The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Saturday, the twelfth day of Operation Protective Edge. Two IDF soldiers — Major (res.) Amotz Greenberg, 45, and Sgt. Adar Barsano, 20 —  were killed after a Hamas terror cell infiltrated Israel through a tunnel and exchanged fire with an IDF patrol. An Israeli man was killed and four of his family members injured when a rocket hit a Bedouin community near Dimona. The army said it planned to expand its operations in the Gaza Strip after uncovering 13 terror tunnels on the Gaza border. Palestinian sources put the total Gaza death toll at over 320. (Sunday’s liveblog is here.) Remember, you can also follow @TOIAlerts on Twitter — we’re live-tweeting all the updates there as well.

Foreign Ministry warns against nonessential travel to Turkey

Welcome to Saturday’s liveblog, covering events as they unfold on the 12th day of Operation Protective Edge.

The Foreign Ministry has just issued a travel warning to Israeli citizens against nonessential travel to Turkey.

“Given the public atmosphere in Turkey in light of Operation Protective Edge, we are honing our recommendation to avoid visits to the state that aren’t essential,” the Foreign Ministry says.

Violent protests took place outside the Israeli Embassy in Ankara and the consulate in Istanbul on Thursday.

Livni’s striking comments

Among the more striking comments we’ve heard in the past few hours were remarks from Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who told Channel 2 she did not rule out Israel bringing down Hamas if that was what it took to restore security and calm for the people of Israel.

Livni, the Hatnua party head who is the the most dovish member of Israel’s inner cabinet, was asked to confirm that the goal of Israel’s current ground offensive in Gaza is not to destroy Hamas. “I’m not taking anything off the table,” she replied. “I’m not going to tell them [Hamas] what the limits [of the operation] are. Among other things, it’s up to them.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni speaks to Channel 2 on Friday July 18, 2014. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni speaks to Channel 2 on Friday July 18, 2014. (photo credit: screen capture/Channel 2)

She said Hamas, in rejecting Egyptian ceasefire efforts, and attempting to murder Israeli civilians via ongoing rocket fire and a foiled under-border tunnel infiltration near a kibbutz on Thursday morning, had shown that it “lives in a completely different opera.”

The Islamist terror group appeared to think that it could come out of this conflict with political gains, she said. “I hope they understand today that’s not going to happen.” Israel, she stressed “has no quarrel with the people of Gaza. [But] there will be no political benefit for Hamas. It is a terror group that does not accept our existence.”

Full story is here.

Earlier, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said the army was setting back the Hamas terror infrastructure by years.

“Hamas and the other terror groups in Gaza are taking heavy, continuing blows. Years they’ve spent building up their force — rockets, missiles, planning terror attacks, tunnels — all of this is being smashed by the capabilities of Israel, of the IDF,” said Gantz.

Facts and figures at start of Day 12

Palestinian sources put the Gaza death toll since this conflict began at over 290. Israel does not issue official statistics of the Gaza fatalities; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again on Friday expressed regret for all loss of innocent life, and blamed Hamas for using Gazans as human shields for its attacks on Israel.

One Israeli has been killed directly by Hamas fire, an IDF soldier was killed yesterday in an apparent IDF error by a tank shell, and two people have died of heart attacks in Israel during rocket alerts. Some 1,400 rockets have been fired by Hamas all over Israel, with the Iron Dome scoring a reported 90% success rate in intercepting those of them heading for residential areas. Hamas fired 105 rockets at Israel yesterday, defiant as the ground offensive gathered pace.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said troops would attack Hamas targets in Gaza for “as long as necessary” to restore calm. The IDF said it killed at least 20 Hamas gunmen yesterday, and captured 13 more. Israel has also thwarted two infiltrations from the sea, and on Thursday foiled an infiltration of more than a dozen gunmen who were apparently planning an attack on Kibbutz Sufa — the incident that, along with Hamas’s rejection of ceasefire efforts, seems to have been central to the decision to begin the ground offensive on Thursday night.

A picture released by the Israeli Defense Forces shows weapons found inside a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa in the Israeli Gaza border on July 17, 2014 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's office/Flash90)

A picture released by the Israel Defense Forces shows weapons found inside a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa, by the Israeli Gaza border on July 17, 2014 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit/Flash90)

Gaza death toll rises to 296

Fifty-five Gazans are killed on Friday as Israel presses a major ground offensive in the coastal enclave, raising the overall Palestinian death toll since July 8 to 296, medics say.

The latest Palestinian deaths include three members of a family killed in an Israeli strike in southern Gaza’s Rafah, as well as a 21-year-old man also killed in Rafah, says Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra.

