The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Wednesday, the 23rd day of Operation Protective Edge. The day began with allegations of an Israeli shelling of a UN school in Gaza, with 15 people reported killed. Following another day of heavy Israeli strikes on Gaza, and Hamas rocket fire aimed at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, among other towns and villages nationwide, Israel and Hamas were both reported to be considering ceasefire moves. But there were no formal confirmations that an end to the conflict was near. The Israeli security cabinet met to discuss whether to expand the ground offensive or halt it, after some in the IDF said most of the Hamas cross-border tunnels have been found and are being demolished. Ultimately it decided to continue hitting Hamas targets and tackling the tunnels.
Fifty-six soldiers and three civilians have been killed on the Israeli side in three weeks of fighting, while Gazan health officials put the death toll there at over 1,300. Israel says hundreds of those are Hamas fighters. (Thursday’s liveblog is here.)
You can also follow @TOIAlerts on Twitter — we’re live-tweeting all the updates there as well.
IDF releases funeral details for 3 soldiers killed today
The IDF releases funeral information for the three soldiers killed today in a booby-trapped building near Khan Younis housing the opening of a tunnel.
Sgt. Guy Algranati, 20, of Tel Aviv, will be laid to rest at 1:30 pm in Kiryat Shaul on Thursday.
SSgt. Omer Chai, 21, of Savion will be buried at 5 pm at the military cemetery in Savion.
The funeral for SSgt. Matan Gotlib, 21, of Rishon Lezion, will be held at 6 pm at the military cemetery in the city.
Rivlin praises US efforts, support
President Reuven Rivlin says Israel a strategic ally of the US and that Israel appreciates the US’s efforts and its support security-wise.
Rivlin made the remarks at a meeting with Hadassah officials earlier today.
Israeli delegation leaves Cairo
A three-member Israeli delegation leaves Cairo after meeting with key members of the Egyptian security establishment to discuss proposals for a ceasefire with Hamas, Israel radio reports. The delegation arrived earlier today and the meeting lasted several hours.
A Palestinian delegation is set to travel to Egypt for discussions but it is unclear when exactly. It is expected to include a Hamas representative.
US approves arms transfer to Israel
The Pentagon approves a large transfer of arms to the IDF amid Israel’s ongoing operation in the Gaza Strip, CNN reports.
The weapons will include rocket launchers, mortar rounds, grenades and other arms, all of which are already stockpiled in Israel, under the War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel program.
Abbas urges UN to recognize Gaza crisis
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urges the United Nations to declare the Gaza Strip a “humanitarian crisis zone,” and to provide civilians in the Hamas-controlled enclave with aid.
UNRWA spokesman breaks down on air
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness loses his composure in an interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic.
After making a brief statement on the state of the Gazans, saying, “The rights of Palestinians, even their children, are wholesale denied, and it’s appalling,” Gunness pauses, clears his throat, says “my pleasure,” and proceeds to sob uncontrollably as the camera darts away.
It appears Gunness thought the interview had concluded.
US blasts Israel’s ‘absurd’ Kerry criticism
WASHINGTON – The US State Department decries Israeli criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry as “offensive and absurd” while emphasizing that Kerry, and the United States, has given “unprecedented” support to Israel during its offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf lashes out during a press conference against “respected voices in Israel talking about the secretary of state, claiming that he supports Hamas, which is offensive and absurd.”
Harf argues that rather, Washington has granted Israel “a level of support which has been quite frankly unprecedented in our history” throughout the war in Gaza.
Kerry has been the focus of stinging criticism in both the Israeli and American press for his thus-far fruitless efforts to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas during the month-long escalation of violence in the region.
Harf singles out Israeli journalists for criticism, arguing that “that kind of criticism coming from any ally, certainly Israel, just really has no place in this discussion,” adding that the criticism was “so disappointing” given “the hours all of us have spent with the secretary in Jerusalem, trying to get Middle East peace, trying to protect Israel’s security.”
– Rebecca Stoil Shimoni
France condemns shelling of UN school
France condemns the shelling of a UN school in Gaza that killed 16 people, and calls for an immediate ceasefire.
President Francois Hollande “joins the UN secretary general (Ban Ki-moon) in considering the act ‘unjustifiable,’” the president’s office says in a statement.
Paris “demands the establishment of an immediate ceasefire,” the statement says, adding that “all efforts must converge on this goal.”
Several rockets intercepted over central, southern Israel
The Iron Dome intercepts several rockets over the Merhavim Regional Council and the Shfela region. Others land in open areas, causing no damage or injuries.
US House passes resolution condemning Hamas
The US House of Representatives passes a resolution denouncing the alleged use of civilians as human shields by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in violation of international humanitarian law. Sponsors say that the measure, which was passed by unanimous consent, was motivated by the failure of the United Nations to acknowledge such actions by Hamas in issuing condemnations of the ongoing violence.
“This resolution condemning Hamas’s use of human shields in violation of international humanitarian law is an extremely important and timely measure given the current situation in Israel and Gaza,” says Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), one of the measure’s sponsors. She says that she and co-sponsor Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) conceived of the resolution after visiting Israel earlier in July and witnessing rocket fire directed against Israel firsthand.
Ros-Lehtinen says that the resolution follows a decision by the United Nations to “investigate what it calls ‘war crimes’ and ‘human rights’ violations by Israel, not by Hamas,” and takes particular umbrage at the fact that in the UN resolution “there wasn’t even a word about Hamas’ attacks against innocent Israeli civilians nor about Hamas’s use of Palestinians as human shields.”
“This is a disgrace, and it is a shame,” she says in a speech prior to the vote on the House floor. “If the UN Security Council will not act and not use its voice, that is why it is so important for the House of Representatives to pass this resolution, to not only stand up for the Palestinian people who have been made pawns in Hamas’ mission to destroy Israel, to their detriment, but for Israel, in the face of this biased anti-Israel agenda.”
