The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Wednesday, the 16th day of Operation Protective Edge. 30,000 attended the funeral of US-born soldier Max Steinberg in Jerusalem, as other funerals took place elsewhere in Israel. The IDF death toll rose to 32, with another soldier MIA presumed dead and claimed by Hamas to be in its hands (dead or alive). Some three-quarters of the foreign airlines that routinely fly to Israel since a rocket hit a home near the airport on Tuesday. IDF-Hamas fighting in Gaza remains intensive, Hamas is still trying to carry out attacks in Israel through tunnels — a major tunnel found Wednesday contained maps and weaponry for an imminent attack — and rockets are still being fired. (Thursday’s liveblog is here.)

You can also follow @TOIAlerts on Twitter — we’re live-tweeting all the updates there as well.

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Day 16 of Operation Protective Edge

As we enter Day 16 of this bitter Israel-Hamas conflict, British carrier easyJet has just become the latest airline to cancel flights to Israel in light of the threat of rockets from the Gaza Strip.

American carriers, as well as Turkish, Lufthansa, KLM, and other airlines have also suspended flights.

An Army Radio report says that Israel may open its minor international airport at Ovda, located 60 kilometers north of Eilat in the Negev Desert and at least 150 km from the Gaza Strip, as an alternative point of entry for international flights to Israel.

A rocket hit near Ben Gurion International Airport earlier on Wednesday, prompting many international carriers to cease flights to Israel for the next 24 hours, and for the FAA to bar US flights to Israel as well.

A couple of hours ago, meanwhile, Israeli planes bombed the home of Hamas military commander Muhammad Deif in Khan Younis.

Deif has been in hiding for years, and no longer lives in the building.

Bound to a wheelchair after losing his arms and legs in a July 2006 Israeli Air Force strike on a Gaza home where he was hiding — and an eye in a helicopter strike on his car in September 2002 — Deif still officially commands Hamas’s military apparatus from his hiding spots. He is a top Israeli target.

Worse may lie ahead

The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff has just filed a bleak analysis. Sorry.

The bottom line; “Hamas will find it hard to end the fighting without a significant achievement. But such an achievement — the opening of the borders, for instance — is not at hand. Egypt has no desire to come to its aid. Israel has no intention of freeing prisoners.

“And so after quite a few bad days for Israel and for Gaza, worse days still seem to lie ahead.”

Full story is here.

53 Rahat residents treated for shock after rocket strike

At least 53 residents of the southern Bedouin town of Rahat require hospitalization and treatment for shock after a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit the city, causing no damage.

Fresh fighting taking place in Gaza’s Shejaiya

A gunfight is taking place between IDF troops and Palestinian militants in the Gaza neighborhood of Shejaiya, where 13 Israeli soldiers and over 60 Palestinians were killed in clashes early Sunday morning, Ynet reports.

Who is Muhammad Deif anyway?

As the Israeli air force bombs his home, ToI’s Elhanan Miller reminds us of the long, vicious history of Hamas terror chief Muhammad Deif.

Muhammad Deif

Muhammad Deif

Deif’s oversight of a series of terrorist attacks — including suicide bombings and kidnappings — saw him rise to the head of Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, and become a prime Israeli target over the past two decades.

He was nearly killed in a series of Israeli assassination attempts, and his injuries marginalized him, but some members of the Israeli security establishment believe he regained command of the Brigades following the assassination of Ahmad Jabari in November 2012, writes Miller.

Read the full story here.

IDF publishes clip showing Hamas gunmen in ambulance

The IDF says in a statement that it observed Hamas fighters use an ambulance to flee the scene of combat earlier on Tuesday.

“This morning, soldiers from the Paratroopers brigade encountered a militant squad, who were then targeted by an IAF aircraft,” the IDF says. “A number of other terrorists were identified fleeing the scene in an ambulance. The IDF did not target the ambulance in light of the possibility uninvolved civilians were in it.”

The spokesperson’s office uploaded a video of the fighters entering the ambulance here.

Washington shoots down Israel’s request to lift FAA ban

A senior Obama administration official responds to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to persuade the FAA to lift the aviation ban on US flights to Israel for the next 24 hours in light of the rocket strike near Ben Gurion Airport earlier on Tuesday.

According to Reuters, the official says, “We’re not going to overrule the FAA, period.”

Hamas spokesperson likens Netanyahu to Hitler on CNN

A Hamas spokesperson who spoke to CNN Tuesday evening likened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler, and compared the current Israeli ground operation in the Gaza Strip to the Nazi campaign to eradicate the Jewish people.

Speaking to Wolf Blitzer from Doha, Qatar, Osama Hamdan tells the news anchor that Netanyahu “lost his morals” and is “reflecting a new image for Hitler and the Nazist army.”

Israeli troops, he charges, “are acting in the same way [as the Nazis], killing the Palestinians just because they are Palestinians, like what Hitler was doing in the last century.” Hamdan neglects to mention that under Hitler’s orders, Nazi Germany exterminated 6 million Jews.

CNN notes that the Hamas spokesman didn’t answer Blitzer’s inquiry as to whether the Islamist organization is deliberately targeting Ben Gurion International Airport.

9 arrested for ‘die-in’ at Friends of IDF offices in NYC

Nine pro-Palestinian protesters are in NYPD custody after staging a “die-in” inside the Manhattan offices of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.

Some two dozen protesters gathered for the protest, organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say NO, against Israel’s campaign in the Gaza Strip at FIDF’s New York office on Tuesday.

For more information, read our full coverage of the incident.

Sirens in Ashkelon area

Palestinian dies after shot by IDF near Beitar Illit

Palestinian security sources say a 32-year-old man was killed in clashes near the village of Husan, near the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit, Ynet reports.

The IDF spokesperson’s unit says that roughly 50 Palestinians gathered and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers, who returned fire with rubber-coated bullets. One of the rioters was injured and apparently succumbed to his wounds.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem a truck driver rammed a motorcyclist and drew a knife before being chased by police. Shots were fired at the truck. Police say they arrested two suspects.

Hamas claims it hit Israeli F-16 over Gaza

Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades claims that it hit an Israeli F-16 operating over the central Gaza Strip town of Deir al-Balah with a surface-to-air missile.

There is no immediate confirmation of the claim.

Ex-NYC mayor flies to Tel Aviv in solidarity with Israel

After the FAA barred US airlines from flying to Israel, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg announces he will be flying to Israel on El Al to demonstrate it’s safe to do so, and in solidarity with the people of Israel.

“Ben Gurion is the best protected airport in the world and El Al flights have been regularly flying in and out of it safely,” says Bloomberg in a statement. “The flight restrictions are a mistake that hands Hamas an undeserved victory and should be lifted immediately. I strongly urge the FAA to reverse course and permit US airlines to fly to Israel.”

