Liveblog July 31, Day 24 of war with Hamas (closed)

US slams ‘indefensible’ Israeli strike; PA could press war crimes charges; PM says tackling tunnels 1st step to demilitarized Gaza

Spate of injured in rocket attacks; truce talks stalled; former IDF intel chief says Hamas has lost; intense fighting reported in ravaged Shejaiya neighborhood; Gaza officials say death toll over 1,400; IDF fatalities at 56

  • An Israeli Hermes UAV flies over Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)
    An Israeli Hermes UAV flies over Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)
  • A man wearing a kipah looks on, as people take part in a demonstration called by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France on July 31, 2014, in front of a Lyon synagogue. (AFP/Romain LaFabregue/File)
    A man wearing a kipah looks on, as people take part in a demonstration called by the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France on July 31, 2014, in front of a Lyon synagogue. (AFP/Romain LaFabregue/File)
  • Palestinians receive aid at a United Nations distribution center (UNRWA) in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
    Palestinians receive aid at a United Nations distribution center (UNRWA) in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
  • Israeli rescue personnel at the scene where a rocket fired from Gaza hit near a residential building in Kiryat Gat, moderately injuring one person and lightly wounding two more, Thursday, July 31, 2014 (photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)
    Israeli rescue personnel at the scene where a rocket fired from Gaza hit near a residential building in Kiryat Gat, moderately injuring one person and lightly wounding two more, Thursday, July 31, 2014 (photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)
  • An Israeli soldier prays at an IDF staging area near the Israeli border with Gaza, on July 31, 2014 (photo cropped: Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)
    An Israeli soldier prays at an IDF staging area near the Israeli border with Gaza, on July 31, 2014 (photo cropped: Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90)
  • A Gaza terrorist preparing to fire rockets into Israel from an underground launcher. (photo credit: MEMRI)
    A Gaza terrorist preparing to fire rockets into Israel from an underground launcher. (photo credit: MEMRI)
  • An Israeli artillery gun fires a 155mm shell toward targets in the Gaza Strip from their position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014.  (photo credit:AFP/ JACK GUEZ)
    An Israeli artillery gun fires a 155mm shell toward targets in the Gaza Strip from their position near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014. (photo credit:AFP/ JACK GUEZ)
  • Salvadorean students burn a dummy with Israel's national flag as they protest against Israel's military action in the Gaza strip on July 30, 2014. (photo credit:AFP/ Jose Cabezas)
    Salvadorean students burn a dummy with Israel's national flag as they protest against Israel's military action in the Gaza strip on July 30, 2014. (photo credit:AFP/ Jose Cabezas)
  • Benjamin Netanyahu speaking before a cabinet meeting Thursday July 31, 2014. (Screen capture: Channel 2)
    Benjamin Netanyahu speaking before a cabinet meeting Thursday July 31, 2014. (Screen capture: Channel 2)
  • An Israeli soldier carries a shell as troops prepare munitions along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014.  (photo credit: AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN)
    An Israeli soldier carries a shell as troops prepare munitions along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on July 30, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Thursday, the 24th day of Operation Protective Edge. Wednesday had seen the heaviest Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, and three soldiers killed in a booby-trapped building. The security cabinet had approved ongoing strikes at Hamas, as the IDF continued tackling the Hamas cross-border tunnels.

Fifty-six soldiers and three civilians have been killed on the Israeli side in the 24 days of fighting, while Gazan health officials put the death toll there at over 1,400. Israel says hundreds of those are Hamas fighters. (Friday’s liveblog is here.)

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

Day 24 of Operation Protective Edge

Preamble: Israel’s longest and bloodiest confrontation with Hamas, in the seven years since the Islamist terror group seized control of the Gaza Strip, continues into its 24th day.

On Wednesday, Israel called a four-hour humanitarian truce, which Hamas did not reciprocate. Indeed, Hamas fired more than 130 rockets into Israel in the course of the day. Israel stepped up its military strikes on Hamas targets. There were more than a dozen deaths reported in Gaza in strikes on a UN school and a market, both of which the IDF said it was investigating. Three soldiers were killed when a booby-trapped building housing a tunnel entrance was detonated on them, raising the IDF death toll to 56.

An Israeli delegation reportedly flew to Cairo for ceasefire discussions, and left after just a few hours. Egypt was said to be refusing to host a Palestinian delegation until Hamas ceases fire, which it is refusing to do.

IDF: Video shows Hamas on ‘an ongoing mission to kill and maim’

A video showing Hamas gunmen emerging from a tunnel, infiltrating an Israeli army base and killing five soldiers, demonstrates that Israel is faced with a cruel and unforgiving enemy and must continue Operation Protective Edge until all remaining tunnels are destroyed, Israeli officials say.

The video (warning: graphic content), filmed by one of the Hamas gunmen who participated in Monday evening’s attack on an army post south of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, was widely broadcast by Arab and Palestinian media outlets.

A screenshot from the video showing Hamas gunmen infiltrating an IDF base inside Israel near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, July 28, 2014 (photo credit: screen shot YouTube)

A screenshot from the video showing Hamas gunmen infiltrating an IDF base inside Israel near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, July 28, 2014 (photo credit: screen shot YouTube)

“These are the people we’re dealing with on a daily basis – cowardly terrorists who don’t care about human lives. They’re on an ongoing mission to kill and maim, and to abduct Israeli soldiers and civilians,” Maj. Arye Shalicar, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, tells The Times of Israel. “We have to be prepared for this to recur again and again around the Gaza Strip. Until we find and destroy each and every tunnel they have dug over the last few years, such attacks can happen anytime, anywhere.”

— Read Raphael Ahren’s full story here.

IDF releases funeral details for 3 soldiers killed yesterday

The IDF releases funeral information for the three soldiers killed yesterday in a booby-trapped building near Khan Younis housing the opening of a tunnel.

SSgt. Guy Algranati (photo credit: Courtesy)

SSgt. Guy Algranati (photo credit: Courtesy)

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.

Sgt. Matan Gotlib (photo credit: Facebook)

Sgt. Matan Gotlib (photo credit: Facebook)

SSgt. Omer Chai (photo credit: Courtesy)

SSgt. Omer Chai (photo credit: Courtesy)

New IDF account of building where 3 soldiers were killed

The IDF’s Gaza Division commander, Brig. Gen. Micky Edelstein, said Wednesday evening that three IDF soldiers killed in Khan Younis were blown up in an explosion at a booby-trapped UNRWA health clinic that housed a tunnel entry shaft. Enemy forces blew up “the UNRWA clinic on our troops,” he said.

However, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the military unit that implements government policies in the Palestinian areas, later said that the clinic was last registered as a sensitive location three years ago, “and it hasn’t been since.”

The spokesperson said the site had not been registered then as belonging to UNRWA, leading to speculation that, perhaps, militants stole the sign and tacked it on the door, posting it as a security umbrella under which a tunnel could be dug.

The army named the fallen soldiers as Staff Sgt. Matan Gotlib, 21, of Rishon Lezion, Staff Sgt. Omer Chai, 21, of Savion, and Sgt. Guy Algranati, 20, of Tel Aviv.

— Mitch Ginsburg’s updated story is here.

US calls for immediate probe into shelling of Gaza school

WASHINGTON – The White House expects a “a full, prompt and thorough investigation” into Wednesday’s shelling of a United Nations-run girls’ school in Gaza, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz told reporters Wednesday during an impromptu press conference aboard Air Force One. Schultz’s statement underscored similar calls from the State Department, but unlike the UN, administration officials refused to ascribe blame to Israel for the incident that Gazan sources said left some 20 people dead.

Schultz seemed to dismiss statements from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon immediately ascribing responsibility for the attack to Israel, which he accused of ignoring repeated communications on the location of the school.

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil’s story is here.

Canada blames Hamas for Gaza fatalities

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper blames Hamas for the heavy loss of civilian life in the Gaza Strip since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8

At least 110 people were killed on Wednesday alone in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, as the Palestinian death toll after 23 days soared to 1,360. Israel says hundreds are Hamas and Islamic Jihad gunmen.

Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have died in the fighting so far.

“Obviously, no one likes to see the suffering and loss of life that has occurred,” Harper said in televised remarks.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right), meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, during Harper's official state visit to Israel and the West Bank, Tuesday, January 21, 2103 (photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool/Flash 90)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right), meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem, during Harper’s official state visit to Israel and the West Bank, Tuesday, January 21, 2103 (photo credit: Emil Salman/Pool/Flash 90)

“That said, we hold the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for this. They have initiated and continue this conflict, and continue to seek the destruction of the state of Israel.”

Canada’s conservative government has long supported the Jewish state and stressed its recognition of Israel’s right to defend itself.

Israel launched the most recent military operation earlier this month to stop the indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli cities and destroy the Hamas tunnels that infiltrate into Israeli territory.

— AFP, Times of Israel staff

PA to sign Rome Statute of the ICC

The Palestinian Authority decides to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as a first step to joining the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Sources in Ramallah told Army Radio that the Palestinian Authority was waiting for legal opinion after which it would join the 139 countries that are signatories.