– Rebecca Shimoni Stoil
IDF releases name of third soldier killed today
The third soldier killed in the Gaza Strip earlier this afternoon is Sgt. Guy Algranati, 20, of Tel Aviv, the army says in a statement.
The three were part of the Maglan special forces unit.
Sirens in the central Israel, Ashkelon
Sirens in Beersheba
Iron Dome intercepts 3 rockets over Ashkelon
The Iron Dome intercepts three projectiles over the southern city of Ashkelon.
Another rocket lands in an open area, causing no damages or injuries.
Clashes in East Jerusalem
Dozens of masked Palestinian protesters hurl stones and firebombs at police near Issawiya in East Jerusalem, police say.
The police respond with riot control measures.
Sirens in Ashkelon
Bolivia declares Israel a terrorist state
Bolivia renounces a visa exemption agreement with Israel in protest over its offensive in Gaza, and declares it a terrorist state.
President Evo Morales announces the move during a talk with a group of educators in the city of Cochabamba.
It “means, in other words, we are declaring (Israel) a terrorist state,” he says.
The treaty has allowed Israelis to travel freely to Bolivia without a visa since 1972.
Morales says the Gaza offensive shows “that Israel is not a guarantor of the principles of respect for life and the elementary precepts of rights that govern the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of our international community.”
Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over a previous military operation in Gaza.
In mid-July, Morales filed a request with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prosecute Israel for “crimes against humanity.”
Israeli criticism of Kerry ‘offensive and absurd’ — official
Israeli attacks against US Secretary of State John Kerry accusing him being of a supporter of Hamas are “offensive and absurd,” a senior US diplomat says Wednesday.
In a sharp exchange with reporters, deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf hit out against a torrent of abuse from “respected voices in Israel talking about the secretary of state, claiming that he supports Hamas, which is offensive and absurd.”
The United States had been given Israel “a level of support which has been quite frankly unprecedented in our history, even when we stood alone,” she adds.
SSgt. Matan Gotlib, 21
Staff Sgt. Matan Gotlib, 21, of Rishon Lezion is one of the three soldiers killed earlier today.
Funeral details have not yet been announced.
Washington condemns shelling of UNRWA school
The United States is condemning the shelling of a UN school in the Gaza Strip that was sheltering displaced Palestinians.
The US did not say who was responsible for shelling the school. Gaza officials say Israel shelled the school, killing 15 and wounding 90. The Israeli military says it fired back after soldiers were targeted by mortar rounds launched from the vicinity of the school.
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan says the US is also “extremely concerned” that thousands of Palestinians aren’t safe in UN-designated shelters in Gaza.
Meehan says the US also condemns those responsible for hiding weapons in UN facilities in Gaza. She says the escalation shows the need for a ceasefire as soon as possible.
In Gaza, at the site of a tunnel demolition
The Times of Israel’s Avi Issacharoff takes us deep into the southern Gaza Strip, where another tunnel is uncovered today by the paratrooper brigade. He writes:
At 4:50 p.m., we get on the Achzarit APC, and begin crossing the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. After minutes of driving west, we reach one of Khan Younis’s most well-known suburbs, where this afternoon the paratrooper brigade uncovered another tunnel. The brigade commander, Col. Eliezer Toledano, tells us the assessment is that the tunnel is 2 kilometers long, and points to the house next door — riddled with bullet holes — and explains that the tunnel shaft emerged from the yard. In the background, constant explosions and gunfights happening hundreds of meters away, between Toledano’s troops and operatives, likely Hamas fighters, are heard without pause.
A peek into the tunnel entrance shows that in this case too, Hamas invested a significant amount of money in its construction. The walls are lined with concrete, and it gradually sinks into the ground. The house belongs to a Hamas man, and discovered on the site, many weapons — RPG launches, cartridges, and Hamas propaganda materials — link the homeowner to the organization.
The damage is evident from every angle — destroyed houses, collapsed walls, and the IDF’s bulldozers plow through the ground incessantly in attempts to reach other parts of the tunnel. One of the officers tells us “this is the sort of fighting we aren’t accustomed to, at every moment a terrorist could jump on us, as happened only a few days ago. Three terrorists emerged from a tunnel and almost managed to surprise us. The moment they saw us, they slipped back into the tunnel, and left through a different exit.”
Toledano seems relaxed and emphasizes that his soldiers will continue their mission. He says time and patience are needed to deal with the tunnels, “and we have both.”
– Avi Issacharoff
Israeli delegation lands in Cairo for truce talks
An Israeli delegation arrives in Cairo to discuss with Egyptian officials a possible ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, airport officials say.
Cairo, a key mediator in truce negotiations between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, was also expected to host a Palestinian delegation later this week.
The Cairo airport official does not identify the two-member Israeli delegation, but says they were scheduled to depart after a visit of several hours, in which they would discuss proposals for a truce.
IDF releases names of two slain soldiers
The IDF releases the names of two of the three soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip earlier today.
They are SSgt. Matan Gotlib, 21, of Rishon Lezion, and SSgt. Omer Chai, 21, of Savion.
UN chief says attack on UNRWA school is ‘unjustifiable’
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemns an Israeli strike on a Gaza school that killed 16 people as “unjustifiable” Wednesday, calling for those responsible to be held to account.
“This morning a UN school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families suffered a reprehensible attack,” Ban says during a visit to Costa Rica.
“It is unjustifiable, and demands accountability and justice.”
Ban accuses the Israeli military of ignoring repeated communications on the location of the school.
“I want to make it clear that the exact location of this elementary school has been communicated to the Israeli military authorities 17 times, as recently as last night, just a few hours before this attack,” he says.
“They are aware of the coordinates and exact location of where these people are.”