Michael Bloomberg at a press conference in Jerusalem May 22 (photo credit: Avshalom Sassoni)

Michael Bloomberg at a press conference in Jerusalem May 22 (photo credit: Avshalom Sassoni)

Dermer defends US flights to Israel

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer speaks to American news outlet CNN, saying he thinks it’s safe to fly to Israel and that he’s sure flights from the US will resume shortly.

“From what I understand, the FAA decision was a procedural decision,” Dermer says in an interview with CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

“I’m confident that once our FAA and your FAA meet, and they understand the situation, they’ll resume those flights, because the airport is very well protected,” he says.

IDF carries out strikes across Gaza Strip

Palestinians report airstrikes and shelling by Israeli naval ships across the Gaza Strip. There are reports of an airstrike near a mosque in the central Gaza Strip and near the Strip’s sole power plant.

Two soldiers slain in Gaza on Tuesday

Two more IDF soldiers were killed in combat in the Gaza Strip Tuesday evening, raising the Israeli army’s death toll to 29.

In the past day, three soldiers were seriously injured, nine were moderately injured and eight slightly injured.

The identities of the two soldiers have not yet been released by the IDF.

IDF releases name of fallen officer

The IDF releases the name of one of the soldiers killed Tuesday evening in the Gaza Strip, Captain Dmitri Levitas, 26, of Jerusalem, a company commander in the Armored Corps who was killed by sniper fire.

The date of Levitas’s burial has not yet been published.

Fallen IDF officer Capt. Dmitri Levitas, 26, of Jerusalem (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

Fallen IDF officer Capt. Dmitri Levitas, 26, of Jerusalem (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

PLO official lauds Hamas’s ceasefire demands, fortitude

Senior PLO official Yasser Abed Rabbo expresses support for Hamas in the Gaza Strip, declaring that “we are sure that Gaza won’t break so long as our eminent nation stands by its side.”

Rabbo continues, saying that Hamas’s ceasefire demands are those of the Palestinian people.

“The demands from Gaza for a cessation of attacks and removal of all forms of siege are the demands of the entire Palestinian nation, and they reflect the objective which the Palestinian leadership committed to.”

Meanwhile, reports from the Gaza Strip say Israeli planes are striking the territory. Hamas Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra reports three killed and over 20 injured in an attack on Khan Yunis, in the south of the Gaza Strip.

Sirens in Ashkelon, Eshkol areas

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip launch their first rockets since sun-up on Wednesday. There is no immediate report of impacts or interceptions.

The IDF has hit 200 targets in the past day, and over 3,250 since the commencement of Operation Protective Edge.

Israelis stuck and scared in Istanbul

Masses of Israeli travelers have been stranded in Turkey, after carriers Turkish Airlines and Pegasus suspended flights to Israel, along with other major worldwide airlines.

While it’s a scene being repeated in other cities with airlines that are refusing to fly to Ben-Gurion airport, in Turkey, which has seen large anti-Israel rallies, many passengers report feeling uneasy about being forced to stay overnight or longer, Ynet reports.

“At about 1:30 at night, they started to send us to hotels, and Turkish Airlines representatives told us not to speak too much Hebrew and not to leave the hotels,” one passenger trying to get from Holland back home tells the news site.

The site reports than many turned down the hotel offer out of security fears, choosing instead to spend the night on the airport floor.

With the second most flights out of Ben-Gurion (after El Al), Turkish Airlines has transformed Istanbul’s airport into a virtual gateway for Israelis flying abroad.

Natan Cohen named as second fatality from Tuesday night

First Lieutenant Natan Cohen, a 23-year-old platoon commander in the Armored Corps, is named as the second IDF fatality from Tuesday evening.

No funeral date has been announced for Cohen, a resident of Modiin.

Earlier, the army announced the death of Dmtri Levitas, an officer in the Armored Corps, in Gaza fighting.

Three IDF soldiers were killed in fighting Tuesday.

The IDF death toll is now 29, with one more soldier missing and presumed killed.

Tracker shows dearth of air traffic over Israel

A look at flightradar24.com, which tracks air traffic worldwide, shows the lack of flights in and out of Israel.

The few flights that are seen are either El Al and Arkia outbound planes, one incoming British Airways flight and some Royal Jordanian planes overflying our apparently less-than-friendly skies.

A screen capture from flightradar24.com taken at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday July 23, 2014.

A screen capture from flightradar24.com taken at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday July 23, 2014.

Hold the tighty-whities, send some cigarettes

While the IDF continues to receive large donations of underwear and pizzas for the soldiers in Gaza, what the troops are really jonesing for is cigarettes and bug spray, Channel 2 reports.

IDF field hospital at Erez crossing has low turnout

Fewer than 30 Palestinians have been treated at the IDF field hospital at the Erez crossing since it was set up on Sunday, Haaretz reports.

Earlier reports indicated that it may be difficult for wounded Gazans to reach the crossing for treatment.

More than 100 soldiers hospitalized

Over 100 IDF soldiers are hospitalized for wounds sustained during Operation Protective Edge at medical centers around the country.

Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center is treating 61 troops, with three in serious condition, and 19 moderately wounded.

In the Sheba Medical Center, 21 IDF soldiers are presently hospitalized — one for serious injuries, 12 for moderate wounds, while eight are lightly injured.

Eighteen soldiers — two in critical condition, and four sustaining moderate wounds — are being treated at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva, while 11 other soldiers receive care at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center.

Paris braces for fresh pro-Gaza protests

The French capital braces for a fresh protest against the Israeli offensive in Gaza after similar rallies ended in violence and looting, raising concerns in the Jewish community about anti-Semitism.

The government, whose ban on several weekend rallies failed spectacularly after they went ahead anyway and descended into chaos, decided to authorize Wednesday’s protest in Paris after discussions with organizers who gave “security guarantees”, Prime Minister Manuel Valls says.

The main organizer of Wednesday’s protest, the National Collective for Just and Durable Peace between Israelis and Palestinians, hails the decision to let the demonstration go ahead.

“It’s a victory for democracy and freedom of expression,” says Taoufiq Tahani, president of the France-Palestine Solidarity Association which is part of the collective that called the rally.

Other demonstrations are to be held Wednesday in the cities of Lyon, Toulouse, Lille and Reims.

They have been called by far-left groups, pro-Palestinian organisations and some unions.

Another demonstration is due to be held in Paris on Saturday, and it is as yet unclear whether authorities will decide to ban it over fears of unrest.

AFP

Slate writer blames Birthright for lone soldier’s death

Slate writer Allison Benedikt argues Birthright is partially responsible for the death of 24-year-old lone soldier and US citizen Max Steinberg for encouraging him to join the IDF.