Shortly before, eight members of a single family — two men, two women and four children — are killed in tank shelling on their home in northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun.


Code Red alert sounds in Sha’ar Hanegev

A Code Red alert sounds in the Sha’ar Hanegev area.

Earlier, a siren is heard in Hof Ashkelon.

3 soldiers hurt in clashes with Gaza militants

Three IDF soldiers are wounded in clashes with armed Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip.

Efforts are being made to evacuate the three, whose condition is not known, from the area for treatment.

‘27,000 Turks wrote pro-Hitler tweets in a day’

Turkish website Zete Gazete reports that 27,000 Turks wrote 30,000 tweets praising Hitler on July 18.

While expressing pro-Palestinian sentiments, many of the tweets equate Zionism with Nazism and Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked with Hitler.

Turkish protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against the Israeli military operations in Gaza on July 18, 2014 in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul. (photo credit: Ozan Kose/AFP)

Turkish protesters shout slogans during a demonstration against the Israeli military operations in Gaza on July 18, 2014, in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul. (photo credit: AFP/Ozan Kose)

IDF confirms ‘several injuries’ caused to troops

Amid reports that three soldiers were wounded in clashes with armed Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip, the IDF confirms that Israeli troops have suffered “several injuries” as the fighting in the coastal enclave continues.

— AFP contributed to this report.

Hamas hit hard, painfully, extensively — IDF

Hamas is being hit “hard, painfully, and extensively” as the IDF continues its operations in the Gaza Strip tonight, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit tweets.

“After years of building up its rocket arsenal, terrorist capabilities and tunnels, Hamas is being hit hard, painfully, and extensively,” reads the tweet.

7 killed outside mosque in Khan Yunis

An Israeli air strike on the southern Gaza Strip kills seven people on day 12 of Operation Protective Edge in the coastal enclave.

The strike hits a group of people outside a mosque in the southern city of Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra tells AFP, adding that three of the dead are from the same family.

One woman is among those killed, Qudra says.

The deaths bring the toll from the Israeli operation to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza to 303, many of them women and children.

One Israeli civilian and one Israeli soldier have been killed since the campaign started on July 8.


Liberman pans Turkey over violent protests

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman pans Turkey’s handling of violent anti-Israeli protests in Ankara and Istanbul, in a diplomatic spat over Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip.

Liberman accuses Turkey of not taking the “necessary preventative measures” to stop protests getting violent after people angered by the offensive in Gaza tried to storm Israeli Embassy buildings.

Turkish protesters torch an effigy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they shout slogans during a demonstration against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, Saturday, July 19, 2014 in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul. (photo credit: Ozan Kose/AFP)

Turkish protesters torch an effigy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a demonstration against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, Saturday, July 19, 2014, in front of the Israeli consulate in Istanbul. (photo credit: AFP/Ozan Kose)

“Israel protests strongly against the flagrant violation of diplomatic rules by Turkish authorities and security forces during demonstrations after the inflammatory statements of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” Liberman says in a statement late Friday.

Meanwhile, Israel orders some of its diplomatic staff in Turkey to leave the country for security reasons.


Code Red sirens heard in Ashdod, Ashkelon

Code Red sirens are heard in the southern cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon.

4 rockets shot down over Ashdod — report

Four rockets have been shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the southern city of Ashdod, Ynet News reports.

The website says a fifth rocket explodes on a road in the city, causing damage but no casualties.

NBC sends reporter back to Gaza after sudden exit

NBC says it is sending reporter Ayman Mohyeldin back to the Gaza Strip this weekend after he left the region suddenly following his eyewitness report of the killing of four Palestinian boys on Wednesday.

The network praises Mohyeldin for his “extraordinary reporting” throughout the conflict in Gaza.

Mohyeldin had a firsthand report this week on the deaths of the boys on a Gaza beach, even tweeting that he had played soccer with some of them shortly before the attack. But it struck some observers as strange that when NBC’s “Nightly News” reported on the deaths, it was correspondent Richard Engel who presented the story.

NBC would not discuss why Mohyeldin had been temporarily taken off the story.

— AP

CNN reassigns reporter after ‘scum’ tweet

CNN pulls reporter Diana Magnay out of the Middle East after she referred to a group of Israelis, who had allegedly threatened her while reporting on Gaza, as “scum” in a tweet.

Magnay was reporting live on the air as a group watched the Israeli bombardment of Gaza around her. After the report was over, she wrote on Twitter: “Israelis on hill above Sderot cheer as bombs land on #gaza; threaten to ‘destroy our car if I say a word wrong.’ Scum.”