Switzerland in talks over international Gaza conference
The Swiss foreign ministry says it is in talks about holding an international conference sought by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas focusing on protecting civilians in Gaza.
“Switzerland has begun consultations with state parties to the Geneva Conventions, following an official Palestinian request that a conference be held by the end of the year,” says a ministry statement.
It underlines that for a conference to take place, a broad consensus was required among the Geneva Conventions’ 195 signatory states.
Although Abbas’ request was prompted by the latest eruption of hostilities in Gaza, longer-running concerns about the fate of Palestinians in areas under Israeli control are likely to be on the table.
The Geneva Conventions govern the conduct of belligerents during warfare and the treatment of civilians in occupied territories.
As the formal guardian of the accords, which originated in the 19th century and were revised after World War II, Switzerland received a request from Abbas on July 9.
Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, who is also the neutral nation’s foreign minister, responded formally to Abbas on July 25, the statement says.
The Palestinian leadership was able to make the request to Switzerland because it adopted the Conventions in April.
The move, which was followed by its formal accession to a handful of United Nations treaties, was part of a diplomatic drive to win recognition as a state.
Switzerland said it urged Israel and Hamas to reach a genuine ceasefire agreement, to ensure the protection of civilians and aid the thousands of Gazans wounded or displaced.
Security cabinet decides to continue op
No ceasefire in sight: The cabinet instructs the IDF to continue to “forcefully hit Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza,” and to conclude its mission to destroy the tunnels leading from the strip into Israel, diplomatic sources say.
So far, the army’s actions in locating and destroying these terror tunnels have brought about significant strategic achievements in an area in which Hamas has invested much effort over the years, the sources say. “The IDF also has significant achievements in damaging the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas and additional terrorist groups and will continue act and expand these operations.”
The army will continue to enact local and temporary humanitarian truces, just like one observed today in areas where there is not fighting, “without endangering the lives of Israeli soldiers and the operation to destroy the tunnels,” the sources add. “The purpose of these truces is to help the civilian population of Gaza.”
The full government will meet tomorrow at noon in Tel Aviv to be updated on the progress of Operation Protective Edge.
– Raphael Ahren
Sirens in Gaza border towns
Minister says Israel not seeking ceasefire
Communication Minister Gilad Erdan, minutes after he exits the security cabinet meeting, tells Channel 2: “We are not seeking any ceasefire [at this point], but at the end of any military operation there will be a diplomatic process.”
He clarifies that Israel is not opposed to the Egypt-brokered negotiations, but must be sure that it will gain from it and that quiet will be restored in the south.
For now, the IDF is being granted freedom of movement, he says, in order to complete the mission of dismantling the tunnels.
Security cabinet meeting adjourns
After five hours, the security cabinet meeting ends.
Details to come.
Army ‘days away’ from destroying all tunnels — IDF
Head of the Southern Command Sami Turgeman says “many hundreds” of Hamas operatives have been killed, and says the IDF has destroyed hundreds of weapons storage facilities, and significantly compromised Hamas’s terror infrastructure.
He says the IDF is “days away” from completing the military goal of destroying all of the tunnels, though the process is complex. Four tunnels have been destroyed in the past 24 hours, he adds.
Turgeman says the IDF expanded its operation last night, targeting new sites in the north and center of the coastal enclave.
With the amount of concrete Hamas poured into the tunnel project, two hospitals, twenty schools, twenty healthcare centers, and 100 kindergartens could have been built, he says.
3 IDF soldiers killed in Gaza
Three IDF soldiers are killed in a booby-trapped building near Khan Younis housing the opening of a tunnel.
The three troops were taking precautionary measures to minimize damage when the explosives detonated.
Fifteen others are injured when a wall collapses on them from the blast, media reports say. The IDF soldiers evacuating the wounded came under fire by operatives.
The death toll of IDF soldiers since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge stands at 56.
Tunnel found in UNRWA health clinic
More details emerge on the booby-trapped tunnel uncovered in the southern Gaza Strip today:
An Israeli elite squad searching for tunnels near Khan Younis uncovers a booby-trapped opening in a small UNRWA health clinic.
The troops send in sniffing dogs and a small robot to minimize damage to the structure, but despite the precautionary measures, the explosives rigged to the tunnel are detonated, demolishing the building on top of the soldiers.
Earlier reports indicated that a number of soldiers were injured.
Brig. Gen. Micky Edelstein says militants have used more than a thousand IEDs so far, destroying thousands of buildings in the Gaza Strip.
For instance, he says, in sweeps of a single street of 28 buildings last night, 19 were found to be booby-trapped.
– Mitch Ginsburg
Hamas said to okay PA representation for talks
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu says Hamas agrees that the Palestinian Authority will represent the terror organization and negotiate on its behalf in the Egypt-brokered ceasefire talks, Turkish media reports.
Davutoğlu also criticizes Israel for, as he says, rejecting a 24-hour truce in honor of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday.
“Israel rejected a 24-hour cease-fire and only agreed to a 12-hour respite,” Davutoğlu says.
“All religions are sacred. Religious days are sacred, too.
“Saturday is Sabbath. [Israel's] religious day is sacred, but ours is not? Why don’t they declare a 24-hour cease-fire?”
15 Gazans said killed in market strike
The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency says 15 Palestinians are killed and over 150 injured in a strike on the bustling Shejaiya market.
The latest strike brings the number of Gazans killed today to 95, it reports.
BREAKING: Palestinian official: 15 dead, more than 150 wounded in strike on busy Gaza market.
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 30, 2014
IDF finds booby-trapped tunnel in Gaza home
The IDF says it found a tunnel opening in a private residence in the southern Gaza Strip earlier today. The tunnel, which was rigged with explosives, subsequently detonated and injured a number of troops.