Max Steinberg, 24, originally from Southern California's San Fernando Valley, who was killed in the Gaza Strip on July 20, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Courtesy of Stuart Steinberg)

Max Steinberg, 24, originally from Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, who was killed in the Gaza Strip on July 20, 2014. (photo credit: AP Photo/Courtesy of Stuart Steinberg)

“There are many people to blame for Steinberg’s death. There is the Hamas fighter behind the weapon that actually killed him. There are the leaders, on both sides, who put him in Gaza, and the leaders behind all of the wars between Israel and the Palestinians. I can trace it back to 1948, or 1917, or whatever date suits you and still never find all the parties who are responsible. But I have no doubt in my mind that along with all of them, Birthright shares some measure of the blame,” she writes.

“It turns out that it’s not that hard to persuade young people to see the world a certain way and that Birthright is very good at doing it. You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.”

UN Human Rights Council to debate Gaza op

The UN Human Rights Council is set to convene a special session on Operation Protective Edge at 11 a.m. in Geneva.

“In order for a Special Session to be convened, the support of one-third of the Council – 16 or more – is required. The request was supported by the following States Members of the Council: Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Cuba, Gabon, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Maldives, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Peru, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

“The request was also supported by the following observer States: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Qatar, Senegal, State of Palestine, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen,” it says in a statement.

IDF gaining control of Shejaiya, official says

A senior official tells Channel 2 the IDF is “increasingly taking control of Shejaiya,” the Gaza City neighborhood where much of the fighting is concentrated.

“Our soldiers are there and are advancing carefully, destroying tunnels, and searching for weapons,” and have destroyed 120 targets in the area to date, he says.

The IDF killed 30 “terrorists” in the past 24 hours, and 210 overall since the ground offensive was launched last Thursday, the army said in a statement. Twenty-eight operatives are in Israeli custody.

The army has uncovered 28 tunnels in the Gaza Strip, and completely demolished six tunnels as well as 57 tunnel entrances, the IDF says.

El Al, Arkia add flights

Israeli carriers El Al and Arkia are adding additional flights to their schedules, as many foreign carriers suspend flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport amid rocket fears.

PA calls for five days of truce talks in Cairo

The Palestinian Authority suggests holding five days of negotiations in Cairo, during which it will meet with Hamas leaders and work out the terms of a ceasefire deal, Israel Radio reports.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas is said to support the terror group’s demand Israel release the prisoners freed during the  2011 swap for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit who were rearrested following the June 12 killing of three Israeli teenagers. It also backs easing the crossing restrictions on the Gaza Strip, and calls for holding a summit with its donor countries to discuss rebuilding the war-torn, poverty-stricken enclave.

However, along with Egypt, it maintains that the ceasefire must be implemented before Hamas’s demands are discussed.

US Airways intends to resume flights Thursday

US Airways plans to resume its direct flights from Philadelphia to Tel Aviv on Thursday after a temporary ban from federal authorities on flights to Israel.

AFP

Ambulance convoy to enter Shajaiya

Ten ambulances are set to enter the Shajaiya neighborhood to retrieve the wounded, as heavy fighting continues, Al-Jazeera reports.

“Medics said they hoped the large number of ambulances would convince Israel to hold fire,” it writes, citing a correspondent in the area.

2 children killed in Gaza from tank fire

Israeli tank fire kills five people, including two children, in southern Gaza on Wednesday, Gazan medics say.

The shelling hits houses east of the city of Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra tells AFP.

AFP

3 IDF soldiers held for WhatsApp leak

The military police arrest three soldiers who they say are behind leaking the names of 13 slain Golani soldiers on the social media application WhatsApp before the families were notified, Channel 2 reports.

A number of relatives and close friends heard the tragic news via a message, hours before the army contacted them officially.

In addition, some names were mistakenly added to the list, leading families to believe they had lost loved ones.

‘Israel should cancel security arrangements with PA’

Likud MK Danny Danon calls for Israel to dissolve its security coordination with the Palestinian Authority.

The recently fired deputy defense minister writes in an op-ed for Foreign Policy: “Those among us who naively thought we could outsource the security and safety of our citizens to the Palestinian Authority should now understand that this was a dangerous gambit. While we will continue to encourage the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria to take responsibility for their day-to-day civilian lives, we can no longer allow the PA even the smallest amount of autonomy when it comes to anti-terror efforts. Only by allowing the Israel Defense Forces and our other security services to operate freely in every corner of Judea and Samaria will we be able ensure that all the residents of this land receive the level of security they deserve.”

Bloomberg ‘a true friend to Israel’ — Liberman

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman hails former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to travel to Israel immediately, in a gesture that aims to demonstrate the flights are safe.

Liberman calls Bloomberg “a true friend to Israel” since “a true friend is measured in the time of need and by his actions.”

After cancellations, Ovda airport opened

The Transportation Ministry announces that foreign carriers concerned about the security situation may land and depart from the Ovda airport located some 60 kilometers (40 miles) north of Eilat, beginning at noon.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz calls the FAA decision to ground flights “inappropriate” and “unfortunate.”

“There is no reason to cancel the flights to and from Ben Gurion Airport,” he says.

Funeral details for 2 slain soldiers

First Lieutenant Natan Cohen, a 23-year-old platoon commander in the Armored Corps, will be laid to rest at 6 p.m. at the Modi’in cemetery.

Captain Dmitri Levitas, 26, of Jerusalem, a company commander in the Armored Corps, will be buried at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem at 3 p.m.

Sirens in Ashkelon

Iron Dome downs rocket over Ashkelon

Thousands at funeral for lone soldier

Thousands of people gather at the Mount Herzl military cemetery to pay their last respects to 24-year-old Golani soldier Max Steinberg, who was killed in the Gaza Strip.

Steinberg’s parents arrived from Los Angeles last night for the funeral, in their first visit to Israel.

Kerry lands in Israel on Gaza truce mission

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Israel, AFP reports, as part of efforts to broker a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

Royal Jordanian suspends Tel Aviv flights

National carrier Royal Jordanian says it has suspended flights to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion international airport after a Gaza rocket struck near runways.

The announcement by the airline, which operates 20 weekly flights to Tel Aviv, was made in a short statement carried by state-run Petra news agency.

The statement gave no further details and Royal Jordanian officials were not immediately available for comment.

AFP

A response to the Slate piece on Max Steinberg

The Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur responds to a Slate article which argued that the responsibility for the death of Max Steinberg, 24, lies in part with Birthright.

He writes, in part, that

the real failing of Benedikt’s piece lies not in the strange refusal to check her assumptions against data, but in the blunt disrespect she pays to the deceased by assuming his life choices are a sign of psychological or moral failure.

Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it.