CNN says in a statement that Magnay was referring specifically to those who threatened her. CNN says the network and Magnay are sorry if anyone was offended, adding that the reporter has been reassigned to Moscow.

— AP

Gaza toll passes 300 as UN chief heads to region

The latest Israeli air strikes kill 10 people in Gaza overnight, hiking the death toll above 300 as UN chief Ban Ki-moon heads to the region to bolster truce efforts.

An early-morning air strike outside a mosque in the southern city of Khan Yunis kills seven people, including a woman, medics say, with other raids shortly afterwards bringing the total death toll to 306 Palestinians and two Israelis.

The UN said yesterday that Ban would fly to the region later today in a bid to end the violence.


IDF confirms 4 interceptions, 1 hit in Ashdod

The IDF spokesperson confirms that four rockets were shot down over the southern city of Ashdod, while a fifth hit a residential area in the city.

Reports indicate the explosion caused massive damage.

We won’t stop dismantling Gaza terrorist infrastructure — IDF

Amid reports of a residential area in Ashdod suffering a direct hit of a rocket shot from the Gaza Strip, the IDF vows that it will “not stop” in its “mission to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure used by Hamas to attack Israeli citizens.”

It also tweets a graphic showing a terror tunnel connecting the Gaza Strip to Israeli border towns.

Hamas claims responsibility for Ashdod rockets

Hamas claims responsibility for firing five rockets at the southern city of Ashdod, reports Israeli news site Walla.

One of the rockets hit a residential area in Ashdod tonight, causing heavy damage.

Gaza death toll from overnight strikes rises to 11

A Palestinian man is killed in a strike on a home in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, raising the death toll from Israeli strikes on the coastal territory overnight to 11.

Medics say the latest strike killed 28-year-old Raed al-Laqan.

The first strike killed seven people outside a mosque, also in Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra tells AFP, adding that three of the dead are from the same family.

One woman was among those killed, Qudra says.

Three more people were killed shortly afterwards, in three separate strikes in Beit Hanoun in the north, Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, and another in Khan Yunis.


Code Red alert heard in Hof Ashkelon

For the second time this morning, a Code Red alert is heard in the Hof Ashkelon region.

No hits are reported.

Soldier injured overnight is in serious condition

One of the three IDF soldiers injured overnight is in serious condition, the army says.

The injuries of the other two soldiers are described as light-to-moderate.

Abbas speaks to Kerry about need for ceasefire

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks with US Secretary of State John Kerry over the phone Friday night on the need to reach a ceasefire as soon as possible, Palestinian media reports.

Abbas supports Egypt’s attempts to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas — efforts that Israel has endorsed, but which have so far been spurned by Hamas.

Egyptian TV host: Hamas to blame for Palestinian blood

An Egyptian TV host lashes out at Hamas demands for a ceasefire, saying its leaders belong in a mental asylum and will be responsible for continued Palestinian casualties after refusing Egypt’s truce offer.

In a segment aired on Mehwar TV, an incredulous Osama Mounir reads out Hamas’s stated terms for a ceasefire, including “building a seaport under international supervision,” as well as a demand that Egypt “open the Rafah crossing, under (Hamas’s) own supervision.”

“Are you out of your mind? Why don’t you just come over and take Tahrir Square,” Mounir exclaims. “Don’t you want the Mogamma government building for a spin? Listen to my offer: We can build a plastic pyramid, and you can turn it into a tourist trap. Maybe you’d like a Nile river with some boats in it?”

Mounir emphasizes that “it will be recorded in the annals of history that when Egypt proposed a ceasefire, Israel agreed, the US welcomed it, and so did Europe. Everybody has supported the Egyptian initiative, except for you. What do you people want?”

The TV host hastens to add that he does not support Israel in any way. “May Israel be set ablaze with dirty gasoline. Pardon the expression. These people deserve to be set ablaze,” he says, but the statement seems to be an afterthought, as he clearly blames the terrorist group for the continued violence.

“After these 10 Hamas demands, I expected an 11th demand: Restoring Mohammed Morsi to the presidency (of Egypt). Why the hell not? Someone who says such things belongs in an asylum. This is deranged.

Whoever foils the Egyptian initiative will be responsible for the Palestinian blood,” he concludes.

Bodies of 5 Palestinians pulled from rubble after Gaza air strike

The bodies of five Palestinians are pulled from the rubble of a home destroyed in an overnight Israeli air strike on southern Gaza, medics say.

The bodies are recovered from an area east of Khan Yunis, raising the death toll in Gaza — from 12 days of violence between Israel and Hamas — to 312, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says.


Sirens in Gedera, Kiryat Malachi

Sirens are also heard in the Shafir Regional Council. No injuries are reported.