“Two explosive devices were detonated against the soldiers, one from within the tunnel and a second one that was concealed within the house. The explosion caused the residence to collapse and the injury of several soldiers,” it says in a statement.
Twelve soldiers are hospitalized today for injuries sustained in combat, and 130 troops are currently receiving treatment in hospitals throughout the country.
5 tunnels demolished today
Channel 2 reports that the IDF has successfully demolished five tunnels since midnight.
Overall, the army has uncovered over 30 tunnels, but it remains unclear how many remain intact under IDF supervision.
Mohammad Deif portrayed as holy warrior
Avi Issacharoff looks at the video released by Hamas after it killed five Israeli soldiers near Nahal Oz on Monday night, and at the recorded speech by Hamas terror chief Mohammad Deif.
While Hamas leaders Mashaal and Haniyeh have sounded like politicians in recent days, he writes, “Deif’s declaration reeked of messianic, Islamist fervor, a world away from the delights of Doha and even the relative immunity enjoyed by Haniyeh.”
“Deif’s statement was peppered with Koranic slogans, and his shadowy image in the video was embellished with ornate Arabic calligraphy. The aim was to create the sense that this was a sacred message, and his voice echoed as though he were a living saint. In short, someone in Hamas’s military wing was trying to present Deif as a direct heir to the Prophet Muhammad.”
A ceasefire now, Issacharoff notes, “would likely relegate Hamas again to the margins of the international agenda, along with its superhero, the mighty religious warrior Muhammad Deif.”
Gaza conflict making two-state solution impossible — Cameron
British PM Cameron, according to UK’s ITV news, says the “facts on the ground” are “beginning to make a two-state solution impossible” in the Middle East.
Cameron pledges an additional 3 million pounds to Gaza relief. He also calls for an unconditional ceasefire to stop the conflict.
He says the aid was to “make sure the people in Gaza have the basic necessities of life, the food, the shelter and the assistance that they need.”
Cameron blames Hamas for breaking ceasefires. “We should be very clear that we want an unconditional, immediate, humanitarian ceasefire that applies to everybody,” he says.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Hammond warns: “Israelis have to understand that while they are defending their security in seeking to root out these rocket launchers and deal with the attack tunnels, they are also undermining the support for Israel that exists in the west.”
And he stresses, in a BBC interview quoted by the Guardian: “What Israel does in Gaza must be proportionate – that’s a requirement of international law. It would not be legal if it was not proportionate.
“Israel will argue that the actions it has taken are taken against military targets and that Hamas has deliberately planted military installations in the middle of civilian areas, using civilians as human shields.
“In due course, the claims on both sides will need to be investigated. What is needed right now is an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.”
Gaza death toll said to top 1,300
Palestinian sources say at least 76 people die in Israeli strikes across Gaza Wednesday, sending the Palestinian toll from 23 days of fighting above 1,300.
In a strike on a house in the Tuffah neighborhood in northeastern Gaza City, seven members of the same family were killed, among them four children and a woman, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says.
In the southern city of Khan Yunis, a single strike kills nine members of the same family, including a child, Qudra says, and in a later incident, seven members of another family also die as Israeli tank shelling struck the city.
Later in the day, medics pull the bodies of another seven people from the rubble of a house in Khan Yunis, also from the same family, and in another shelling attack in Gaza City, an 11-year-old disabled girl was killed, and a 16-year-old girl died in a strike on central Gaza, he says.
Israel says hundreds of those killed are Hamas fighters.
– AFP and Times of Israel staff
As the Israeli security cabinet meeting on halting or deepening the ground offensive continues, several aspects of Netanyahu’s dilemma are worth highlighting:
One, the prime minister does not want to significantly expand the ground offensive;
Two, international criticism of Israel is growing; Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who was here just last week, has been quoted warning that Israel that it is undermining its support in the West with its military action;
Three, most Israelis do want intensified military action against Hamas, and
Four: Hamas is not urgently seeking an end to the conflict. The Israeli gambit of unilaterally holding its fire from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. has emphatically not been matched by Hamas, which is firing rockets at Israel as we write.
Complicating Netanyahu’s considerations still further is the strained relationship with the US, whose president told him on Sunday he wanted an unconditional, immediate ceasefire, and whose secretary of state infuriated Israel by engaging with Hamas-championing Qatar and Turkey.
As for Egypt, whose ceasefire proposal Israel accepted two weeks ago, it is not particularly interested in expediting a ceasefire so long as Hamas is being battered. President Sissi is said to be unwilling to host a Palestinian delegation for talks until the guns fall silent.
And then there’s the fact that some of those at his security cabinet table — specifically Foreign Minister Liberman and Economy Minister Bennett — are openly taking a position at odds with his own, and urging that Israel smash Hamas.
Hamas trained abroad for terror attack
Hamas had planned to perpetrate a terror attack on a southern Israeli town with the use of parasails to bypass Israeli security, Ynet reports.
Operatives had trained in Malaysia for a week, and later practiced in the Gaza Strip.
The information was gleaned from an Israeli interrogation of a recently arrested Hamas commander of an elite terror cell.
Sirens in Ashkelon, Netivot, Gaza periphery
Kiryat Shemona mayor says tunnels exist in north
Kiryat Shemona Mayor Nissim Malka says he’s “certain” there are tunnels in northern Israel as well, and calls on the IDF to neutralize them.
In an interview with Kol Rega radio, Malka says: “The IDF is doing a good job in the war in Gaza, and should know it must deal with the tunnels here in the north as well.”
Malka would not divulge how he knew this information, but says in talks with military officials, they did not deny it.
Ex-Mossad chief says op ‘now going nowhere’
Former Mossad chief Danny Yatom bemoans the fact that the IDF operation is “now going nowhere.”
He says the world is calling on Israel to achieve a truce when Israel actually wants one and can’t get one. He says the only real asset Hamas has left is its leadership, and protests that Israel has not targeted people like Ismail Haniyeh as the leader of a terrorist government.