Max, you see, was an idiot. Who falls in love with a country in ten days? Who joins the army of a foreign nation without first making sure his mother can articulate adequately to journalists his emotional and intellectual journey?

“I didn’t know Max. But I know many who made the same choice (as does Benedikt) — and often went back after their service to the American Jewish community. From them I have learned that one does not have to be an idiot to do what Max did, that Max was not hoodwinked by a clever public-relations machine.

Click here to read the full op-ed.

Iron Dome interceptions over Sderot, Ashkelon

The Iron Dome intercepts five rockets over Ashkelon and one over Sderot.

Peres, UN chief meet in Jerusalem

President Shimon Peres and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon hold a meeting at the President’s Residence on the ongoing campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Following the meeting, in a statement to the press, the president strongly criticizes Qatar for transferring to Hamas money that ultimately sponsored terror activity and made Gaza “a center of terror.”

“Qatar does not have the right to send money for rockets and tunnels which are fired at innocent civilians. Their funding of terror must stop. If they want to build then they should, but they must not be allowed to destroy,” he says.

“Gaza could have become a center of trade but Hamas turned it into a center of terror. The people of Gaza could have been given hope but instead Hamas brought them destruction. Hamas built an infrastructure of terror beneath schools and kindergartens. They use hospitals to launch attacks. They hide in houses and use their children as human shields,” Peres says after the meeting.

“Mr. Secretary-General, they even use your UNRWA schools to store their rockets. The behavior of Hamas is a criminal act against their own people and ours. The death of innocent civilians pains me personally and it pains our people,” he says.

Ban responds by extending an urgent appeal for a truce.

“The violence must stop now and we must immediately start dialogue which addressed all the root causes which have already been identified, discussed and negotiated for a long time. We don’t have time to lose,” he says.

He condemns rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians, as well as the Palestinian civilian casualties.

30,000 at funeral for fallen soldier

Some 30,000 people attend the funeral for IDF soldier Max Steinberg, 24, originally from Los Angeles, at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.

IDF activity could be war crimes — UN rights chief

Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip could amount to war crimes, UN rights chief Navi Pillay said Wednesday while also condemning indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told an emergency session on Israel’s Gaza offensive at the UN Human Rights Council, citing attacks that have killed Palestinian civilians, including children.

She said Israeli children and other civilians also had a right to live without constant fear of rocket attacks.

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

AFP

Israel ‘very concerned’ over UNRWA rocket find

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman tells UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that Israel is “very concerned” about the rockets that were found in UNRWA facilities in the Gaza Strip on two separate occasions.

“The UNRWA schools were established for the education of children, and instead they shelter rockets designated to kill children in Israel. I protested very strongly that after the rockets were discovered, UNRWA returned them to Hamas instead of handing them over to Israel,” Liberman says in a statement describing the meeting.

UNHRC concerned about Israeli incitement

In a special session on Operation Protective Edge, UN rights chief Navi Pillay expresses concern about the increased Israeli incitement against Palestinians on social media, according to Haaretz.

Foreign worker critically injured by mortar

A foreign worker in a community bordering Gaza is seriously injured by mortar fire.

Photo of Max Steinberg’s funeral

The funeral of IDF soldier Max Steinberg is ongoing, with more than 30,000 in attendance at the Mount Herzl military cemetery.

Foreign worker passes away from mortar wounds

A foreign worker dies from injuries sustained by mortar fire from the Gaza Strip, the Ynet news website reports.

The worker was apparently in a greenhouse in a southern town when the attack occurred, and was subsequently evacuated to Ashkelon’s Barzilai hospital.

Sirens in Beersheba

PA’s FM says Gaza op ‘crime against humanity’

Israel is committing “a crime against humanity” during its offensive in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki tells an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday.

“Israel is in the process of committing hideous crimes. Israel is destroying residential areas completely. Israel is targeting journalists. Israel has destroyed 2,500 houses. Infrastructure has been destroyed. Israeli forces are targeting Gaza’s medical centers. What Israel is doing is a crime against humanity,” he says.

AFP

Hamas using advanced close-combat arms — IDF

A senior IDF intelligence officer says that “there are no big surprises” in the manner in which Hamas is fighting. Some of the ammunition, he says, is quite advanced, including the Russian-made Kornet missiles, which are probably smuggled into Gaza from Lebanon, Syria, and Iran, he said.

The army is also facing fire from the RPG-29, he says, which is quite advanced and designed specifically for urban, short-range combat. These, too, are supplied by what he called “the radical axis.”

As for the rockets still being fired at Israel, he says most are homemade and constructed out “of civilian pipes, welded and turned into weapons.”

Mitch Ginsburg

Some progress in truce talks, Kerry says

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that diplomacy to end the Gaza violence has made progress, but warned more time was needed.

“We have certainly made some steps forward, but there is still work to be done,” Kerry said in Jerusalem as he met UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

AFP

IDF bombs Gaza hospital, says Hamas is ‘abusing’ site

The IDF launches strikes on the al-Wafa hospital in the Gaza Strip which, it says, serves as a Hamas command center and rocket-launching site.

“This in light of several occasions in which fire was opened at IDF forces from within the hospital grounds, and despite repeated warnings against such activities, and notifications to civilians to vacate the premises,” it says in a statement.

“Hamas terrorists have been intentionally abusing the hospital and other international protected symbols to indiscriminately attack Israel and its civilians. The IDF is determined in preventing the ongoing aggression by Hamas that is directed by a strategy of exploitation and abuse of the civilian population and its wellbeing,” IDF Spokesman Peter Lerner says.

3 rockets intercepted over Beersheba

Sirens in Ashkelon

El Al to retrieve Israelis stranded in Turkey

The Transportation Ministry and Foreign Ministry are set to send four El Al planes to Turkey tonight to bring home the thousands of stranded Israeli passengers, Ynet reports.

Iron Dome downs 2 rockets over Ashkelon

Two rockets are intercepted over Ashkelon, and one falls in an open area.

Sirens in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Rishon Lezion, Lod

Sirens sound in the south and parts of central Israel.

Merkel pledges to protect Jews in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledges the country’s Jewish community Wednesday her unwavering support as she condemns anti-Semitic slurs and threats at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, a government spokesman says.

The spokesman, Georg Streiter, says Germany would not tolerate aggression against the resurgent Jewish population, after demonstrators attending protests against the Israeli offensive in Gaza used violent slogans.

“The chancellor and the entire German government condemn the anti-Semitic remarks made at pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli demonstrations in Germany in the strongest terms,” Streiter tells reporters.

“These outbursts are an attack on freedom and tolerance and an attempt to shake the foundations of our free and democratic system. We cannot and will not tolerate this.”