The move would afford the Palestinian Authority with the option of filing suit against Israel for “war crimes” during Operation Protective Edge, as it has repeatedly threatened to do, but it would also be exposing itself to similar allegations.

Earlier this month, Palestinian envoy to the United Nations Ibrahim Kraishi said the “Palestinian weakness” in terms of international law is the indiscriminate firing of rockets at Israel.

“The missiles that are now being launched against Israel, each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity, whether it hits or misses, because it is directed at civilian targets,” Kraishi told Palestinian Authority TV, in a clip distributed and translated by watchdog group MEMRI.

Dissent quieted with most Israelis behind Gaza war

AP — Despite Israeli casualties and world criticism, a near-consensus in Israel supports the government’s conduct of the Gaza war, views Hamas as the aggressor and considers outsiders’ moralizing as hypocritical, ignorant or both. And in an echo-chamber fed by ubiquitous updates on Hamas rocket and tunnel attacks, the minority of local voices that do agonize over Gazans’ suffering are being silenced in a way rarely seen in a country long proud of its spirited, democratic debate.

A series of recent opinion polls have shown robust support for the war, reflecting years of frustration over rocket fire from Gaza and a new fear of Hamas’ network of tunnels that stretch well into Israel and imperil communities along the border. Opposing views, coming primarily from leftist activists and intellectuals, have been met with threats, insults and charges of treason both in social media and face-to-face.

“We are faced with the false, anti-democratic equation that argues that aggression, racism and lack of empathy means love of the homeland,” wrote Israeli author Etgar Keret in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. Opinions that do not encourage “the use of power,” he added, are derided as “nothing less than an attempt to destroy and annihilate Israel as we know it.”

“They want to kill us. We have no choice,” said 39-year-old Jerusalemite Gil Yair, referring to Hamas. “They are holding a gun to our head and we have to take control of the situation.”

More than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting since July 8, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. On the Israeli side, 56 soldiers have been killed as well as three civilians. Still, several polls this week have shown strong majorities in Israel supported the war and prepared to go on.

It all stands in stark contrast to the deep divisions over most issues here — from the large questions of peace with the Palestinians to economic policy and the role of religion in public life. The deep schisms can bedevil policymaking and create bad karma, but they are also a source of satisfaction over how genuine a democracy Jews have built under difficult conditions in the harsh Middle East.

Read the rest of the story here

Relatively quiet night as no rockets fired overnight

It has been a relatively quiet night overnight Wednesday-Thursday, as no rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel since about 10:30 pm last night.

Hagel to Ya’alon: US worried about death toll

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel speaks to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, telling him that the United States was concerned about the deadly consequences of the spiraling conflict, including a “worsening humanitarian situation” in Gaza, and called for a ceasefire and end to hostilities.

Hagel also renewed calls for the disarmament of Gaza’s Hamas rulers and “all terrorist groups.”

Last night, the Pentagon confirmed the Israeli military had requested additional ammunition to restock its dwindling supplies on July 20, with the US Defense Department approving the sale just three days later.

“The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

— AFP, Times of Israel staff

Forces kill Gaza gunman who fired anti-tank missile

According to initial reports, Givati forces shot and killed a gunman who fired an anti-tank missile at troops in the southern Gaza Strip overnight.

16,000 more reservists to be called up

The IDF is set to call up an additional 16,000 reservists today to give the military “some breathing room,” Ynet reports, bringing the total of reserve soldiers called up to 86,000.

Sirens sound in Ashdod, Ashkelon and surrounding areas

Apparent rocket fire toward Ashdod, Kiryat Gat and Judean lowlands breaks several hour calm. No immediate reports of injuries or damage.

IDF strikes mosque near UNRWA school — Hamas

Hamas media outlets claim Israel attacked a mosque adjacent to an UNRWA school in the northern Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reports.

Two Palestinians are said to be seriously wounded, and others residing in the UN facilities are said to be injured by shrapnel.

There is no independent confirmation of the strike, which, if true, comes a day after Israel hit another UNRWA school, killing 15 and drawing fierce international criticism.

The Israeli army said in that case it was returning fire, but would investigate the incident.

The IDF also hit a number of mosques it said were being used as military installations early Tuesday.

IDF hits 20 targets overnight

The IDF targets 20 sites overnight, including “five terror command centers,” the army says in a statement.

In the past 24 hours, the army attacks 110 targets throughout the Gaza Strip.

Some 140 soldiers are hospitalized due to injuries sustained in combat, according to Channel 2. Fourteen are in serious condition, and 32 are moderately wounded.

‘Reasonable’ ceasefire proposal likely to be backed by ministers — Peri

If a reasonable ceasefire proposal is presented to the security cabinet, the majority of ministers will back it, Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri tells Israel Radio, and does not elaborate.

Peri, who is a member of the eight-person high-level cabinet, tasked with guiding Israel’s war effort, adds that the military stage in the Gaza campaign must be followed by a diplomatic solution.

Sirens in Beersheba

In Gaza house sweeps, IDF finds weapons, tunnels

In the course of house searches in the central Gaza Strip, IDF soldiers of the Givati Brigade uncover sensitive intelligence gathered by Hamas on the IDF, numerous weapons, and a large number of tunnels used as bunkers linking a string of houses, the Walla news website reports.

300,000 Israelis flee southern Israel

Channel 2 reports that some 300,000 residents of southern Israel have left their homes since the start of Operation Protective Edge due to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and the infiltration threat.

Mutual hatred of Hamas aligns Arab world, Israel

An article in the New York Times points to a change in the tune of Arab leaders, in that their withering criticism of Hamas seems to override their age-old opposition to Israel.

The paper quotes analyst Aaron David Miller, who formerly served as a Middle East negotiator under several presidents: “The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” he says.

“I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas,” he says. “The silence is deafening.”

Click here to read the full article.

Baby born to slain Gaza mother dies

A baby girl born to a dead Gazan woman in a “miracle birth” has died, Al-Jazeera reports.

The mother — who was two weeks to full-term — had been dead for 10 minutes when doctors performed an emergency C-section to extract the baby last week.

The baby girl lived for six days in an intensive care unit before doctors were forced to pronounce her death.

Rocket lands in open area in Beersheba

A rocket falls in an open area in Beersheba, causing no damage or injuries.

Cabinet to hold special session on security situation

The cabinet is set to to hold a special session this afternoon, during which the ministers will be updated on the IDF’s progress, Israel Radio reports.

This is the fourth cabinet meeting held on the issue since the start of Operation Protective Edge.

Sirens in Eshkol region

Artist recasts Jasmine, Aladdin as Hamas terrorists

Contemporary artist aleXsandro Palombo has drawn a questionable series called “Stop Hamas Terrorism” and “Once Upon a Time: The children in Palestine” in which animated children’s characters are cast as Hamas terrorists. In the series, Aladdin and Jasmine, from Disney’s “Aladdin,” are seen pointing guns at the bound and gagged Disney princesses, as well as characters, some Jewish, from the TV show “Family Guy.”

Meanwhile, Lisa and Bart Simpson, Pinocchio, Alice (of Wonderland fame), Peter Pan, and Family Guy’s chubby and lovable Chris Griffin are drawn as child Palestinian terrorists.

While the (probably racist) link between the Middle Eastern Aladdin and Jasmine and the Palestinians is made clear, it remains unclear how the other characters are meant to stand in for the Israelis and Palestinians respectively.

Palombo, who has a history of ruining people’s childhoods, explains that the June 12 killing of the three Israeli teenagers drove him to draw the series.

“It’s unacceptable and atrocious that in the modern era three young boys full of life, hopes and dreams, had to die in this uncivilized and barbaric way, killed by unscrupulous people who, for years, have forced the Israeli people to live in fear and terror. Hamas terrorists not only harm the people of Israel but take also in hostage the people of Gaza, where civilians are used as human shields and where children are turned into little soldiers and causing the deaths of Gaza’s civilians, children, women, men… Terrorism is like a cancer, something that you have to fight.”

"Once Upon a Time the Children of Palestine" (photo credit: Courtesy/aleXsandro Palombo)

“Once Upon a Time the Children of Palestine” (photo credit: Courtesy/aleXsandro Palombo)

Stop Hamas Terrorism  art campaign (photo credit: Courtesy/aleXsandro Palombo)

Stop Hamas Terrorism art campaign (photo credit: Courtesy/aleXsandro Palombo)

Gazans have 2 hours of electricity a day — UN

A report from the United National Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) indicates that due to the strike on the Gaza power plant, “Gaza city is receiving electricity for about two hours a day, while localities in the Middle Area have no supply at all.”

“According to the Palestinian Energy Authority, repairs could take months to complete, exacerbating the Gazan electricity crisis. This will affect private households, companies, and public services provision, including water, sanitation and health facilities. Hospitals will depend more heavily on their own diesel-powered generators, which are not adequate to power services for extended periods. Previously, hospital generators have burned out with extensive use, and power fluctuations damage finely calibrated medical equipment,” it says.