“We need to put an end to this,” he tells Channel 2. If Egypt can broker a diplomatic solution, with long-term potential for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that would be preferable. If not, the step that might prompt Hamas to accept a ceasefire would be to target the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
British public says Israel, Hamas guilty of war crimes
A poll conducted by YouGov on July 27-28 among UK adults shows that 62% believe Israel is guilty of war crimes, and 65% say Hamas is as well. The questionnaire was distributed to 1,658 people.
In a separate survey three days earlier, 51% of participants say the Israeli airstrikes are “unjustified,” 39% believe the ground offensive is “unjustified,” but 60% also believe the Hamas rocket attacks are “unjustified.”
With regard to their sympathies, 23% of respondents say they side with the Palestinians; 14% say they sympathize with the Israelis, and 40% say neither.
Criticism of Kerry not from PM, Dermer says
Israel’s ambassador to the United States says that criticism from within the Jewish state of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace-making efforts is traceable to Israel’s “very rambunctious democracy” and not to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This is not coming from the prime minister,” Ambassador Ron Dermer says in a nationally broadcast interview.
“The prime minister appreciates” what Kerry has done in seeking a ceasefire in the Gaza war, Dermer says.
And he calls the more than three-week conflict “a just war.”
“I can’t think of a more just war,” Dermer says in an appearance on MSNBC. “Hamas is no different than al-Qaeda. You can imagine what the American people would want their government to do.”
“This is the Israeli press that is speaking. We are a free country,” he says.
“We have a coalition government,” he says. “People have to understand this is a very rambunctious democracy.” Dermer says he would be deserving of a prize if he could get Netanyahu out of a Knesset debate “without someone calling him a liar.”
Dermer argues that “87 percent” of the Israeli people are against a ceasefire, saying “I think the criticism you’re seeing is a country at war, a free press.”
Israelis evacuated from Maldives resort over Gaza
Israeli holiday makers are evacuated from their Maldivian resort after one of them tore up an anti-Israeli placard equating the Nazi swastika to the Israeli flag, officials said Wednesday.
Some 30 Israeli surfers are moved out to safety from Thulusdhoo island, near the capital island of Male, as residents of the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim archipelago protested the pulling down of anti-Israeli placards.
Tensions rose after an Israeli man tore down the placard bearing a swastika which had been pinned to a coconut tree.
A minister at the President’s Office, Mohamed Shareef, says the tourists were evacuated for their own safety.
“There could have been an ugly incident and that is why the tourists were evacuated from the resort,” Shareef told AFP by phone.
He says Israelis were not banned from entering the archipelago, better known for its upmarket tourism, but the Maldives was bitter with Israel over the violence.
“We have not banned them, but Israeli tourists must remember that they are visiting a 100 percent Muslim country,” Shareef says. “We unequivocally and unconditionally support the Palestinian cause.”
He says the Maldives had also put in place measures to express their opposition to Israel.
The Maldives this week began implementing a ban on Israeli-made goods and also abrogated three cooperation agreements on health, tourism and education.
Rocket hits yard in Sdot Negev
A rocket hits a yard in Sdot Negev in southern Israel, damaging a house.
A woman is being treated for shock on the scene.
Minister says more time needed for tunnels
Contradicting military accounts, Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the right-wing Jewish Home party tells Channel 2: “We didn’t demolish the tunnels, we need more time.”
Hamas said to reject humanitarian truce
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri says the 4-hour humanitarian truce adopted by Israel is “meaningless, since it doesn’t include the hot areas on the border of the Gaza Strip.”
He says Israel has adopted the truce “for media purposes.”
Sirens in Ashkelon
Iron Dome downs 2 rockets over Ashdod
Sirens in Ashkelon, Ashdod
Four minutes after Israel begins its humanitarian truce, sirens ring out in Ashdod and Ashkelon.
9 wounded soldiers brought to Soroka
Nine injured IDF soldiers arrive at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, Channel 2 reports. Four of them are in serious condition.
In addition, 3 lightly wounded soldiers reach Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
Limited humanitarian ceasefire 3-7 p.m.
As the security cabinet meets, Israel decides to enact a limited humanitarian ceasefire from 3 to 7 p.m.
“The humanitarian window will not apply to the areas in which IDF soldiers are currently operating,” says the army in a statement. “Residents must not return to areas that have previously been asked to evacuate.”
No word yet on whether Hamas also agrees to abide by the ceasefire.
IAF commander denies Israel targeted power plant
An Israel Air Force general charged with all aerial ground support during the campaign in Gaza, flatly denies Tuesday that Israel targeted the Gaza Strip’s only power plant earlier in the day.
The power plant was hit by a strike in the early hours of Tuesday, knocking out electricity through the Strip and setting off a massive fire that sent gigantic plumes of black smoke over much of Gaza throughout the day.
“The State of Israel did not attack Gaza’s power plant,” says Brig. Gen. Yaron Rosen, the commander of IAF Air Support and Helicopter Air Division.
“It has no interest (in that),” he adds. “We transfer to them the electricity, we transfer in the gas, we transfer in the food in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster. So we attacked the power plant?”
The general says it was possible the plant had been hit by Israel by mistake.
Munitions, he says, can sometimes “skip,” and strike targets unintentionally, as occurred during 2008-9′s Operation Cast Lead.
“The matter is under investigation,” he adds.
– Mitch Ginsburg
IDF says it responded to mortar fire near UN school
After Israeli tank shells hit a crowded UN school Wednesday, killing 15 and wounding 90, the IDF says it fired after its soldiers were targeted by mortars operating from the vicinity of the school.
“In response, soldiers fired toward the origins of fire. And we’re still reviewing the incident,” the military says in a statement.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces,” says UNRWA commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl in a written statement.