Streiter says any violence against Jewish people or institutions would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“The chancellor and the entire government welcome the revival of Jewish life in Germany and will continue to stand up for the security of Jewish citizens,” he says.

He adds that the German government saw Israel as a “friend and partner” and would work with “all its strength” to maintain those ties.

Meanwhile German President Joachim Gauck telephones the leader of the country’s 200,000-strong Jewish community, Dieter Graumann, to discuss “dreadful anti-Semitic incidents” in recent days.

Graumann says in a statement that Gauck told him he took Jewish fears “very seriously.”

“Many members of our community are very shaken, worried and absolutely shocked by the worst anti-Jewish slogans that some out-of-control crowds have shouted, calling for Jews to be ‘gassed,’ ‘burned’ and ‘slaughtered’,” Graumann says.

He says Gauck and several other officials had assured Jews that they are “welcome and not alone.”

AFP

Majority of Americans back Israel, poll shows

A majority of Americans back Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip, according to a poll.

The CNN poll, conducted from Friday to Sunday – just as Israel was launching its ground operation following days of airstrikes that began July 8 – finds that 57 percent of Americans see Israel’s actions as justified, with 12 percent among those respondents saying Israel is not using enough force.

CNN notes that the same percentage, 57 percent, believed Israel was justified in its use of force during the previous conflict with Hamas in Gaza in 2012, and 63 percent thought it was justified during the 2008-2009 Cast Lead conflict.

The survey carried out by ORC International finds, however, that Israel’s unfavorables were climbing, with 38 percent saying that they had an unfavorable opinion of the country, up 14 percent from February, and 60 percent posting a favorable opinion, down from 72 percent in February.

The telephone poll of 1,012 Americans has a margin of error of three percentage points.

JTA

Iron Dome intercepts 4 missiles

The Iron Dome shoots down four rockets, two of them over the southern city of Ashdod, Channel 2 reports.

Iran says it’d take in injured Gazans

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says the Islamic Republic wants to sent medical teams to Gaza to treat the wounded, but is denied entry by Israeli forces, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

He adds: “We are ready to accept the injured Palestinians in Iranian hospitals.”

Fatah gunmen said to fire at IDF in West Bank

Channel 2 reports that Fatah gunmen fired on IDF troops yesterday — a very rare occurrence.

There are no reports of injuries.

It also says Fatah is planning a symbolic funeral march to UN offices in the West Bank, in solidarity with Gaza, and reports there has been an uptick in West Bank disturbances in the last two days.

The report provides no specifics on the Fatah gunfire.

Security cabinet to convene at 9:30 p.m.

The security cabinet is set to meet at 9:30 p.m. to discuss Operation Protective Edge and ceasefire efforts, according to Haaretz.

Wafa hospital emptied a week ago, chief says

Dr. Basman Alashi, the head of the Wafa hospital in Gaza which was bombed today by the IDF, tells Haaretz the staff and patients were transferred to a different facility in Gaza City a week ago.

“The hospital is empty of staff and patients,” he says.

The area has been declared a closed military zone.

Peres to give parting address tomorrow

President Shimon Peres is set to give a special address at the Knesset on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to mark the end of his 7-year presidential term.

Significant progress in truce talks, Fatah official says

Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmad tells the Ma’an news agency that significant progress has been made in negotiations on a ceasefire in Gaza, and that the coming hours will be “crucial.”

Ahmad and PA General Intelligence chief Majed Faraj extended their stay in Cairo following a successful meeting on Tuesday with the deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau Moussa Abu Marzouk.

Elhanan Miller

Army finds IDF uniforms, weapons in Hamas tunnel

The IDF says it found Israeli army uniforms, weapons and maps in a Hamas tunnel today, indicating plans to infiltrate Israel.

“A short while ago, an IDF force uncovered a terror access shaft in Gaza, in which were weapons, maps, and IDF uniforms, all intended for the execution of terror attacks against Israel,” reads an IDF statement on the discovery.

160 flights canceled, ministry says

In all, 160 flights at Ben Gurion Airport are canceled — 80 incoming and 80 departing — Uzi Yitzhaki, director-general of the Transportation Ministry tells Channel 2.

He says some companies, including Alitalia, are set to resume flights tomorrow.

El Al says it is helping as best as it can.

Foreign worker killed today was Thai national

A foreign worker who died by mortar shell in a community in southern Israel earlier today was a Thai national, Channel 2 reports.

IDF attacks men emerging from Gaza tunnel

The IDF says it has attacked “several” terrorists who emerged from a tunnel opening in the southern Gaza Strip.

IDF: 60 tunnel openings, 28 tunnels uncovered

Since the beginning of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip, more than 28 underground tunnels have been uncovered, along 60 access shafts leading into them.

Code Red sirens sound in Ashkelon, Eshkol

Code Red alerts sound in the city of Ashkelon and in the Eshkol region, both in southern Israel.

IDF hits 70+ terror targets since midnight

The IDF says it has hit over 70 terror-related targets across the Gaza Strip since midnight.

IDF commander hails army’s operational success

Sa’ar Tzur, the commander of the IDF’s 401 Armored Brigade, says his unit has seen consistent success in its operations in the Gaza Strip.

“The coordination with other parts of the IDF is excellent,” he says during a press conference with Israeli media outlets.

“We have everything we need, we have an air force, we have a navy, and we have ground forces that assist us during our operations.”

The commander says his unit is operating under the assumption that terrorists are constantly engaged in activities in underground tunnels.

“We know there are terrorists hiding out beneath us as we search for the tunnels,” he says. “[But the] IDF is changing its tactics as needed to deal with the situation.”

Two US airlines to restart flights tomorrow

US Airways and United will restart flights to Israel tomorrow, Israeli air officials say.

Meanwhile, British Airways and Czech Airlines are among those still flying to and from Ben Gurion Airport.

Searches in south amid fears of security incident

Security forces are scouring southern Israel amid fears of a terror-related incident in the area.

Residents of the Hof Ashkelon area are told to stay in their homes

Ovda airport opens to commercial flights

The Ovda military airport in southern Israel opens to commercial flights after Federal Aviation Agency directed all US airlines to cancel all flights to and from Tel Aviv.

The FAA decision came in the wake of a rocket fall in Yehud, close to Ben Gurion Airport. A number of European and Middle Eastern airlines followed suit.

Iron Dome intercepts rocket near Ashkelon

The Iron Dome defense system downs a rocket over the Hof Ashkelon regional council.

Red Cross announces ceasefire in 3 Gaza areas

The International Red Cross announces a humanitarian ceasefire in several combat zones in the Gaza Strip in order to allow for the evacuation of wounded Palestinians to nearby hospitals, AFP reports.

“A convoy of seven ambulances and two Red Cross cars went inside Shejaiya to evacuate the wounded,” ICRC spokeswoman Cecilia Goin told AFP, saying the move had been coordinated with both Israel and Hamas.