A Palestinian man looks on as flames engulf the fuel tanks of the only power plant supplying electricity to the Gaza Strip after it was hit on July 29, 2014,  (photo credit: AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

A Palestinian man looks on as flames engulf the fuel tanks of the only power plant supplying electricity to the Gaza Strip after it was hit on July 29, 2014, (photo credit: AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

While the report does not address the electricity supply in the rest of the coastal enclave, in a separate statement, Undersecretary General Valerie Amos says the damage leaves “most homes with an average of 2 hours of electricity per day.”

She says that over 250,000 residents are displaced, 200,000 of whom are in UNRWA shelters. “This is over 10 per cent of the overall population of Gaza. Our capacity is stretched to the limit,” she says.

WATCH: IDF soldiers uncover tunnel shaft in mosque

The IDF releases footage of a tunnel shaft in the basement of a mosque in the Gaza Strip. The tunnel, which is next to the prayer room, extends in various directions, and is connected to a larger tunnel network.

Weapons are also found at the site.

Gaza death toll said to hit 1,364

Palestinian medics say seven Gazans are killed in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 1,364.

A pre-dawn Israeli airstrike kills a man in the central town of Deir al-Balah, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says.

He says two mid-morning strikes kill three more, one in the southern city of Rafah and another two in Deir al-Balah, also men.

A strike in the southern city of Khan Yunis kills another three people, Qudra says.

Israel says hundreds of those killed are Hamas fighters.

AFP and Times of Israel staff

Sirens in Ashkelon

5 dogs in IDF canine unit killed in Gaza

Five dogs of the IDF’s Oketz canine unit have been killed in the Gaza Strip during the course of Operation Protective Edge, Ynet News reports.

The dogs were involved in various operations, including uncovering explosives in booby-trapped buildings.

Australia PM urges immediate ceasefire

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

“It should be a ceasefire immediately by both sides. That’s what there should be, because plainly, too many people are dying. It’s just wrong what’s happening, so there should be a ceasefire,” he says in an interview with Radio 3AW.

Asked if Israel is perhaps overreacting in its military operation, Abbott admits that in recent days he was “rather more focused” on Malaysian flight MH17, which was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, than on the Gaza conflict and that he’s therefore reluctant to judge. “All I say is that there should be an immediate ceasefire. Innocent people are dying. But, we must also be working towards a long-term solution that does involve the recognition of Israel’s right to exist behind secure borders.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks at a press conference in Port Moresby, New Guinea, Friday, March 21, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Ness Kerton)

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks at a press conference in Port Moresby, New Guinea, Friday, March 21, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Ness Kerton)

Abbott, considered one of Israel’s closest friends in the international arena, also says that he doesn’t necessarily support “every single thing that the Israeli government does because… they’re capable of making mistakes just like everyone else is, but no one intends, or should intend, any attack which results in the death of innocent people.”

He reiterates Canberra’s support for Israel’s right to self-defense and the Palestinians’ right to a state of their own, but adds that “that’s got to go hand-in-hand with the recognition of Israel’s right to exist behind secure borders. The problem in the Middle East is that in the end so many people are not prepared to accept Israel’s right to exist.”

Raphael Ahren

IDF troops kill operative exiting tunnel

The IDF says infantry forces kill a Palestinian operative who was spotted emerging from a tunnel earlier this morning in the northern Gaza Strip.

In a separate incident, the Israeli air force targets a squad of five Palestinian operatives, “identifying a hit,” the army says in a statement.

The IDF says 16 rockets have been fired at Israel since midnight, of which 10 strike Israel.

Israeli-Arab nurse who criticized IDF will get job back

An Israeli-Arab male nurse at the Sheba Medical Center who was suspended from his job last week after making an anti-IDF remark on his Facebook profile will return to work after issuing a public apology to the hospital administration, Haaretz reports.

The nurse was set to have a hearing at the Tel Aviv labor court to dispute the terms of his suspension. However, the hospital and its employee worked out an agreement yesterday, and subsequently canceled the hearing.

Last week, he posted on his Facebook page: “The IDF are war criminals, just killing innocents, and the state claims: ‘It’s an accident, and the incident is being investigated.'”

In separate incidents, an Israeli-Arab psychologist employed by the Lod municipality was fired after rejoicing at the deaths of 13 IDF soldier, and an Israeli-Arab doctor at the Shaare Tzedek hospital was suspended for calling the IDF “murderers” on Facebook and posting an image of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sucking the blood of a Palestinian child.

We won’t accept truce that prevents the tunnel demolitions, PM says

At the start of the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the IDF continues to fight in Gaza “with full force,” and is neutralizing tunnels.

The tunnels would have enabled Hamas to kidnap and kill Israeli citizens in simultaneous mass attacks, he says. “We are demolishing that capacity now,” he says. Still, just as Iron Dome does not prevent 100% of rocket impacts, there’s no 100% guarantee when it comes to tackling the tunnels, he says, possibly thinking of the five soldiers who were shot dead by Hamas gunmen emerging from a tunnel near Kibbutz Nahal Oz on Monday.

Netanyahu also hails the army’s “impressive results” in the field. “We’ve neutralized dozens of terror tunnels, and we are determined to complete that mission.”

He says Israel will not accept any ceasefire proposal that prevents the IDF from completing the task of demolishing the tunnels, and reiterates that this is only the first step in the full disarmament of the Gaza Strip. He says the US, Europe and others now recognize that imperative.

He says Hamas is suffering harsh blows: “thousands of terror targets” have been attacked — “terror command centers, rocket stores, weapons workshops, launchers, and hundreds of slain terrorists.”

Netanyahu extends condolences to the fallen soldiers’ families — he says he has spoken to the dozens of families by phone — and praises the public for its resilience.

He says there is a minority of the Israeli public that grows increasingly radical at this time — on both extremes of the political spectrum — in a reference to the hostile online and in-person clashes between left-wing and right-wing activists. “Be careful what you say; be careful what you do,” he urges.

He says the ministers must serve as a personal example to the public, and that national unity is vital.

As he speaks, sirens sound in the Gaza border towns, including Sderot.

The IDF is ‘moral like no other army’ — PM

Netanyahu ends the public section of the cabinet meeting by declaring that the IDF is “moral like no other army,” and it is facing “an enemy that is cruel like no other.”

He says the IDF is doing its utmost to avoid harming innocent civilians.

The prime minister stresses that “every soldier is precious to us,” and wishes a full recovery to the injured troops.

France seeks to disband Jewish Defense League

The French government is seeking to disband a radical Jewish group involved in recent clashes with pro-Palestinian activists during rallies against the Gaza offensive, a source tells AFP.

News of the mooted ban came as France’s main Jewish group prepared to stage a pro-Israel gathering in Paris, in response to weeks of protests marred by clashes, arrests and allegations of anti-Semitism.

The presence of fired-up Jewish Defense League (LDJ) activists on the sidelines of recent rallies was seen as one of the reasons they turned violent, with clashes outside a synagogue on July 13 leading to a ban on subsequent pro-Palestinian protests.

“We are carrying out an extremely fine analysis of the law,” a source close to the case tells AFP, confirming a report by French newspaper Liberation of the move to disband the LDJ.

French Jewish Defense League activists demonstrate in Paris, 2011 (photo credit: Ligue de Defense Juive via JTA)

French Jewish Defense League activists demonstrate in Paris, 2011 (photo credit: Ligue de Defense Juive via JTA)

Last week Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the group’s actions were “excessive” and “should be condemned.”

The LDJ denies breaking French laws. It takes inspiration however from the far-right Jewish Defense League, labeled a terrorist organization by the FBI in 2001.

It also uses the emblem of the banned Israeli far-right party Kach, a raised fist inside a black Star of David, set against a yellow backing.

French far-left and Muslim leaders have been calling for action against the LDJ, with the French Muslim council branding it “an extremist, racist and violent association.”

Leaders of France’s half-million strong Jewish community have clearly distanced themselves from the LDJ, insisting it has not been asked to defend French synagogues.


As Netanyahu speaks, rockets land in the south

During the prime minister’s address, the sirens in Sderot are triggered six times consecutively.

According to Ynet, two rockets explode in the southern city — one near a school, and one near a public park. A man is lightly injured.

Dutch police arrest 2 for anti-Semitic chants

Dutch police arrest two people for allegedly chanting “Death to the Jews” at a pro-Palestinian demonstration, the public prosecutor’s office says.

“They are suspected of inciting violence against people of a specific belief or race,” the prosecutor’s office says in a statement after the men, both 32, were arrested early Thursday.

The Hague mayor Jozias van Aartsen has been hit by a wave of criticism for failing to act against alleged anti-Semitism at two pro-Gaza demonstrations earlier this month.

The arrests came in connection with the second demonstration on July 24, during which some protesters carried black flags associated with Islamist militants, including the Islamic State that has proclaimed a “caliphate” encompassing parts of Syria and Iraq.

An Arabic-speaking policeman reportedly said at the time that “no lines were crossed,” while video footage emerged of people chanting “Death to the Jews” in Arabic.

“The prosecutor’s office and two interpreters watched images from the demonstration… the two interpreters independently translated words that would be punishable,” the prosecutor’s statement says.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote to Van Aartsen earlier this week saying he may have contravened Dutch anti-terrorism legislation by allowing demonstrators to carry the jihadist flags.