IDF preparing to ‘expand’ ground op, as 13 tunnels found

The IDF says it is preparing to widen the scope of its operations in the Gaza Strip.

The army adds that a task force, established specifically to address the tunnel threat from Gaza, has helped infantry forces detect a total of 13 cross-border channels during the first stage of the ground operation, dealing a significant blow to a central component of the Hamas infrastructure.

The task force was established one year ago, combining elements of Military Intelligence’s Unit 8200, which handles signals intelligence, and the IDF mapping unit, among others, says IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.

All 13 of the tunnels found over the past day and a half stretch from Gaza to Israeli territory. Lerner says the entrances on the Gaza side have been found in greenhouses and private homes.

Additionally, Lerner asserts that the army has eliminated 3,000 rockets in Gaza. Terrorists there have fired some 1,100 projectiles, meaning that close to half of the projected 10,000 rockets in the possession of Gaza terrorists have been used or destroyed.

The army says it is currently engaged in three main efforts: the aerial assault, the limited ground offensive, and preparations “for expansion of activities.”

The air force has launched 2,356 strikes to this point.

— Mitch Ginsburg

Qatari ceasefire offer adopts most Hamas demands

Qatar has drafted its own version of a truce offer between Israel and Hamas, The Times of Israel has learned — and it adopts almost all of Hamas’s demands.

The document underscores the power struggle being waged behind the scenes of the Gaza conflict between Cairo’s new leadership and Turkey and Qatar — two countries that supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt and its ousted president Mohammed Morsi. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was removed from power in Egypt in 2013 by then military chief, now president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Promoting the document on Doha’s behalf is Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah. Washington held intensive talks with Qatar over the offer, but eventually chose the Egyptian proposal.

The draft stipulates that in exchange for a ceasefire, Israel will free Hamas prisoners who were released in the Gilad Shalit deal and re-arrested recently in the West Bank following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers; Israel will allow construction of a seaport or “sea crossing” in Gaza; Israel will fully open all crossings to Gaza; Egypt will open the Rafah Border Crossing into Egypt 24 hours a day; and Israel will allow Gaza fisherman to venture out 12 nautical miles from the Gaza coast.

— Avi Issacharoff

Hamas says terror cell has infiltrated Israel

Hamas says its operatives are operating inside Israeli territory near the central Gaza Strip, with heavy exchanges of fire between its forces and IDF troops.

IDF: Around 50,000 Gaza residents evacuate homes

The IDF says around 50,000 Palestinians have left their homes in the Gaza Strip, following warnings from Israel that it intends to operate in those areas.

Military officials say many have taken shelter in buildings and institutions operated by the UN.

Rocket alerts in Ashkelon, Dimona areas

Rocket warning sirens are heard in the Hof Ashkelon region, as well as in the towns of Dimona and Yeruham in southern Israel.

Condition of seriously wounded soldier improves

The condition of an IDF soldier who was seriously injured in a Gaza firefight Friday overnight has improved, the army says.

He is now said to be in moderate condition. Two other soldiers were lightly-to-moderately injured in the clash with a Palestinian gunman, who was killed by the troops.

Soldier hospitalized after being shot in Gaza

At least one soldier is evacuated to the hospital after being shot in the Gaza Strip this morning.

His condition is unclear.

IDF video depicts air strikes on Gaza tunnels

The IDF releases footage of air strikes on two Gaza terror tunnels Friday overnight.

The army says it has found 13 tunnels dug beneath the Gaza-Israel border, which were to be used for infiltration attacks.

Police halt civilian traffic near Gaza for ‘security’ reasons

Police forces have closed off roads in the Gaza periphery in light of security developments.

Hamas says it has attacked Israel, causing casualties

Hamas says it has carried out an operation “beyond enemy lines,” meaning inside Israeli territory, and has caused “casualties on the Israeli side.”

The army has yet to confirm the claims.

Two rockets fall near Dimona, causing no damage

Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit open fields near Dimona.

No damage or casualties are reported in the attack.

Two IDF soldiers moderately injured in Gaza

Two IDF soldiers arrive at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba after being wounded in fighting in the Gaza Strip.

The two are said to be in moderate condition.

Sirens ring out in Hof Ashkelon region

More rockets are launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip, prompting warning sirens to sound in communities in the Hof Ashkelon region near the city of Ashkelon.

There is no word of rocket impacts so far.

Reports indicate 2 firefights in northern, central Strip

Continuing the reports on firefights this morning along the Gaza border, the latest information points to two separate incidents in recent hours, with exchanges of fire reported near the border in the north of the Gaza Strip, as well as its center.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch confirms Israeli troops clashed with Gaza militants at the border. He does not say whether Hamas’s claims of an infiltration into Israeli territory are true.