A second convoy of nine ambulances and two Red Cross vehicles went into Khuzaa near the southern city of Khan Yunis, an area which also came under very heavy Israeli fire overnight, she said.

A third team went into the northern town of Beit Hanun, the agency said.

“We have coordinated with both Hamas and the Israelis to be able to take out the wounded,” Goin told AFP, indicating both sides had agreed to hold their fire, although it was not immediately clear for how long.

Sissi defends role in ceasefire efforts

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi defends Egypt’s role in trying to broker a Gaza truce between Israel and Hamas, which accuses him of proposing a ceasefire favorable to Israel.

“Egypt has sacrificed, for the Palestinian cause and the Palestinians, 100,000 martyrs,” he says in a televised address, referring to casualties in Egypt’s wars with Israel from 1948 to 1973, before Cairo signed a peace treaty in 1979.

“So it is difficult for anyone to engage in one-upmanship, not just regarding [our role] with the Palestinian brothers but also the Arab region,” he says in a speech to mark the 1952 military overthrow of the monarchy in Egypt.

– AFP

PA, Egypt agree to change terms of ceasefire

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian officials have agreed to revise the Egyptian ceasefire proposal and add a clause saying the blockade on the Gaza Strip will be eased under US supervision, a Palestinian source involved in the negotiations told media outlets in Qatar.

The clause will include a guarantee to ensure the flow of essential goods and commodities into the Palestinian enclave, Ynet reports.

Code Red alert heard in Ashdod area

A Code Red alert is heard in the Ashdod area and in surrounding towns.

No hits are reported.

‘Abbas has moved closer to Hamas’

Abbas has now changed his position and is moving closer to Hamas, says Channel 2′s Ehud Ya’ari.

Ya’ari says Abbas is no longer pushing for an immediate ceasefire with details to be discussed later, as the Egyptians demand. Instead, he told Kerry that Hamas’s demands on easing Gaza border restrictions need to be part of the terms of an immediate ceasefire.

FAA 24-hour ban about to expire

The American Federal Aviation Agency’s one-day ban on flights to and from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport is about to expire.

If the FAA lifts the ban, other airlines around the world are likely to resume service to Israel.

2 rockets intercepted in southern Israel

Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip are intercepted in southern Israel.

One is intercepted in the Hof Ashkelon area, while another is intercepted over Kiryat Malachi.

UNRWA says rockets in its schools are ‘totally unacceptable’

Speaking in Geneva, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says the rockets found in the agency’s schools — for the second time since the start of Operation Protective Edge — are “totally unacceptable.”

Yesterday, UNRWA confirmed that it had found a second major cache of rockets hidden in one of the organization’s schools.

Last Wednesday, the agency found some 20 rockets in a school under its auspices, also during a standard inspection. A spokesperson for UNRWA said the organization gave the rockets to “local authorities,” which answer to the Hamas-backed unity government led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel has long raised eyebrows at the organization, a permanent UN agency separate from the international body’s general refugee relief agency.

2 rockets shot down over Gedera

Iron Dome shoots down 2 rockets over Gedera, in the Shfela or Judean foothills region of Israel, the IDF says.

678 killed in Gaza since start of operation

678 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of Operation Protective Edge just over two weeks ago, according to Palestinian sources.

— AFP

‘Europe hasn’t barred flights to Israel’

As the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) reevaluates its ban on flights to and from Israel in the wake of a rocket attack near Ben Gurion Airport, Mark Gallagher, no. 2 in the EU mission to Israel, says the EU — unlike the US — has not issued a travel advisory against Israel.

Europe’s airline authority has not barred flights to Israel, unlike the FAA, he says.

He adds that Europe “does not want Hamas” running Gaza, and that it will have no contact with the organization unless it renounces terrorism.

Kerry says ‘some progress’ in Gaza truce efforts

Washington’s top diplomat says global efforts to end 16 days of bloodshed between Israel and the Gaza Strip are progressing as the fighting rages on and airlines suspend flights over rocket fears.

“We have certainly made some steps forward, but there is still work to be done,” Kerry says as he meets UN chief Ban Ki-moon for the second time this week.

“We are now joining our forces in strength to make a ceasefire as soon as possible,” Ban says, warning there was no time to lose as concern mounted over the rising civilian body count.

The US diplomat offers a similar message to the Palestinians.

“We have in the last 24 hours made some progress in moving toward that goal,” Kerry says after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, before heading to Tel Aviv for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Britain’s new Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is also expected in the region later today for late-night talks with Abbas.

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with outgoing President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with outgoing President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (photo credit: Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

— AFP

3 troops killed in Gaza this morning

Three Israeli soldiers were killed in the Gaza Strip this morning during a raid on a building, the IDF said.

All three belonged to the IDF’s Paratroopers Unit. According to the IDF, they were killed upon entering a booby-trapped house in the coastal enclave.

22-year-old Paz Elyahu, from Evron, 19-year-old Li Mat, from Eilat, and 20-year-old Shahar Dauber, from Ginegar, were killed by an explosive device activated against forces in the Gaza Strip. The IDF says Elyahu was posthumously promoted to the rank of lieutenant, while Mat and Dauber were both posthumously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant.

Staff Sergeant Shahar Dauber, 20, from Ginegar (screen capture: Channel 2)

Staff Sergeant Shahar Dauber, 20, from Ginegar (screen capture: Channel 2)

Staff Sergeant Li Mat, 19, from Eilat (screen capture: Channel 2)

Staff Sergeant Li Mat, 19, from Eilat (screen capture: Channel 2)

Lieutenant Paz Elyahu, 22, from Evron (screen capture: Channel 2)

Lieutenant Paz Elyahu, 22, from Evron (screen capture: Channel 2)

The soldiers’ entry into the house triggered an explosion that caused part of the house to cave in. A gunbattle between armed militants and Israeli soldiers then ensued, leaving seven soldiers wounded, two of them seriously.

The remaining soldiers evacuated the dead and wounded under fire, and they were transported to Israel by helicopter.

The soldiers’ families have been notified.

Altogether, 28 soldiers were injured in operations throughout the Gaza Strip today, two of them seriously, ten of them moderately and 16 lightly.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, 32 soldiers have been killed.

Hamas’s rocket industry said badly damaged

A senior Israeli security source tells journalists this evening that Hamas’s rocket manufacturing industry has been seriously damaged by Operation Protective Edge.

He adds that at least 200 Hamas members have been confirmed dead since the start of the operation, and likely many more. Some of the casualties are senior, he indicates, but refuses to name names.

— Elhanan Miller

FAA extends its ban on Israel flights

The American Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) extends its ban on flights to and from Israel.