The letter expressed “shock at your authorization, on two occasions, of demonstrations in the Hague… calling for ‘the death of Jews.'”


3 lightly injured in heavy barrage on Sderot

Three people lightly injured from shrapnel, when two rockets fall in the southern city of Sderot, according to Channel 2. Several other people are treated on the scene for shock.

The Iron Dome intercepts six other rockets in the latest salvo, according to Walla News.

Shooting incident in West Bank; no injuries

The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reports Palestinians open fire on the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron.

The IDF soldiers return fire, but no injuries are reported on either side.

Gazan woman in Israeli hospital prays for soldiers’ safety

Channel 2 interviews a Gaza mother in Ashkelon’s Barzilai hospital who says Israeli troops brought her family out of Gaza to safety.

She calls the soldier who oversaw the move “like a son to me” and says she hopes Israeli troops in Gaza will come home safely.

Asked if she is concerned about the consequences of what she is saying for her and her family on their eventual return to Gaza, she says she simply has to tell the truth.

Recent widow of slain soldier gives birth to baby girl

The widow of slain IDF soldier Sgt.-Maj. Bayhesain Kshaun gives birth to a baby girl in Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center.

The baby is the Kshauns’ fourth child.

“The birth was easy, but he is sorely missed. Every day is another day he won’t come back, his voice isn’t heard. He very much looked forward to this birth. He knew we would have a girl. It’s very hard for me, there’s no one to call, no one to send messages to, it makes it more painful that he’s not here,” Mrs. Kshaun tells the Walla news website.

Sergeant-Major Bayhesain Kshaun, 39, was a combat soldier in the Northern Gaza Territorial Brigade. He died on Monday, July 21, when an antitank missile was fired at forces responding to terrorists infiltrating into Israel.

His widow says her husband, who worked for the IDF, would wake up at 4:00 a.m. to go to work, and he loved what he did despite the risks involved. She says she is naming the baby Tal-Or, which translates to Dew-light — the first for the time of day he would leave home, the second because he fell in broad daylight.

Hamas fighters weren’t allowed to train here — Malaysia

Malaysia’s Deputy Home Affairs Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar says that although it backs the Palestinian national ambitions, it never allowed the training of Hamas fighters on its soil.

“It does not matter what kind of freedom-fighting group they belong to, even those against Israel, we have never given permission to have such trainings here,” he tells local Malaysian media, according to the Bangkok Post. “The report is incorrect.”

A Hamas operative in Israeli custody confessed yesterday that fighters affiliated with the terror group had gone abroad to Malaysia for a week of paragliding training, in anticipation of perpetrating a terror attack on a southern Israeli town. The terrorists had planned to bypass the Gaza border security by paragliding directly into a town.

SSgt. Guy Algranati laid to rest

Hundreds gather in the Kiryat Shaul cemetery to pay their last respects to SSgt. Guy Algranati, 20, of Tel Aviv, Ynet reports.

SSgt. Guy Algranati (photo credit: Courtesy)

SSgt. Guy Algranati (photo credit: Courtesy)

Algranati was killed yesterday afternoon in a booby-trapped building in the southern Gaza Strip, after his elite Maglan unit arrived at the building to uncover a tunnel shaft below it. Believing the site to be an UNRWA health clinic, the troops took specific precautions to avoid damaging the structure, but the operatives — who had rigged the house and tunnel with explosives — detonated the bombs, bringing the house crumbling down on the troops, killing three and injuring 15.

Hold the clothing, food donations, the IDF says

Following an overwhelming outpouring of gifts from the public, including food and clothing, the IDF says it will prevent the soldiers from accepting the donations unless they are directed through the Soldiers Welfare Association and the Libi Fund, Globes reports.

“These rules are not new; they are a clarification of rules that have always been in force. The IDF thanks and is grateful for civilians seeking to help soldiers, but also wants to maintain equality in donations and their regulation through the Soldiers Welfare Association and the Libi Fund,” a military official says.

Bar-Ilan U scholarships for deployed troops

Bar-Ilan University pledges scholarships for all of its students fighting in Operation Protective Edge.

The funding of the scholarships will be drawn from various donors, including some university employees.

Amsterdam home flying Israeli flag targeted with firebomb

A Jewish woman who displayed an Israeli flag from her balcony in Amsterdam is targeted with a firebomb and death threats.

The firebomb lands on the balcony of neighbors of Leah Rabinovitch, a Mexico-born Jewish woman who flew the Israeli flag on Amsterdam’s Kruger Square, located in an eastern neighborhood heavily populated with Moroccan immigrants, the Het Parool daily reports Wednesday.

The report did not say whether the firebomb ignited and whether it caused any damage, but according to the FokNews website, it landed on a neighbor’s balcony. Fok also reported that a stone that was hurled at Rabinovitch’s apartment smashed a window and that one of the death threats sent to Rabinovitch read: “Heil Hitler, Hitler is coming back, Jews must die.”

Rabinovitch and her partner put out the flag several weeks ago as a sign of solidarity with Israel’s assault on Hamas in Gaza. Their downstairs neighbors displayed on their balcony a Palestinian flag, and demanded that Rabinovitch remove her flag.

Complaints by the downstairs neighbor led the Rochdale housing association that manages the apartments to send letters to both apartments ordering them to remove the flags and warning that they would be held accountable for damages resulting from vandalism, Het Parool reported. Rochdale defined the conflict as an “ongoing neighbor quarrel.”

Rabinovitch told Het Parool she had no previous conflicts with the neighbors prior to hanging the flag.

“They present it as though I was trying to provoke with my flag but it wasn’t about making a statement,” she said. “We find it difficult to understand why Rochdale, the police and the neighbors want us to remove our flag. Should I feel afraid in my own house? If I remove the flag it means tolerating anti-Semitism.”


Belgian doctor refuses treatment to Jewish woman

A Belgian physician who refused to treat a Jewish woman with a fractured rib suggests she visit Gaza to get rid of the pain.

The physician makes the remark on Wednesday while manning a medical hotline in Flanders, Belgium’s Flemish region, whose capital, Antwerp, has a sizable Orthodox Jewish population, the local Jewish monthly Joods Actueel reports Thursday.

The woman, Bertha Klein, had her son, who is American, call the hotline at 11 p.m.

“I’m not coming,” the doctor reportedly tells the son and hung up. When the son calls again, the doctor says: “Send her to Gaza for a few hours, then she’ll get rid of the pain.” According to Joods Actueel, the doctor confirmed the exchange, saying he had an “emotional reaction.”

Health ministry officials were looking into the incident, according to the monthly’s online edition. According to Joods Actueel, the doctor knew the patient was Jewish because of Klein’s son’s American accent.

The family calls a friend, Samuel Markowitz, who is an alderman of the Antwerp district council and a volunteer paramedic. He calls the doctor to confirm the exchange, and also records their conversation.

Hershy Taffel, Bertha Klein’s grandson, files a complaint with police for discrimination.

“It reminds me of what happened in Europe 70 years ago,” Taffel tells Joods Actueel. “I never thought those days would once again be repeated.”

Michael Freilich, the editor-in-chief of Joods Actueel, says the incident is particularly alarming because it comes amid a string of recent incidents which involved boycotts against Jews in Belgium since the start of Israel’s attack on Hamas in Gaza on July 8.

Since then, an Orthodox Jewish woman is refused service at a clothes store in Antwerp, and police remove a sign in French and Turkish from a café near Liege which says dogs are allowed but Zionists and Jews were not.


French JDL denies group banned

Serge Salfati, a leader of France’s Jewish Defense League dismisses as rumors reports that officials are considering banning his far-right group, whose counterparts in the United States and Israel are designated as terrorist groups.

On Wednesday, the left-leaning Liberation daily reported that an unnamed official from France’s interior ministry said that the ministry was looking into the possibility of banning the group — a report Salfati denies.

“There are rumors that officials are looking into the possibility of maybe banning [JDL],” Serge Salfati tells JTA.

“While the reports are rumors at this point, there is a chance the government will seek action against LDJ to demonstrate an evenhanded approach to Arabs and Jews,” Salfati says.


3 rockets explode in Eshkol region

Three rockets explode in open areas in the Eshkol region, in southern Israel.

No casualties are reported.

Siren sounds in Hof Ashkelon region

After three rockets hit the Eshkol area, a Code Red alert is heard in the Hof Ashkelon region.

Rocket shot down over Ashkelon

A rocket launched from the Gaza Strip toward Ashkelon is intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Gov’t pushes domestic tourism amid rockets

The Tourism Ministry is launching an initiative to boost domestic tourism as sirens wail throughout Israel’s southern and central regions.

“We are fighting on two fronts in this war — the military front, with our finest conscripts and reserve soldiers, and the economic front, in which every citizen in Israel is engaged, either as employees who are driving the economy or as consumers in every branch of the economy,” Tourism Minister Uzi Landau says, explaining that the situation has prompted his ministry to launch a 6-week multimedia campaign to encourage Israelis to go on holiday.