“We have moved beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone. We are in the realm of accountability. I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage.”
– AP contributed to this report
Liberman calls Mideast conflict ‘clash of civilizations’
What is happening today in the Middle East is a “clash of civilizations between the free world and radical Islam,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman says.
In a meeting with German parliamentarians in Jerusalem, he says that the current conflict in Gaza is just one embodiment of this phenomenon in a long series of clashes between the West and Islamism, as demonstrated by the situation in Libya, Iraq and elsewhere.
This clash of civilizations is “the world’s biggest challenge since World War II,” and that’s why Europe should be committed to supporting Israel, Liberman tells his German guests. “Beyond the moral aspects of the case, Israel is the first line on this front because it represents Western values, and that is why Islamic extremists are fighting us,” he says. Unfortunately, he adds, it seems that not everyone in Europe understand this.
Regarding Gaza, Israel did everything the international community preached for years: it evacuated the settlements there, the foreign minister continues. “But instead of peace and stability we received radical Islam, which attacks Israel from there with missiles and other terrorist activities almost every day since the  disengagement” from Gaza.
“Hamas doesn’t talk about the establishment of a Palestinian state or the two-state solution, but rather of the establishment of one big Islamic state,” he says.
The most important thing for the future is to set up a “control and supervision mechanism” for Gaza, Liberman says. Without providing much detail, he says that such a mechanism would ensure that funds and construction material entering the Strip would be used solely for the construction of civil infrastructure, such as schools and clinics, as opposed to manufacturing rockets or digging new tunnels.
– Raphael Ahren
Iron Dome intercepts rocket over Ofakim
After sirens break a lull in rocket fire, Iron Dome intercepts one rocket over Ofakim, while two others strike open areas. No damage is reported.
Gaza death toll is reported to rise
Gaza’s health ministry now reports that at least 54 people have died in Israeli strikes across the Strip Wednesday, including 16 killed when shells hit a UN school, sending the Palestinian toll from 23 days of fighting to more than 1,280.
The latest violence saw six members of the same family, three of them children, killed when an Israeli shell hit the Tuffah neighbourhood in northeastern Gaza City, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says.
Israel says hundreds of those killed in Gaza have been Hamas fighters.
Lapid to top Hamas terrorist: We will find and kill you
Finance Minister Yair Lapid has some fighting words for Muhammed Deif, the head of Hamas’s militant wing who broadcast a fiery speech Tuesday vowing that Israel’s soldiers would find their deaths in Gaza.
“Deif has been hiding underground in Gaza for weeks and that’s where he will stay,” Lapid says, according to media reports. “That’s because he’s a dead man; sooner or later we will find him and assassinate him.”
Deif, along with Hamas’s other leaders, are thought to have been hiding in protected bunkers under Gaza for several weeks to avoid Israeli bombing campaigns.
Air force, paratroopers kill 4 gunmen
A paratrooper force identifies two terrorists in the Gaza Strip, and kills them with mortar fire, Channel 10 reports.
In addition, the air force strikes two other militants as they attempt to lay an explosive device.
10 terrorists killed by Givati, air force
After gunmen fire an anti-tank missile at an IDF engineering force, Givati soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip return fire, killing two terrorists, Channel 10 reports.
After the air force joins in the attack, ground forces find 8 more dead gunmen.
Four IDF soldiers are injured in the incident.
Sirens sound in Beersheba, Ashdod
Breaking that relative quiet we just mentioned, warning sirens sound in Beersheba and Ashdod.
Quiet morning follows quiet night
After a relatively quiet night, including a six-hour stretch with no rockets, Israel enjoys a morning with almost no warning sirens, with the exception of several isolated sirens in communities on the Gaza border. Major cities like Tel Aviv and Beersheba see no rockets.
Israel decries move by Latin American nations
Israel slams El Salvador, Peru and Chile for calling in their ambassadors in Tel Aviv for consultations, saying the move helps Hamas and does little to end the current conflict.
“This step constitutes encouragement for Hamas, a group recognized as a terror organization by many countries around the world,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says in a statement. “Israel expects countries who oppose terrorism to act responsibly and not to hand terrorists a prize.”
“So far, every time Israel accepted ceasefire proposals, Hamas responded by “sustained rocket fire,” Palmor says. “El Salvador, Chile and Peru would have been much better advised to promote the international move intended to assist Israel in its efforts to defend innocent civilians and instate a durable ceasefire with the demilitarization of Gaza.”
Last week, Brazil was the first country to call in its ambassador in Israel, leading Palmor to call the country a “diplomatic dwarf” in return.
– Raphael Ahren
Security cabinet to meet at 2
Israel’s security cabinet is set to meet at 2 p.m. to discuss the next steps in Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. Details to come.
Hamas calls for help from Hezbollah
Hamas asks Hezbollah to help in its fight against Israel, Lebanon’s Daily Star reports.
Hamas’s deputy political chief Mousa Abu Marzouk tells Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that he hopes “the Lebanese front will open and together we will fight” against Israel.
Help from Hezbollah “could mean a lot,” says Abu Marzouk.
Last Friday, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanese Shiite organization, said Hezbollah is closely following the Israel-Hamas fighting and that his followers will do all they can to help the Palestinians. He did not elaborate.
“From here I say to our brothers in Gaza: We are with you and beside you and confident of your steadfastness and your victory and we will do everything we can to support you,” Nasrallah said.
– AP contributed to this report.
UN says Gaza compound struck yesterday
The UN’s Special Coordinator for the peace process, Robert Serry, says in a statement that a UN compound was struck Tuesday by several projectiles.
Serry does not indicate which compound he is referring to, nor does he accuse anyone of launching the attack.