Yesterday, the agency barred US airlines from flying to Israel for a period of 24 hours after a rocket hit the city of Yehud, near Ben Gurion Airport. This evening, it reviews the ban and decides to renew it for an additional 24 hours.

Meanwhile, major European airlines such as KLM, Air Berlin, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, and Swiss Airlines announce that they will continue to halt all flights to Israel.

Lot Polish Airlines says it will not renew its flights to Tel Aviv until Monday.

Of 100-plus airlines that fly to Israel, only 27 are still flying in.

WATCH: Footage of IDF strike on Gaza hospital

The IDF releases footage of its airstrike this morning on Gaza’s al-Wafa hospital, as well as recordings of the phone calls that were made to the hospital before it was bombed.

The video begins with footage of shots being fired out of the hospital, presumably at IDF troops conducting operations in the Gaza Strip.

“Do you see them firing?” says a soldier. “I have spotted fire from within the house (hospital) — affirmative,” responds another.

A second recording can then be heard, this time of a warning call made by the IDF to a source in Gaza, to ensure that no civilians are present in the hospital.

“Are you positive there is no one at the Wafa hospital?” asks an IDF soldier in Arabic.

“No, no one is there,” responds the source.

“You’re positive no injured people are there?” asks the soldier.

“There is hospital equipment, but no [injured] people,” the source says.

The soldier then asks for a second clarification regarding injured people, and is told that there are none inside the hospital.

Both calls are said to have been made on Monday.

The video then continues with a recording of another warning call made by the IDF this morning, the morning of the strike, to Gaza.

“I have spoken to the director of the hospital again,” says the Gazan, adding, “I spoke to him and he said there are no medical staff and no injured people. He closed the hospital and locked all the doors; there is no way to enter.”

The soldier asks once again if there is anybody inside the hospital.

“No one is there,” says the source.

The soldier explains, “It is important to clarify, because they (Hamas) are attacking our troops from there and now they are inside the hospital. International law requires us to keep our soldiers and Israeli citizens safe and to prevent any shooting or firing of rockets from there.”

“Everything is okay, I will clarify this,” responds the source.

The recording then ends, and is followed by footage of the airstrike on the hospital. A large explosion can be seen — followed by a number of secondary explosions, indicating that there were explosives in the building.

Israel takes out Islamic Jihad field chiefs

The Shin Bet announces it has managed, along with the army, to either kill or incapacitate four mid- to high-level Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders.

The four are the commander of the Khan Younis area, Akram Shaar, who was behind a series of attacks against Israeli soldiers, the Shin Bet says, and in charge of rocket fire from the area; Mahmoud Ziada, a resident of Jabalya, who had served as a battalion commander in the northern sector; Sha’aban Dahduh, of Gaza City, also a battalion commander, whom the Shin Bet refers to as “outstanding”; and Saeed Ma’amar, also a battalion commander, in the Rafah brigade.

– Mitch Ginsburg

UN rights council statement called ‘travesty’

Israel harshly condemns a statement made by the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier today accusing Israel of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip and calling for an investigation into its operation there, saying the council’s decision is a “travesty” that should be “rejected by decent people everywhere.”

“Rather than investigate Hamas, which is committing a double war crime by firing rockets at Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians, the HRC calls for an investigation of Israel, which has gone to unprecedented lengths to keep Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way, including by dropping leaflets, making phone falls and sending text messages,” reads a statement from Jerusalem on the matter.

“The HRC should be launching an investigation into Hamas’s decision to turn hospitals into military command centers, use schools as weapons depots and place missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques. By failing to condemn Hamas’s systematic use of human shields and by blaming Israel for the deaths that are caused by this grotesque human shields policy, the HRC is sending a message to Hamas and terror organizations everywhere that using civilians as human shields is an effective strategy.”

It adds that “like the investigation that led to the infamous Goldstone report — a report which was ultimately renounced by its own author — this investigation by a kangaroo court is a foregone conclusion.

“The predicable result will be the libeling of Israel and even greater use by Hamas of human shields in the future. Those who will pay the price will be not only Israelis but also Palestinians who Hamas will redouble its efforts to use as human shields in the future.”

— Raphael Ahren

Marchers in Istanbul: ‘Jew, don’t sleep, you’re next’

Channel 2 shows a clip of a march that took pace last night in what it says was a Jewish neighborhood of Istanbul.

The demonstrators, a few dozen in number, shout out, “Jew, don’t sleep, you’re next.” And that’s followed by, “Muslim, don’t sleep, preserve the unity of the Muslim nation.”

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wearing a keffiyeh during a July 22, 2014 AKP party meeting as a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wearing a keffiyeh during a July 22, 2014 AKP party meeting as a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)

Turkey is marking three days of mourning for Gaza, and Turkey’s PM Erdogan has accused Israel of committing “genocide” in Gaza and compared the mentality of some elements in Israeli society to that of Adolf Hitler.

British foreign secretary arrives in Tel Aviv

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond arrives in Tel Aviv for a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He joins US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

Kerry and Ban met in Jerusalem earlier today to discuss the escalation in the Gaza Strip, and the senior US diplomat also discussed recent developments with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Richard Kemp voices support for Gaza op

Retired British Army officer Richard Kemp voices support for Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, saying the IDF was fighting an enemy similar to the one British and American soldiers fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“British soldiers understand what Israel is doing and support what Israel is doing, on the whole,” Kemp tells Channel 2.

He says that whether or not Israel defeats Hamas during the operation depends on several factors, among them the international community, which might pressure Israel to enter a ceasefire before it can neutralize the threat posed by Hamas’s terrorist activity.

Kemp has voiced support for Israel during past operations in the Strip, 2008′s Cast Lead and 2012′s Pillar of Defense.

Hamas will only be disarmed if Israel is — Mashaal

Hamas’s political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal reacts to Israeli demands that his movement be disarmed.

“No one will force us to lay down our weapons,” he says at a press conference in Qatar, but adds that Hamas has “two conditions” for demilitarization: the end of the occupation and of settlements, and the disarming of Israel.

He claims the hundreds of rockets — over 1,500 — fired by Hamas into towns and cities all over Israel, as well as the five attempted attacks through cross-border tunnels, are not aimed at civilian targets.

“Our fatalities are civilians. Israel’s fatalities are soldiers,” he says. “Netanyahu and Ya’alon have failed in Gaza.”

Channel 2′s Ehud Ya’ari says the speech is designed to sound like a victory speech, but doesn’t quite come across that way.

Thousands hold new pro-Gaza rally in Paris amid tight security

Several thousands hold a fresh protest against Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Paris amid tight security, days after similar rallies descended into anti-Semitic violence and looting.

The French government, which had banned the prior protests in an effort to restrain what it called anti-Semitic radicals, authorized Wednesday’s march after its organizers gave “security guarantees,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls says.