The NIS 6.2 million campaign, under the slogan “Precisely now – a vacation in Israel,” will go live tonight and run through the beginning of September. Its stated objective is to “strengthen the small and mid-sized businesses that have been affected by the current security situation and are suffering from a severe reduction in income.”

Hamas feeling the strain, analyst says

Channel 2’s Arab affairs analyst Ehud Ya’ari reports that Hamas feels under siege.

“There are no delegations in Cairo” to discuss any potential ceasefire as yet, he explains. The reason: “Egypt is unwilling to receive a Hamas delegation until the shooting ends.”

Hamas sees the Egyptians as “very, very hard on them. The Egyptians are making it difficult for foreign aid delegations to pass through Rafah. Hamas interprets this as partnership with Israel. They’re blaming the Saudis as well.”

One Hamas spokesperson, Hamad al-Rakab, has already declared victory, saying “It’s only a matter of time before the start of celebrations…. I want to tell you, the war is ended. The enemy is establishing investigative committees to understand why its fighters have lost so badly.”

Hamas has also complained bitterly about its isolation in the Arab world, openly directing complaints at Hezbollah and Iran. “What are all these declarations of support from [Hezbollah chief Hassan] Nasrallah?” Ya’ari quotes a Hamas statement. “We need a new front in the north!”

There is also anger and frustration at the continued quiet in the West Bank and among Israeli Arabs.

Hamas has seen the destruction of almost all its tunnels, one-third of which reached into Israel, he reports. They have only a few dozen long-range rockets, and a few hundred of the medium-range kind that can reach Ashkelon and Ashdod.

“So you see an effort to conserve the arsenal, a lowered rate of fire in recent days,” Ya’ari notes.

Meanwhile, much of the Gaza Strip east of the main north-south road, Salah A-Din Street, is empty of population with IDF forces operating there virtually freely.

Taken together, Hamas believes its situation is dire.

Ceasefire talks at dead end, says Palestinian official

A senior Palestinian official tells The Times of Israel that the ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas are at a dead end.

According to the official, there have been a series of efforts and consultations since yesterday aimed at finding agreement to a 72-hour truce. Israel insists that IDF forces continue to operate against tunnels that cross into Israel during this truce period, while Hamas insists that this activity stop, though Hamas reportedly agreed that IDF troops could remain in Gaza for the duration of the truce.

The Israeli government’s announcement today that the IDF’s anti-tunnel activities would continue with a ceasefire or without was undermining the ceasefire efforts, the official said.

He added that Palestinian delegations could only go to Cairo for talks after a ceasefire was already in place – apparently an Egyptian demand. On that, too, there is no agreement.

The official added that an Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would place Hamas in a difficult dilemma – since it would not have achieved any of its demands for stopping the fighting from its side.

— Avi Issacharoff

‘No ceasefire talks until all tunnels dealt with’

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a member of the security cabinet, posts a one-sentence declaration to his Hebrew Facebook feed, along with a link to a Hebrew-language interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily:

“First we deal with all the terror tunnels, and only then we can talk about [ceasefire] arrangements.”

Lapid issues many of his public pronouncements through his Facebook page, which is followed by over 330,000 Israelis.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid. (photo credit: (Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid. (photo credit: (Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

Multiple sirens sound in Shaar Hanegev area

Several sirens have sounded in recent minutes in the Shaar Hanegev area, warning of rocket fire from Gaza.

Madonna urges peace on Instagram

“No Separation! We all bleed the same color!” says pop music icon Madonna, atop an Instagram photo of two male dancers painted with a Jewish star of David and a Muslim moon-and-star symbol.

Tourism minister urges expanded war goals

Tourism Minister Uzi Landau urges an expanded definition of the Gaza operation’s goals beyond destroying the Hamas tunnel network.

“The operation should not end until you’ve dismantled the rocket arsenal, damaged the Hamas infrastructure and prevented Hamas from rearming in future,” he says in a Channel 2 news interview.

“Hamas is to us what al-Qaeda is to America. You don’t negotiate with them, you hunt them like [US President Barack] Obama hunted Osama bin Laden,” he adds.

Gaza op successful ‘beyond expectations’

The Israel Defense Forces’ operation in destroying Hamas’s terror tunnels is effective and “advancing well beyond expectations,” a diplomatic official in Jerusalem says.

“Tens of tunnels have been destroyed already – this is an effective operation that significantly damages Hamas’s strategic capabilities, which it had built over years.”

— Raphael Ahren

Rockets fall in Eshkol, shot down over Ashkelon

Three rockets fall in open areas in the Eshkol Regional Council, while another rocket from Gaza is shot down over the southern city of Ashkelon.

IDF troops kill suicide bomber motorcyclist

IDF troops in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip shoot and kill a suicide bomber as he charges the force while riding a motorcycle early Thursday, Israeli media reports.

No soldiers were hurt in the incident.

Kerry still ‘hopeful’ for Gaza ceasefire

US Secretary of State John Kerry says he remains hopeful for a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict but declines to predict when.

Kerry, on a visit to India, says he remains in close contact on the telephone with players in the Middle East to try to end the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“The United States remains hopeful that it is achievable, and the sooner the better,” Kerry says of a ceasefire.


EU condemns shelling of UN school, Shejaiya market

The European Union condemns Israel’s shelling Wednesday of an United Nations-operated school in Gaza and of a market in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya.

“It is unacceptable that innocent displaced civilians, who were taking shelter in designated UN areas after being called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes, have been killed,” the EU says in a statement. These incidents must be immediately investigated, the EU demands.

On Wednesday Israeli soldiers fired several tank shells at a UNRWA school used as a shelter for refugees in response to mortar shells fired by Gazan operatives from there. At least 15 people were killed and 90 were wounded, according to Palestinian health officials. Later on Wednesday, 17 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded when Israel fired on a packed market in Shejaiya, Palestinian health officials said.

Palestinian paramedics carry a man wounded in a strike at a marketplace in the Shejaiya neighborhood, as he arrives at a hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ Mohammed Abed)

Palestinian paramedics carry a man wounded in a strike at a marketplace in the Shejaiya neighborhood, as he arrives at a hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/ Mohammed Abed)

“We are deeply concerned at the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza and reiterate that all sides must meet their obligations and immediately allow safe and full humanitarian access for the urgent distribution of assistance,” the EU statement reads. “The humanitarian imperative must be respected and the civilian population protected in accordance with International Humanitarian Law. The dignity and rights of all those in need of humanitarian assistance must be respected and protected.”

1 wounded in rocket hit on Kiryat Gat

One woman is wounded in a rocket barrage on Kiryat Gat. One rocket struck the third floor of an apartment building.

MDA teams are en route to the building to determine further casualties or damage.

Two rockets shot down over Tel Aviv

Sirens are sounding in multiple cities in central Israel’s Dan region. Two rockets are intercepted over Tel Aviv as sirens also sound in Bnei Brak, Givat Shmuel, Givatayim, Ramat Gan and Ramat Efal.

Pieces of one of the rockets are reportedly found.

UN official condemns Israeli ‘war crimes,’ US support for Iron Dome

GENEVA — The UN’s top human rights official accuses both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes in the latest Gaza war, but reserves her harshest words for the Israeli government, which she says is deliberately defying international law.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says that by placing and firing rockets within heavily populated areas, both sides are committing “a violation of international humanitarian law, therefore a war crime.”

“Locating rockets within schools and hospitals, or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas are violations of international humanitarian law,” Pillay says, referring to Hamas, but adds that doesn’t “absolve” Israel from disregarding the same law.

Pillay says Israel’s government has defied international law in Gaza by attacking civilian areas with schools, hospitals, homes and UN facilities.

“None of this appears to me to be accidental,” Pillay says of Israel at a news conference in Geneva to mark the end of her six-year term. “They appear to be defying — deliberate defiance of — obligations that international law imposes on Israel.”

Pillay also took aim at the US, Israel’s main ally, for providing financial support for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system.

“No such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling,” she said.

— AP

Two wounded in Kiryat Gat rocket hit

Initial reports of a rocket hitting an apartment building in Kiryat Gat are imprecise.

The rocket hits a parking lot between two apartment buildings, wounding two.

Sirens sound on Gaza periphery

Sirens sound in multiple Gaza periphery towns, just moments after a rocket hits Kiryat Gat and two are shot down over Tel Aviv.

Justice minister: ‘International pressure shouldn’t affect our activities’

International pressure “shouldn’t affect our activities,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni says.

“In any case we act according to our own morals and international law,” says Livni, who is a member of the security cabinet guiding the IDF operation.

“There is a group in the world that will judge us prejudicially no matter what we do. The rest of the world we have to deal with,” she adds in a Channel 2 interview.

“Look, the situation in Gaza isn’t good. There are people in Gaza who are dying who are not involved in the fighting. We have to deal with that. But there’s something that really isn’t acceptable to me: the comparison between a soldier trying to hit a terrorist who is aiming at civilians and the terrorist who is targeting the civilian. [Making that comparison] encourages and abets terror. This distinction is very, very important.

“When we fail to hit a terrorist and hit civilians, we investigate what went wrong. They investigate when they fail to hit civilians.”

