Israel and Hamas continued to trade blows for a fifth day Saturday with no signs of letting up as the death toll in Gaza continued to mount and the international community continued to call for a truce.
As of Saturday afternoon, the death toll in Gaza from Israel’s Operation Protective Edge had climbed to 127 people, after Israeli forces struck 60 targets overnight Friday and into Saturday; Israel had no breakdown on the proportion of civilian and combatant casualties. Among the dead was a relative of former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, named as Nidal al-Malash, who the Israeli army said was in a terror cell that was hit as it prepared to fire rockets at Israel.
No Israelis had been killed by rocket fire as of Saturday afternoon, though several were injured, including an Ashdod man badly hurt in a rocket strike at a gas station Friday. A Haifa woman suffered a fatal heart attack dashing for shelter on Friday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that all Gaza casualties were “the responsibility of Hamas,” since the Strip’s Islamist rulers deliberately put Gazans in harm’s way by firing on Israel, hiding out, and storing weaponry among the civilian population. He said Israel did its utmost to avoid hitting Gaza’s civilians, while Hamas did its utmost to target Israel’s civilians with relentless rocket fire.
Gaza terrorists fired close to 50 rockets into Israel by Saturday afternoon, two of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the IDF said. While most landed in open fields, one hit a home in the town of Netivot. Three people were treated for shock.
Israeli MKs and defense officials indicated that Israel had no interest in a rapid ceasefire and was ready to escalate the operation.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz said he expected the air campaign to continue at least throughout the coming day, as there were still “many targets to attack.”
“In parallel, we are preparing the next parts of the operation, readying the forces to enter on the ground,” he said on Israel Radio.
Following a situation report with military commanders, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel was preparing for “many more days of combat” and had “amassed achievements” against Hamas and other terror groups.
Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud) and Yesh Atid MK Ronen Hoffman, who serves on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, reiterated Israel’s stance that it would not accept a ceasefire that did not meet Israel’s stated goals in launching Operation Protective Edge.
Akunis, speaking on Israel Radio, said that Israel would continue to target Hamas leadership. Shortly afterwards, reports emerged that the Israeli Air Force had struck the home of the sister of former Hamas prime minister Haniyeh, and that one of his nephews was killed. Later, the Israeli army said the dead man was a known terrorist, who was part of a cell that was hit as it was about to fire rockets at Israel. It said he was Haniyeh’s great-nephew.
Meanwhile, international calls for a truce and concern over the civilian death toll in Gaza gained steam. “Extremely concerned about humanitarian situation and loss of life in Gaza. Speaking to President Abbas today,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote on Twitter.
Hague’s statement was a departure from the British government stance thus far, which had backed Israel’s right to launch air strikes in response to rocket attacks by Hamas in Gaza.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians and their international supporters were discussing the text of a UN resolution that would condemn all violence against civilians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and call for “an immediate, durable and fully respected cease-fire.”
An initial draft of the proposed Security Council resolution, obtained by The Associated Press, expresses “grave concern” at the escalating violence and deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories due to Israeli military operations, particularly against the Gaza Strip, and at the heavy civilian casualties including children.
The draft does not mention Hamas’s firing of rockets into Israel, which is likely unacceptable to the US.
Among those to condemn Israel’s Gaza operation outright Saturday were Turkey and Egypt.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul called on Israel to halt its offensive on the Gaza Strip and not to carry out a ground incursion, while Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there could be no normalizing of Turkish-Israeli ties as long as Israel’s actions continue.
“We cannot look positively at a process of normalization while bombs are raining on our (Palestinian) brothers,” Erdogan said at a meeting where he unveiled his policy aims if elected president. “We cannot be on the side of the oppressor.”
A day after demonstrators burned an Israeli flag outside the Palestinian embassy in Cairo and called on the government to expel Israel’s ambassador to the country, Cairo condemned “Israel’s irresponsible escalation in the Gaza Strip” and what it called Jerusalem’s exaggerated and unjustified use of force, according to Israel Radio.
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi warned both Israel and Hamas “of the dangers of military escalation, and the casualties it would cause among innocent civilians,” according to his spokesman.
However, Egyptian security forces thwarted an attempt to smuggle 20 rockets from the Gaza Strip into the Sinai region Friday. The munitions were seized after a firefight between terrorists in the town of Rafah and Egyptian security forces, according to the Palestinain Ma’an news agency.
The projectiles were apparently meant to be used in attacks against Israel from the peninsula. Terrorists have fired rockets at the southernmost Israeli city of Eilat from Sinai in the past.