“According to a preliminary United Nations assessment at the site, a total of five projectiles impacted the compound and two impacted the ground just outside,” says Serry. “The Special Coordinator is deeply concerned about this incident and other violations of United Nations premises during the conflict and condemns the loss of civilian lives, including United Nations personnel, in these incidents.”
German FM calls for immediate ceasefire
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier calls on both Israel and Hamas to agree to an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza.
“Everything needs to be done to avoid civilian casualties and safeguard international humanitarian law,” Steinmeier declares, adding that he was concerned about the shelling of civilian and UN institutions in recent days.
“Both sides are called upon to agree to an immediate humanitarian truce and to resume negotiations over a long-term ceasefire on the basis of the Egyptian proposal,” Steinmeier says. “It is high time to find a political solution for Gaza that will bring the people in Israel and Gaza permanent calm.”
– Raphael Ahren
‘The war has reached its culmination’ — Peres
Speaking to reporters after visiting soldiers in Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center, former president Shimon Peres says, “The war has reached its culmination point,” and that the goal now is to find the best ceasefire.
Peres also says that Hamas is more isolated than Israel, and that the Arab world understands that Hamas is the real threat to Gaza.
Israel’s elder statesman calls for Mahmoud Abbas’s government to be reinstated as the ruler of Gaza instead of Hamas.
Arab youth indicted for attacking Haredi man
An Arab youth from Haifa is indicted in the Jerusalem District Court for attacking an ultra-Orthodox man because he was Jewish. Ynet reports that the youth and an accomplice beat the man and left him unconscious.
The indictment charges the youth with causing serious injury with aggravating circumstances.
Photographer captures soldier’s final embrace
Ido Erez, a photographer for the Israeli news site Ynet, was on the Gaza border last Friday to cover a briefing by the head of the IDF’s Southern Command. While he was waiting for it to begin, Erez noticed a reservist embracing his girlfriend next to a tree.
Erez raised his camera, and snapped a picture. Little did he know that he had captured the last embrace between Staff Sgt. Adi Briga and his girlfriend Yulia Sokolov.
Briga, 23, died in a mortar attack on Monday on the Gaza-Israel border.
The last time she would ever see him. Sad photo making way across Israeli media this morning. Killed soon thereafter pic.twitter.com/UJKpFmhQqD
— Daniel Gordis (@DanielGordis) July 30, 2014
“I decided along with his mother Pnina and a few other friends from his moshav to bring food and other goods to Adi and his friends, and we traveled to their staging ground,” Yulia, 27, tells Ynet. “To that point, we had been talking every day, and couldn’t stop missing one another.”
They hadn’t seen each other in two weeks.
“I reached him at the exact place he was killed, and we didn’t do anything except stand and hug for a half hour…I saw photographers taking pictures of us, and I whispered to Adi, ‘Look, we’re like celebrities, we have paparazzi,’ and we both laughed. We just stood and hugged and we didn’t want to do anything else.”
By coincidence, Erez also covered Briga’s funeral. “I get chills thinking about it. He was captured twice by my camera in two different circumstances. Nothing like that has every happened to me in my life.”
‘We knew of 7-10 tunnels before operation’
Haim Yalin, the head of the Eshkol Regional Council on the Gaza border, tells Ynet that before Operation Protective Edge, security forces knew of “about 7 or 10 main tunnels. Today they’ve found 30, and might reach 60 tunnels.”
“We have to decide if we are in a war or in a ceasefire,” Yalin adds. “The American pressure is not relevant, since I have not heard of tunnels that reach the Pentagon or the White House.”
IDF says Gaza reservists may have to be replaced
The IDF spokesman’s office says that in order to prepare for the next stage of the operation in the Gaza Strip, the army will have to switch out some of the reservist units fighting there, Ynet reports.
60,000 reservists have been called up in Operation Protective Edge.
IDF releases its overnight summary
According to a statement from the IDF spokesman’s office, infantry and engineering soldiers exploded three tunnels in the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours.
Israeli forces targeted over 75 sites since midnight. The IAF strikes five mosques which concealed weapons, tunnel, and lookout posts, says the IDF.
Israel also targeted a facility used by the head of Hamas’s cyber wing.
IDF hitting sites in Gaza
The IDF is continuing to hit targets in Gaza throughout the morning.
Images broadcast from the Strip show clouds of smoke from air strikes and shellings.
The army says it struck some 80 sites overnight, including a number of mosques it says were being used for military purposes, according to Israeli media reports.
Gazan medical sources say 10 people from a single family were killed in one strike in Khan Younis, where heavy fighting has been reported.
In addition, the UN says a strike on a UNRWA school in Gaza City killed 16 people, according to AFP. A Gazan official had earlier put the toll at 15.
119 IDF soldiers hospitalized
There are 119 Israeli troops recovering in hospitals across the country as a result of the fighting in Gaza, Israel Radio reports.
One soldier continues to battle for his life in critical condition, and 8 are in serious condition. The rest are lightly or moderately injured.
Heavy gunfire in Shejaiya
IDF forces are engaged in a gunbattle in the Gaza City of neighborhood of Shejaiya, Ynet reports.
Attack helicopters are attacking targets in support of armored and infantry forces.
IDF patrol comes under fire on Lebanese border
Israeli forces patrolling near Kibbutz Manara on the Lebanese border come under fire. No injuries or damage are reported, and remains unclear who is responsible for the gunfire, Channel 2 reports.
UNRWA school strike toll up to 15
Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra now says 15 people killed in strike on UNRWA school in Gaza, raising death toll from 13.
2 rockets strike near Eshkol region towns
No damage or injuries are reported.
13 killed at UN school, not 20, says official
Revising initial reports that put the death toll from a strike on a Gaza UNWRA school at 20, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra says 13 people were killed in the attack.
He adds that some 90 people were injured in the shelling.
Palestinians blame Israel for the attack, but IDF sources say they are unaware of the incident.