Soldiers in Gaza exempted from Tisha B’Av fast

Israeli soldiers fighting on the front are exempt from fasting on Tisha B’Av, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate rules.

Starting Monday night, observant Jews will fast for 25 hours to mourn the destruction of both the first and the second temples in Jerusalem and other calamities that befell the Jewish people throughout the ages.

Tisha B’Av is considered one of the strictest fast days in the Jewish calendar, on which it is also forbidden to wear leather shoes. wash and anoint oneself.

But according to the religious ruling, signed by both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, respectively, “IDF soldiers who are standing on the frontline and give their lives for the sake of the people of Israel and the Land of Israel” do not have to observe any of the laws of mourning pertaining to the day.

— Raphael Ahren

Kiryat Gat man, 30, seriously hurt by rocket

Further details are emerging on the rocket fall in Kiryat Gat.

One 30-year-old man was seriously wounded from shrapnel sent flying in the explosion, while a nearby car burst into flames. A shrapnel wound in his shoulder led to significant blood loss.

The man received emergency care from MDA medics and is evacuated to hospital.

MDA and other rescue services are searching the area for additional wounded and damage.

‘Whoever says Hamas wants ceasefire doesn’t understand its mentality’

Gershon Baskin, an Israeli-American said to have contacts with Hamas, says it sent its 3,000 elite fighters to bid farewell to their families before the ground offensive because they expected to die for Allah and the land.

They especially sought the prize of kidnapped soldiers, “and I want to warn Israeli forces on the ground that this is their plan,” says Baskin, who some say was instrumental in the 2011 Shalit prisoner deal.

Gershon Baskin, September 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Gershon Baskin, September 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He stresses that there can be no negotiating with Hamas for Israel, since Hamas is opposed to the fact of Israel’s existence. Israel needs a “political initiative” that restores Mahmoud Abbas to Gaza, he says.

“Whoever says Hamas wants a ceasefire today, doesn’t understand the Hamas mentality.”

Baskin says Hamas is “ready to fight to the last fighter, the last rocket.”

Nation more united than any time since 1967, says minister

Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, running an event in the Tel Aviv Port where stores and businesses from the south are displaying their wares, reports thousands have gathered and that they “all sang ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ when Iron Dome intercepted a rocket heading for Tel Aviv just now.”

Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, December 23, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, December 23, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)

“The mood of unity in the nation is something I’ve not seen since the Six Day War,” he says.

Shalom urges Israelis to come to the event — open till 10 pm and from 8-3 tomorrow — and “buy something” from these south Israel businesses. “Do something for these people.”

Israel shows ‘Hitler-like fascism’ — Turkish PM

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan launches one of his strongest attacks yet on Israel over its offensive in the Gaza Strip, accusing the Jewish state of showing “Hitler-like fascism” against the Palestinians.

Speaking at a mass rally in eastern Turkey to promote his candidacy in presidential elections, Erdogan says he’s happy to give back an award that was bestowed upon him by an American Jewish group in 2004.

The American Jewish Congress wants the decoration to be returned after protesting Erdogan’s bitter attacks where he has compared Israel to the Third Reich which slaughtered millions of Jews in the Holocaust.

“If you support this cruelty, this genocide, this Hitler-like fascism and child murderer regime, take your award back,” Erdogan says at the election rally in the eastern province of Van.

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

In typically bombastic mood wearing a casual shirt and sunglasses, Erdogan shows no sign of reining in rhetoric that has angered not just Israel but also Ankara’s NATO ally the United States.

“What is the difference between Israeli actions and those of the Nazis and Hitler?” he asks.

“How can you explain what the Israeli state has been doing in Gaza, Palestine, if not genocide?” he says.

“This is racism. This is fascism. This is keeping Hitler’s spirit alive,” he adds.


Intense fighting in Shejaiya

Intense fighting is reported in the hard-hit Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City. The neighborhood contains a high concentration of tunnel entrances and rocket launchers, and has seen some of the bloodiest ground fighting of the campaign.

IDF tanks are seen releasing smoke to hide their maneuvers in the area while ground troops reportedly advance.

A Palestinian man, wrapped in his national flag, inspects the rubble of destroyed buildings and houses in the Shejaiya residential district of Gaza City, on July 28, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

A Palestinian man, wrapped in his national flag, inspects the rubble of destroyed buildings and houses in the Shejaiya residential district of Gaza City, on July 28, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

MDA reports 3 hurt in Kiryat Gat rocket hit

MDA reports it evacuated three wounded in the Kiryat Gat rocket landing.

Sirens sound in Gaza periphery

Sirens are sounding throughout the Gaza periphery following a volley of rockets on Kiryat Gat, Tel Aviv and Ashkelon in the past two hours.

Police remind residents to obey safety rules

Police are urging residents to obey instructions for safety under rocket fire.

According to a preliminary investigation of the rocket that fell in a residential neighborhood in Kiryat Gat, the 30-year-old man who was seriously wounded from shrapnel when the warhead detonated in the street outside had walked to his window in order to record what he expected to be an Iron Dome interception when the siren sounded.

He was thus exposed and vulnerable when the detonation sent shrapnel flying into nearby homes.

“We call on residents to listen to instructions, to go to protected rooms when sirens sound. Iron Dome works well, but it isn’t perfect,” notes Chief Superintendent Doron Ben Abu, spokesman for the Southern District of the Israel Police.

A senior officer in the IDF’s Home Front Command, Col. Yaron Bar Dayan, reiterated the warnings from the police. “Iron Dome isn’t perfect,” he says.

Even after successful Iron Dome interceptions, pieces of rockets — at times including unexploded warheads — could be falling from the sky. “Leaving the protected room before ten minutes have passed is dangerous,” warns Bar Dayan.

MDA high alert costing NIS 2m. extra per day

The Magen David Adom emergency services organization warns the Knesset that it will need an emergency infusion of funds after the current war in Gaza because it is spending NIS 2 million ($580,000) per day beyond its usual operational budget to maintain the highest level of alert.

“Right now the cannons are still roaring and this is not the place to make budget requests from the government of Israel. However, keep in mind that MDA is not like other security branches and is not funded by the state, and at the end of the fighting we plan to petition the government for assistance to find solutions to MDA’s budget for services so we can continue saving lives during emergency situations as well as day-to-day,” MDA director Eli Bin told a special session of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee yesterday in Ashdod.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies tweets that MDA now maintains 1,000 vehicles on call on a 24/7 basis.

Read the rest of the story here.

— Melanie Lidman

Livni says op to continue until south is safe

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of the security cabinet, vows that Operation Protective Edge will continue until the residents of the south of Israel are safe.

“If they keep firing, we’ll continue the operation,” she tells Channel 2.

Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni during a meeting at the Knesset on January 8, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni during a meeting at the Knesset on January 8, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

Israeli leaders are convinced Hamas is seeking a truce but it feels it can’t accept the Egyptian or Israeli conditions that leave it without achievements after a month of fighting.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear Israeli leaders want the operation to end while tunnels and rocket launchers remain intact.

“Despite their desire that we stop, we won’t stop until we know residents of the south are not threatened,” says Livni.

Sirens sound in Gaza periphery

Sirens are sounding in Gaza periphery towns.

Shaar Hanegev residents told to stay indoors

Residents are ordered not to leave their homes in two villages in the Shaar Hanegev area near the Gaza Strip due to a “security situation.”

Security forces are reportedly sweeping the area.

‘Hamas has lost the military fight’

Hamas has lost the military part of the war, says former head of IDF intelligence Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin.

“No rockets have reached the places they were supposed to reach. In the next 24 or 48 hours we’re going to annihilate Hamas’s second strategic effort, the tunnels. Militarily, this is an Israeli victory,” Yadlin reports.

Amos Yadlin (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amos Yadlin (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

However, the two sides are at a standoff when it comes to the diplomatic fight. “Now the fight is over the strategic [ceasefire] arrangements. Hamas has already reduced its demands for a ceasefire” but continues to reject an unconditional ceasefire offered by Israel and Egypt.

“Hamas lost its ability to escalate, and its ability to deter Israel. That’s very important,” Yadlin tells Channel 2. “Egypt [and other Arab players] are benefiting from the delay, from the hits Hamas is taking.”

Two hurt in Eshkol mortar attack

A mortar shell falls in the Eshkol Regional Council. Two are wounded. It is not immediately clear how badly they are wounded.

Eshkol attack casualties rise to 6

Six people are wounded in the mortar strike in the Eshkol Regional Council. The initial report from the field indicated only two people had been hit.

All the wounded have been evacuated to hospital.

Sirens sound in Gaza periphery, Ashkelon

Sirens are sounding in the Gaza periphery and Ashkelon.

Shaar Hanegev residents can leave their homes

The “security situation” in the Shaar Henegev area has ended, security services are saying. Residents in two villages in the area are now permitted to leave their homes.

Earlier, apparently suspecting infiltration of terrorists from Gaza, the IDF ordered all residents indoors and conducted massive sweeps of the area.

