the 25-mile zone. Public bomb shelters have been prepared in municipalities including Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to “stop its escalation and the raids on Gaza” in a statement published by the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.

Since the beginning of the year, more than 450 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip at civilians in southern Israel, according to the IDF.


Israel OKs call-up of additional 40,000 combat reservists

Israel’s Cabinet approved the call-up of as many as 40,000 additional combat reservists.

The approval came Tuesday afternoon, hours after army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz requested the added troops with the start of Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in an effort to stop a rocket barrage on southern Israel. Israel’s military is planning a possible ground invasion of Gaza, according to reports.

Also Tuesday, the Tel Aviv municipality said it would prepare and clean public bomb shelters as Hamas threatened on its official websites that it would fire rockets at the city. In addition, Israel Railways has halted service between Sderot and Ashkelon in both directions, where a significant number of rockets have been aimed, following orders from the Home Front Command.

The Palestinian Health Ministry on Tuesday afternoon reported that at least seven Palestinians were killed and 25 injured in an Israeli airstrike Tuesday on the home of a Hamas operative.

Hamas and other terror organizations in Gaza have fired more than 130 rockets into civilian areas of southern Israeli since Monday night. In response, the Israeli military has targeted about 150 of what it calls “terror sites” in Gaza.



Obama says he’s still committed to ‘necessary’ peace

President Obama said in an appeal published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he remains committed to brokering a “necessary” Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“Peace is necessary because it’s the only way to ensure a secure and democratic future for the Jewish state of Israel,” Obama wrote in an article published Tuesday and appearing as Israel launched an operation to repel escalating rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

“While walls and missile defense systems can help protect against some threats, true safety will only come with a comprehensive negotiated settlement,” he said. “Reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians would also help turn the tide of international sentiment and sideline violent extremists, further bolstering Israel’s security.”

Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, said after peace talks collapsed in April that it was up to the sides to renew them, but Obama in his Haaretz article made clear he was as committed as ever to brokering an agreement.

“When the political will exists to recommit to serious negotiations, the United States will be there, ready to do our part,” he said.

Obama also paid tribute to three Israeli teens and one Palestinian teen murdered in recent violence.

“As a father myself, I cannot imagine the pain endured by the parents of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, who were tragically kidnapped and murdered in June,” he said of the Israelis.

“I am also heartbroken by the senseless abduction and murder of Mohammed Hussein Abu Khdeir, whose life was stolen from him and his family,” Obama said. “At this dangerous moment, all parties must protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution.”

Israel launches military offensive against Gaza militants

Israel launched an aerial offensive in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, calling it part of a campaign named “Operation Protective Edge” targeting Hamas Islamist militants firing rockets at the Jewish state.

The military urged Israelis within a 24-mile radius of the southern coastal territory to stay within reach of protected areas and ordered summer camps shut as a precaution against rocket fire.

Palestinian officials said two air strikes were launched before dawn against homes in southern Gaza, one of which was identified by a neighbour as belonging to a Hamas member.

Nine people suffered shrapnel injuries. There were no other reported casualties as the buildings were believed to have been evacuated beforehand.

Witnesses said a house bombed in Khan Younis was flattened. The Palestinian Health Ministry said nine neighbours were wounded by debris from that strike.

The Palestinian Interior Ministry said the family in the targeted home had received a telephone call from an Israeli intelligence officer asking them to leave the house because it would be bombed, and the family evacuated in time.

A military spokeswoman confirmed air strikes were launched but had no details.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said in a tweet that “Operation Protective Edge is under way, targeting Hamas capabilities that are terrorizing Israel.”

Lerner said Gaza militants had fired more than 80 rockets at Israel on Monday, and military officials said more than 200 rockets have been shot at Israel in the past month, an enormous uptick in shootings.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet decided on Monday to step up air strikes against militants in coastal Gaza. Political sources said ministers stopped short of ordering a ground offensive for now.

Netanyahu had earlier pledged “to do whatever is necessary” to restore quiet to southern Israeli communities though he cautioned against any rush toward wider confrontation with Hamas, whose arsenal includes long-range rockets that can reach Israel's heartland and its business capital Tel Aviv.

But far-right cabinet ministers pressed for a firmer response to silence rocket fire. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman quit an alliance with Netanyahu's party citing dissatisfaction with Netanyahu's policy on Gaza.

The surge in violence has raged since the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli youths last month in the West Bank and a Palestinian teen last week, in an attack for which Israel has arrested six Jewish suspects.

Air raid sirens wailed as far north as the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Monday night. Israeli police said those were false alarms, but the military said rockets had triggered alerts as far as 48 miles, the farthest of the latest crisis.

Two Israelis were injured in Monday's rocket strikes.

Lerner told reporters on Monday that Israel had called up several hundred reservists and was prepared to mobilise a total of 1,500. He said the intensity of Hamas rocket fire meant “the Israeli military is talking about preparedness for an escalation.”

Hamas claimed responsibility for firing rockets at Israel on Monday for the first time since a 2012 war with Israel that ended in an Egyptian-brokered truce.

The group's death toll on Monday had also been the highest Hamas suffered since the 2012 fighting.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of committing a “grave escalation” in violence and threatened to retaliate, saying Israel would “pay the price.”

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Cynthia Osterman