Al-Qidra also writes on his Facebook page that the Gaza death toll is 1,255 with 7,100 injured.
Israel says several hundred of those killed were Hamas fighters.
Sirens in border towns end quiet night
After Palestinians fire 80 rockets at Israel on Tuesday, Israel sees a lull in incoming fire overnight. Shortly after daybreak, sirens sound in some communities in the Gaza border region, for the second time since midnight.
No reports of injuries or damage.
IDF looking into UN school incident
The IDF says it is looking into the incident in which a shell apparently hit a UN school in Gaza, killing 20 people.
An AFP correspondent says that at least one shell hit the school — the outer wall of the complex was damaged by shellfire — and in a bombed-out classroom people are picking body parts off a blood-soaked floor.
An official for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, who requested anonymity, confirms the strike, saying it hit a bathroom and two classrooms inside the UNRWA girls’ school.
AFP adds that the army had begun heavy tank shelling in the area a couple of hours prior to the incident.
Israel hits UN school killing 20 people, Gaza officials say
An Israeli shelling on a UN school being used as a shelter in the northern Gaza Strip kills 20 people, Gaza medics claim
The shelling hit the school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says, on the 23rd day of Israel’s military campaign in the Palestinian coastal territory.
Hamas sermon in Gaza calls for extermination of Jews
A Hamas-affiliated imam in Gaza says the group will “exterminate” Jews and launches an anti-Semitic diatribe in a video broadcast on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV station.
The video, made available by the Middle East Media Research Institute, shows the cleric as he conducts a sermon at a mosque in Dir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
“”Our doctrine in fighting you (the Jews) is that we will totally exterminate you,” he says. “We will not leave a single one of you alive, because you are alien usurpers of the land and eternal mercenaries.”
Sirens heard in Gaza periphery
Rocket warning sirens are heard in communities in the Sderot and Netivot regions, east of the Gaza Strip.
The early morning attack comes after a quiet night, with no reports of rockets between midnight and 5 a.m.
Holocaust survivor worries about her Gazan daughter
Seventy-nine year old Sarah, a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor, arrived in Israel at age 17. In 1962, she married an Arab Israeli and converted to Islam.
Today she lives in Ramle, Israel, while one of her two daughters lives in the Gaza Strip. Though she believes Israel has a right to defend itself, she is concerned for her daughter and sympathetic to Gazans’ plight.
Iranian official: We’ll arm West Bank with missiles
A former adviser to Iran’s defense ministry says Tehran will seek to arm Palestinians in the West Bank with “strategic weapons” including missiles to target Tel Aviv and Haifa
“A new front must be opened from the West Bank, after it has been armed, especially with missiles,” Iranian researcher Amir Mousavi tells Lebanon’s Mayadeen TV channel, “because we know very well that the distance between the West Bank and Tel Aviv, Haifa, and other areas is much shorter than the distance from Gaza.”
Air strike kills five people in southern Gaza
An Israeli air strike kills five people in southern Gaza, medics in the Hamas-run territory say.
The victims were all members of the same family, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says.
Gaza medics say 2 children killed in strikes
Israeli strikes kill two Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip, medics say.
A shelling in the northern Gaza Strip kills an 11-year-old handicapped girl, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says, with a subsequent shelling in the center of the small coastal territory killing a 16-year-old girl.
Israel said to strike dozens of Gaza targets
The Israeli air force is striking dozens of targets across the Gaza Strip at this time, Ynet reports.
Earlier, officials in Hamas-run Gaza said at least 13 Palestinians were killed by Israeli shelling on Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip.
Dozens clash with police in East Jerusalem
Dozens of Palestinian protesters clash with police in East Jerusalem, Walla News report, throwing rocks and rioting, with police responding with crowd control means.
That Obama-Netanyahu phone call. Or not
Oren Nahari is sticking by his story. The story he broadcast — on state-owned Channel 1 TV Tuesday — purporting to quote from Sunday’s Obama-Netanyahu phone call.
It ostensibly shows a very hostile president giving a very unhappy prime minister firm orders to halt the fighting in Gaza, and do it now. Quite a big deal.
Except that both Israel and the US deny that the transcript is accurate.
And they deny it adamantly.
In almost the exact same language.
US lawmakers struggle to seal $225M Iron Dome package
Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress vow urgent support for a $225 million missile defense package for Israel, boosting the likelihood that legislation will clear Congress before lawmakers begin a month-long vacation at week’s end.
“Let’s stop playing games,” says Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, calling the assistance a necessity for the “life-or-death struggle Israel faces.”
Amid a daily barrage of Palestinian rocket fire, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has been credited with knocking hundreds of missiles out of the sky.
Despite Graham’s admonition, neither Republicans who control the House nor Democrats who command a Senate majority have yet to announce plans for a vote on a stand-alone bill on the issue.
In the Senate, Democrats have combined money for Israel, US border security and wildfire assistance into one measure. But Republicans oppose it because of a disagreement over provisions relating to the immigrants now flooding into the country from the south.
Despite the apparent deadlock, there are signs of willingness to compromise.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, says he is prepared to consider a stand-alone bill providing money for Israel. Across the Capitol, numerous Republican aides say the House will likely pass any legislation the Senate approves on the subject.
Day 23 of Operation Protective Edge
Tuesday was marked by heavy Israeli air strikes on Gaza, after Hamas killed 10 soldiers on Monday in three separate fatal incidents — including a tunnel incursion near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Throughout Tuesday there was talk of possible ceasefires. And there were also indications that Israel might expand its ground offensive. The security cabinet is to meet today to make a decision. Maybe.
Meanwhile, Hamas’s military chief Muhammad Deif, in a recording, has declared that Hamas will prevail because its fighters “are eager for death” while Israel’s are eager for life. The tape marks the first time he’s been heard from since 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense.
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