Palestinians ‘facing a precipice,’ says UNRWA

Palestinians are “facing a precipice” in Gaza, the top UN refugee official there tells the Security Council on Thursday in a strongly-worded appeal for action.

With more than 220,000 Palestinians already sheltering in UN facilities — four times the number from the last ground campaign in Gaza in 2008-2009 — Philippe Krahenbuhl says he has reached a breaking point.

“I believe the population is facing a precipice and appeal to the international community to take the steps necessary to address this extreme situation,” the head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA tells the 15-member Council.

Palestinians at an UNRWA school after fleeing their homes following an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 18, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinians at an UNRWA school after fleeing their homes following an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 18, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“We have exceeded the tolerable limit that we can accommodate,” Krahenbuhl says, adding that he is “alarmed” by the latest Israeli instructions to civilians to evacuate two areas in Gaza.

“It is past time for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire as called for by the Council,” he said.

“The illegal blockade of Gaza must be lifted.”

Krahenbuhl speaks to the Council by audiolink from Gaza after Israel vows to press on with its military campaign to destroy a network of tunnels used by Hamas to attack Israel.


Top UN aid official urges daily ‘pauses’ in Gaza

UNITED NATIONS — The UN humanitarian chief calls for daily “humanitarian pauses” until a long-term ceasefire is reached between Israel and Hamas in order to deliver relief to hundreds of thousands in need in Gaza, rescue the injured, and give civilians a reprieve from the war.

Valerie Amos told the Security Council that the world has watched “in horror the desperation of children and civilians that have come under attack” in Gaza. Over 80 percent of the more than 1,300 Palestinians killed were civilians, including 251 children, she says by videoconference from Trinidad and Tobago.

Israel insists that hundreds of those killed were fighters. It launched the operation in Gaza on July 8 to stem rocket fire upon Israeli towns and to locate and destroy a network of tunnels used by Hamas operatives to infiltrate into Israeli territory and carry out deadly attacks.

“The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe,” Amos says, reporting attacks on over 103 UN facilities, including one on a school Wednesday that killed 19 people and injured more than 100.

— AFP and Times of Israel staff

‘Hamas using sophisticated Qatari tech’

Though many Israelis underestimate its capabilities, Hamas actually has sophisticated computer and networking resources in terror tunnels to detect the presence of IDF troops and to automatically fire rockets and missiles at Israeli targets — and a rich sponsor is helping them.

That sponsor is Gulf oil powerhouse Qatar, says Aviad Dadon of Israeli cyber-security firm AdoreGroup. “The Qataris have invested hundreds of millions in both defensive and offensive cyber capabilities,” says Dadon.

Soldiers from the Givati brigade seen at the entrance to a Hamas 'attack tunnel' on Wednesday, July 23. The brigade's mission is to target Hamas' tunnels that cross under the Israel-Gaza border and enable Hamas terrorists to infiltrate into Israel and carry out attacks. (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)

Soldiers from the Givati brigade seen at the entrance to a Hamas ‘attack tunnel’ on Wednesday, July 23. The brigade’s mission is to target Hamas’ tunnels that cross under the Israel-Gaza border and enable Hamas terrorists to infiltrate into Israel and carry out attacks. (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)

“We have sourced 70% of the cyber-attacks on Israeli government sites in recent weeks to IP addresses associated with Qatar.”

According to Dadon, Hamas has embedded sophisticated network systems inside its terror tunnels, giving operatives in command and control centers the ability to monitor events in any of the tunnels. Using sensors and other networked equipment, terrorists can quickly be notified if an IDF unit is advancing in a tunnel, allowing them to disperse quickly — and allowing the command and control staff to set off explosives when soldiers approach a booby trap.

In addition, he says, Hamas has automated its rocket firing system using networked, cloud-based launching software provided by Qatar. “They can set off a rocket from any distance, and set them to go off at a specific time, using timers,” Dadon says. “Anyone who thinks they have dozens of people sitting next to launchers firing rockets each time there is a barrage is mistaken.”

— David Shamah

Read the rest of the story here.

Eshkol mortar attack wounded rises to eight

The number of wounded in the mortar attack earlier this evening in the Eshkol Regional Council has risen to eight.

Three are seriously wounded and were evacuated by helicopter to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

The wounded are apparently IDF soldiers in staging grounds preparing to enter the Strip.

Spokesman denies UNRWA gave rockets to Hamas

Chris Gunness, the UNRWA spokesman in Gaza, tells Channel 2 that it’s a “complete falsehood” to claim that UNRWA gave the rockets it found in its schools straight back to Hamas, as Israel has claimed. As anywhere else in the world, “the local bomb disposal experts are called in and they are taken away,” he says.

Asked how he would suggest Israel respond to being attacked by a terror group that terrorizes its people and uses locals as human shields, Gunness replies: “Make peace the only way forward.”

He says 225,000 Gazans are now sheltering in UNRWA facilities and that UNRWA is collapsing under the strain; eight UNRWA staff have been killed. He has no doubt that Israeli bombs hit the UN facilities where people have died in recent days, even though Israel has denied a role in some of the incidents.

In Gaza now, he says, there is “nowhere safe to run and nowhere safe to hide.”

‘Hamas hurting more than it has in a long time’

Finance Minister Yair Lapid says Hamas is suffering badly in the fighting.

“We are hurting Hamas like we haven’t hurt it in a long time,” he says. “There have been 4,200 [IDF] strikes. We’ve cut down to one-third their rocket arsenal and their rocket manufacturing capabilities.”

And, he adds, “the IDF won’t leave [Gaza] until the tunnel threat is over. There will be a [ceasefire] arrangement according to the Egyptian format. There is no other option on offer.”

The civilian death toll worries him “greatly,” he says. “There is something called Jewish morality that obligates us.” But, he says, “we are saddened that Hamas uses women and children as human shields and leads them to their death.”

He mocks the Gaza terror group for its claims of victory. “Hamas claims everywhere, on Al-Jazeera and other networks, that it’s winning. It’s reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s propaganda minister who declared every day that he was winning until one day he disappeared and we didn’t hear from him again.”

Israel mulling end of conflict on own terms — report

Israel is considering an alternative ending for the conflict, says Channel 2, since there’s no progress toward a formal ceasefire.

Among the elements: first, finish dealing with the tunnels; then redeploying outside the Strip; ordering airstrikes in response to further rocket fire; a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire; understandings with Egypt to prevent Hamas restrengthening; and the possibility of Mahmoud Abbas coordinating the rehabilitation of Gaza.

Ex-PM adviser latest to deny ‘hostile’ Obama call

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former national security adviser Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror is the latest senior Israeli official to deny the veracity of a transcript published by Israeli media allegedly showing US President Barack Obama aggressively demanding that Netanyahu end the Gaza operation.

“It should be clear to the people of Israel that this transcript is wrong. That should be clear,” says Amidror.

“I know of so many conversations between [Obama and Netanyahu] that I can say that this is impossible,” he adds. “The American president understands that he can’t take responsibility for Israel’s security. So he recommends or suggests, he doesn’t demand.

“Even now, the Pentagon is giving us more bombs, the White House is giving us money. How does that fit [with the alleged transcript]?” he says.

“If we let someone in the world tell us when we can destroy tunnels aimed at kidnapping Israelis, we’ll lose our ability to fight. That’s why no US president could say such things to an Israeli prime minister,” he insists.

White House calls IDF fire on UN school ‘indefensible’

The United States says there is little doubt Israeli artillery was the source of a “totally indefensible” strike that killed 16 people at a UN school in Gaza.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest notes that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had said all available evidence pointed to Israeli artillery and that the Israeli government has acknowledged its forces were firing in the area in response to Hamas fire near the school.

“So while we underscore the importance of a full and prompt investigation of this tragic incident, as well as a shelling of other UN facilities and schools that have been hit, it does not appear there’s a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved in this incident,” he says.

“That is why we have continued to urge Israeli military officials to live up to their high standards that they have set for the protection of innocent civilians. There is clearly more that can and should be done to ensure the safety of innocent civilians.”

An estimated 3,300 civilians had taken shelter in the UN school in northern Gaza when it was hit Wednesday.

“The shelling of a UN facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” Earnest said.

The attack had previously drawn a sharp condemnation by Ban who called it “reprehensible.”

Despite the mounting concern over the high civilian casualties, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with an offensive to destroy a network of tunnels that Hamas uses to attack Israel.

Civilians have accounted for two thirds of the 1,397 people killed in 24 days of fighting, according to UN estimates based on figures published by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Israel says many of the dead were combatants.

— AFP and Times of Israel staff

Sirens sound in Kerem Shalom

Sirens are sounding in the village of Kerem Shalom on Gaza’s southern border.

Sirens sound in southern cities

Sirens are sounding in Ashkelon, Ashdod and smaller villages near the Gaza border.

Opposition head Herzog rallies behind Gaza op

All of Israel is thoroughly united in its support for Operation Protective Edge because it is seen as a just war being waged responsibly, opposition leader Isaac Herzog says.

“The decisions that were taken so far were responsible and focused,” Herzog says during a conference call with reporters. “I hope they will bring an end to the fighting.”