A police source says more than 1,000 undercover and uniformed officers are deployed along the march route, which ends in the upscale Invalides area where several government ministries are located.

The marchers, many of whom hold Palestinian flags or stickers saying “Boycott Israel,” shout slogans such as “Israel — killer” and “Long live Palestine, long live the resistance!”

Samira Cheblal, a marcher, says she has come with a simple message: “Stop the massacre of children and civilians.”

In addition to the Paris event, staged by a coalition of pro-Palestinian and left-wing groups, demonstrations are also held in the cities of Lyon, Toulouse, Lille and Reims.

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande issues a reminder to protesters that the “responsibility of the state, the government and the president is to ensure that order is respected,” while Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve warns that anyone caught shouting “Death to the Jews!” or burning an Israeli flag during the marches will be arrested.

But Cazeneuve also denounces the Jewish Defense League — deemed a “right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI — whose members clashed with pro-Palestinian supporters in an earlier Paris demonstration.

— AFP

Hamas rejects Gaza truce before blockade lifted

Khaled Mashaal says that he rejects the prospect of a truce in Gaza without the blockade on the coastal enclave being lifted.

–AFP

Top Hamas commander rumored killed in Gaza

Twitter and Facebook are abuzz with rumors that high-ranking Hamas commander Muhammad Sinwar has been killed by IDF soldiers during operating in the Gaza Strip.

Some Twitter users even upload photos, purportedly of a dead Sinwar, who is considered to be one of four top figures in the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. But while the rumor has spread like wildfire in the Strip, the man’s death has yet to be confirmed by any reliable source.

Sinwar, the commander of Hamas’s military wing in the Khan Yunis area, was one of the leading planners of Gilad Shalit’s abduction in 2006, and even personally held the Israeli soldier captive for some time.

— Avi Issacharoff

5 rockets downed over central Israel

Iron Dome shoots down 5 rockets over central Israel after sirens sound throughout the area.

One rocket hits southern Israel.

Cabinet meeting begins in Tel Aviv

In Tel Aviv, a cabinet meeting has begun to discuss Israel’s ongoing operation in the Gaza Strip. Ministers are said to be weighing options for extending the operation in the Strip.

Turkish Airlines extends suspension of Israel flights

Turkey’s national carrier has extended its suspension of direct flights to Tel Aviv for another day for security reasons due to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, Turkey’s communications minister says.

“We had halted the flights to Israel yesterday, now we decided to extend the suspension for another 24 hours because the risk continues,” Lutfi Elvan tells reporters.

Major US, European and Canadian airlines cancelled flights to and from Israel yesterday, after a rocket fired from Gaza struck near its main international airport in Tel Aviv.

— AFP

Israel may retake Gaza — Lapid

Just before the security cabinet begins its meeting in Jerusalem, Finance Minister Yair Lapid says ministers may decide to retake the Gaza Strip in order to completely root out the terrorist threat there, destroy its infrastructure and prevent kidnapping attempts.

“We won’t stand aside and watch Israeli citizens being hurt and tunnels being dug to kibbutzim, to children’s houses or dining rooms,” he tells Channel 2.

Lapid stresses that it is Israel, not Hamas, that is deciding the pace of the fighting in Gaza.

“We are targeting the heads of Hamas as well. The heads of Hamas would do well to know that even their tunnels won’t save them,” he says.

Asked whether Israel distinguishes between the military and political leadership of Hamas, Lapid says there is “no difference” between “the political and military wings of a terrorist organization.”

‘Change name of Gaza Street to Protective Edge Street’

As day 16 of Operation Protective Edge comes to a close, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor suggests that the name of the city’s Gaza Street be changed to Protective Edge Street to reflect the current situation in the Gaza Strip.

“I passed through Gaza Street today, and suddenly the name of the street grated on my ears,” says Meir Turjemann.

“Gaza Street is one of the most central streets in our city, in the long-standing Rehavia neighborhood,” explains Turjemann. “In the upcoming city council meeting, I will suggest to the council and to the mayor [Nir Barkat] that the name of the street be changed to Protective Edge.”

73 said killed, 526 injured in Gaza today

73 people were killed and 526 people injured in IDF air raids and ground operations in the Gaza Strip today, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says.

Al-Qudra says that since the start of Operation Protective Edge 16 days ago, 693 Gazans have been killed in total, among them 166 children and 67 women.

Over 4,500 people have been injured.

— Suha Halifa

Hamas denies top commander killed

Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, denies rumors that one of its senior officers, Muhammad Sinwar, was assassinated by Israel.

Sinwar, Hamas says, continues to lead “his soldiers.”

– Avi Issacharoff

Barkat hosts Former NYC mayor Bloomberg

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who flew to Israel to show solidarity with the Israeli people, is hosted by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Bloomberg flew to Israel on an El Al flight after the United States Federal Aviation Administration decided to halt American flights to and from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

“I flew here to show solidarity with the Israeli people, who have come under attack from Hamas, and to show that it’s safe to fly in and out of Israel,” Bloomberg says.

“Halting flights here – when the airport is safe – hurts Israel and rewards Hamas for attacking Israel. Hamas wants to shut down the airport; we can’t let that happen,” he adds.

Bloomberg stresses that Israel has a right to defend itself.

“The attacks by Hamas are the cause of a lot of death and suffering both in Israel and Gaza, and my heart goes out to all the families that are affected,” he says.

Earlier, Barkat and Bloomberg made a condolence call to the family of Sergeant Max Steinberg, a lone soldier from Los Angeles, California who was was during fighting in Gaza this weekend and was buried in Jerusalem today. Steinberg’s parents visited Israel for the first time to bury their son, who moved to Israel alone and served in the Golani Brigade.

“Mike’s arrival in Israel and Jerusalem sends a message to the world that justice and morality are on our side in this battle for the safety and security of Israeli residents,” Barkat says in a statement.

“Mike’s support gives strength to the soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force as they carry out their mission to defend the State of Israel. We hope that our soldiers will complete their mission quickly and return home safely.”

Airline to fly in stranded Israelis from Amman

Arkia Airlines announces that two of the company’s aircraft will fly Israeli citizens from Amman back into the country, as part of the efforts of the Transportation Ministry to assist travelers affected by the cessation of flights to Israel.

Israelis who flew with Turkish Airlines will be flown in to Amman, where they will be picked up by the Israeli airline, Ynet reports.

Refaeli remembers fallen soldiers

Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, who has been tweeting about the operation in Gaza, posts a photo and message on Instagram about the IDF soldiers who have been killed in Operation Protective Edge.

“We are who we are because THEY Were who they were!” she writes. “May they rest in peace and forever be remembered. #israel #IDF #brave #RIP.”