Asked by a reporter whether he’s surprised by the “North Korea-like level of public support for the war” – according to polls, an overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis believe the military campaign is just – and whether this might endanger Israeli democracy, he laughed. “I really don’t think we’re North Korea in any possible sense,” said Herzog, who heads the center-left Labor party.

Labor Party chairman MK Isaac Herzog leads a party meeting in the Knesset on February 03, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

Labor Party chairman MK Isaac Herzog leads a party meeting in the Knesset on February 03, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

“Had I been prime minister I would have given a big blow to Hamas, and I would drive to Ramallah, knock on the door of the Muqata, enter the office of Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and start negotiating peace with him. This is my line, this is what I think should be done.”

Read the full story here.

Rocket intercepted over Ashkelon

A rocket is intercepted over Ashkelon. The rocket marks nearly 90 launches at Israeli towns throughout the day, an increase over the past few days.

IDF video shows Hamas fire from civilian areas

IDF footage shows Hamas rocket fire from deep within civilian areas, including near UN facilities.

Four rockets intercepted over Ashkelon area

Four Grad rockets are intercepted over the Hof Ashkelon region by Iron Dome.

The latest barrages on Ashkelon, Zikim, Sderot and other areas brings the total number of rockets fired from Gaza to almost 110 since this morning.

IDF reveals foiled body-snatching attempt

The IDF reveals a thwarted body-snatching attempt that took place two days ago in the southern Gaza Strip.

The 101st Paratrooper Battalion was engaged in a battle in Khan Younis in which several IDF soldiers were killed. At one point in the battle, the battalion’s commander noticed a Hamas cell dragging the body of one of the dead soldiers toward the entrance of a tunnel.

The Hamas fighter dragging the soldier’s body had already reached the entrance to the tunnel when the battalion commander charged the entrance alone in order to retrieve the body. He managed to kill the Hamas fighter, and then to drag the body back toward the IDF troops.

Zikim residents ordered indoors in ‘security event’

A “security event” is underway in Zikim, a village near the Gaza border. Residents have been ordered by security forces to lock themselves indoors, and roads in the area are closed. Security forces are conducting sweeps of the area.

9 dead in IDF airstrike in Gaza, say Palestinians

Nine are dead in an IDF airstrike in Gaza, Palestinians report.

PA mulls war crime charges against Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is seeking written pledges of support from all political factions, including rival Hamas, before making any attempt to press for possible war crimes charges against Israel, senior officials say.

Abbas hesitated in the past because such a step would transform his relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile and could put him on a collision course with the United States.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looks on as he meets with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on July 22, 2014, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (photo credit: AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looks on as he meets with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on July 22, 2014, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (photo credit: AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

The Palestinian Authority is also worried that if Palestinian officials pursue war crimes charges against Israeli officials in international courts, Israel can pursue them in the same courts for war crimes such as the firing of rockets at civilians and hundreds of suicide bombings and bombing attempts in Israeli towns. Such an Israeli effort would affect not only Hamas or Islamic Jihad, but also Abbas’s own Fatah organization.

But with over 1,400 Palestinians killed in Israel-Hamas fighting in Gaza in the past 24 days, according to officials at Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, Abbas is under growing domestic pressure to turn to the International Criminal Court to try to make a case against Israel.

Israeli officials have said Israel is acting in self-defense by targeting Hamas’s military arsenal and rocket-launching sites and have accused Hamas of using Gaza civilians as human shields.

— AP contributed

US lawmakers urge UN to seek disarming of Hamas

A group of US lawmakers releases the following statement to the media:

US Congressmen Brad Schneider (IL-10) and Doug Lamborn (CO-05) led a bipartisan group of 149 lawmakers on a letter calling on the United Nations to make the removal of Hamas’s rocket arsenal a top priority.

“The prospect for true and lasting quiet is untenable until Hamas is fully disarmed and its rocket stockpiles are completely eliminated from Gaza,” Schneider said. “Hamas’s massive stores of rockets, with ever increasing range and greater potential lethality, are an absolute barrier to any long-term peace, which is why I led my colleagues on this effort to call on the United Nations to make the immediate elimination of the rockets a top priority.”

“The UN’s purpose is to save mankind from the scourge of war and to defend fundamental human rights, but it is failing to do just that,” Lamborn said. “For some time now, the UN has wrongfully and instinctively condemned Israel. While Israel practices the greatest caution trying to prevent civilian casualties, Hamas uses civilians to protect the rockets it launches at Israel. It is time for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take the necessary steps to remove these rockets, and to support Israel in the effort to destroy the deadly tunnels.”

Hundreds of Paris police deploy for pro-Israel rally

Hundreds of riot police in Paris are deployed near the Israeli Embassy for the first major pro-Israel rally since the start of the latest Gaza war.

Several thousand people turn out for the rally, waving signs with slogans like “Gaza hostage of Hamas” and “We protest for peace.”

Demonstrators hold pro-Israel placards during a gathering in front of the Israeli Embassy in Paris, France, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Demonstrators hold pro-Israel placards during a gathering in front of the Israeli Embassy in Paris, France, Thursday, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

The demonstration happens amid persistent reports that the Jewish Defense League faces a government ban. JDL militants stepped in to assure security at synagogues during pro-Gaza protests, but were blamed for provoking violence at pro-Palestinian rallies.

France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Western Europe, and the Gaza war has raised tensions to their highest in years.

Roger Cukierman, head of the group organizing Thursday’s rally, said that Israel has the “right and duty to defend its citizens.”

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said groups “that can pose problems” can be banned.

— AP

Soldiers search for possible infiltrators in Zikim

A large numbers of security forces are mobilized to Kibbutz Zikim.

Less than an hour ago, unidentified figures were seen moving in the darkness of the fields near the kibbutz.

Roads leading to the kibbutz are closed as security forces sweep the area.

Zikim residents have been ordered to lock themselves indoors until the army concludes there are no terrorists seeking to infiltrate the communal village.

The incident marks the second suspected infiltration today. Earlier this evening, two villages in the Ramat Hanegev area were sealed for an hour out of fear that infiltrators had reached the area. The army lifted the closure after concluding that it was a false alarm.

Al Jazeera video catches rocket attack

Al Jazeera reporter Nicole Johnston stands on a dark Gaza street when the night is suddenly lit up by the apparent launch of three rockets at Israel from only a few meters away.

NOTE: The video is not accessible from the United States. This is due to restrictions placed on the video by Al Jazeera.

Airstrike in central Gaza kills 11

Palestinian news agency Ma’an reports 11 Palestinians killed and dozens injured in an Israeli airstrike on a home in the central Gaza Strip.

The target of the strike is not yet clear.

According to the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry, the airstrike “hit the al-Bayoumi family home in al-Nusairat refugee camp, killing at least 11 and injuring at least 45,” Ma’an reports.

Some 79 Palestinians have been killed so far today, Ma’an says, apparently citing Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Artillery shelling is also reported in the Jabalya refugee camp, among other areas.

IDF says 90 rockets launched into Israel Thursday

Media reports have suggested anywhere between 80 and 110 rockets fires from Gaza into Israel today.

The IDF now gives its presumably more accurate count. 90 rockets were launched at Israel. 73 hit the ground, 17 were intercepted by Iron Dome.

Several — though the IDF has not released a number — are known to have fallen inside the Gaza Strip as well.

Rocket falls near Sdot Negev

A rocket from Gaza falls near Sdot Negev near the Gaza border.

IDF lifts curfew on Zikim as infiltration ruled out

Following over two hours of IDF sweeps of the area in search of suspected Hamas infiltrators from Gaza, the army is lifting the curfew on the Gaza-periphery kibbutz of Zikim.

Residents can now leave their homes.

Police limit Temple Mount access to prevent rioting

Jerusalem police say they will limit the entrance of Muslim worshippers to the holy sites on the Temple Mount on Friday.

Men under 50 will not be granted access to the site.

Police say the decision comes due to information that Palestinian groups are attempting to organize mass protests, including violence, in the holy site to protest Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

Police also plan to deploy in force throughout the Old City and East Jerusalem Friday.

File photo of masked Palestinian protesters hurling stones at Israeli police during clashes in the Shuafat neighborhood in East Jerusalem, July 3, 2014. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

File photo of masked Palestinian protesters hurling stones at Israeli police during clashes in the Shuafat neighborhood in East Jerusalem, July 3, 2014. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

Gaza officials say death toll at 1,437

The Palestinian death toll after three weeks of intense fighting between Israel and Hamas reaches 1,437, according to officials in the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip.

Of these, 76 are killed on Thursday.

UN and Hamas figures suggest a large majority of the dead, as many as 80 percent, are civilians, while Israel claims the figure includes many hundreds of Hamas fighters, perhaps as many as 1,000.

Photos of IDF strike on Gaza house

The Washington Post publishes a series of four photos showing an IDF missile strike on a Gaza house. The missile is seen in mid-air, along with the aftermath of the strike.

‘Area man resolves conflict by checking Facebook’

The Gaza conflict, like all human events both sad and happy, is not immune to humorous and satirical responses.

This one is titled: “Area man resolves Mideast conflict by incessant checking of Facebook”

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