The IDF has not confirmed or denied the claims.

Egypt says it won’t amend ceasefire proposal

Cairo does not intend to change the terms of its ceasefire offer to Israel and Hamas, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri says.

The Egyptian proposal, which Israel accepted but Hamas did not, states that both sides must halt all attacks and only then negotiate the terms of a longer, lasting truce.

Rocket hits building in Eshkol, starting fire

A rocket hits a building in the Eshkol regional council, causing damage and sparking a fire, Channel 2 reports.

There are no casualties and firefighters are attending to the fire.

French FM calls for ‘urgent’ ceasefire in Gaza

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius calls for an “urgent” truce in Gaza and renewed support for an Egyptian initiative accepted by Israel but spurned by its Hamas foes.

Fabius issues the call at a Cairo press conference after talks with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is rallying international support for Cairo’s ceasefire proposal.

“The ceasefire is an urgent imperative,” says Fabius, saying the French government “fully” backs Egypt’s proposal.

“The absolute priority is a ceasefire, but it must guarantee a lasting truce,” he says, adding that it should take into account “Israel’s security” and Palestinian demands.


4 Bedouin men lightly injured in rocket attack near Dimona

Four people have been injured in a rocket attack near the town of Dimona.

The four Bedouin men were reportedly lightly injured and arrived in Dimona under their own steam to receive medical treatment.

IDF confirms 4 soldiers wounded in cross-border terror attack

The IDF confirms four soldiers were wounded this morning and one terrorist was killed in exchanges of fire with gunmen near the Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip. The incident is not yet over.

A number of terrorists infiltrated Israeli territory through an underground tunnel, in an apparent attempt to carry out an attack on one of the nearby communities, the army says.

The terror cell encountered an IDF patrol and opened fire with machine guns and anti-tank weaponry. Troops returned fire, pushing the terrorists back over the border and killing one of them.

Four soldiers were injured in the attack, two moderately and two lightly, and evacuated to the hospital.

The army adds that the air force has carried out a subsequent air strike targeting the terrorists involved in the attack.

The event is ongoing.

Man killed, 4 family members injured in Negev rocket attack

Contrary to initial reports, a Bedouin family hit by a rocket near Dimona earlier has suffered grave casualties.

A man, 32, was killed in the attack. Four other family members, two women and two children, were wounded in the attack. Reports on their conditions vary; some reports say a baby is in serious condition.

Residents near Gaza infiltration site ordered to ‘stay in homes’

At Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, in the area of a reported Hamas infiltration this morning, kibbutz member Danny Cohen tells Channel 2 that “we’ve been hearing lots of shooting” and that residents of the kibbutz are heeding orders to stay in their homes, “awaiting further instructions.”

He says the army is searching for possible Hamas terrorists in the area. “It’s not the first time we’ve had to deal with infiltrations,” adds Cohen.

Five killed in Gaza strikes as death toll reaches 323

Three people from a single family are killed in an Israeli air strike on the northern Gaza Strip, medics say.

The three members of the Zuweidi family were killed in Beit Hanoun, where a fourth person is also killed in a separate air strike, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says.

A 25-year-old woman is also killed in an Israeli air strike in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah, raising the death toll in 12 days of violence in Gaza to 323, he adds.


IDF says major attack foiled in clash with Gaza infiltrators

The IDF says it believes it has foiled a major attack on Israeli civilians or soldiers near the Israeli community of Ein Hashlosha on the Gaza border this morning.

A large amount of weaponry was found at the scene of the clash between IDF troops and the terrorists who infiltrated Israel from the central Gaza Strip.

Searches are still continuing, to ensure no more gunmen are on the loose.

Barrage of rockets fired at Israeli communities

Following the lethal rocket attack near Dimona, missiles continue to rain down on Israel.

The Iron Dome intercepts two rockets over Kiryat Gat. Two rockets fired at Kiryat Malachi fall in open areas, causing no damage. Another rocket falls in the Be’er Tuvia regional council, with no damage reported.

Several more rockets are reported to be hitting the Eshkol region.

IDF photos show weapons used by Gaza infiltrators today

The IDF publishes photos of weaponry used by a group of terrorists who infiltrated Israel from the central Gaza Strip this morning.

Thousands take part in Galilee rally against IDF Gaza operation

Thousands of people are taking part in a demonstration in Kafr Kanna in the Galilee against Israel’s ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

Channel 2 reports that between 3,000 and 4,000 people are at the rally, organized by the Islamic Movement, including its leader — radical Arab-Israeli cleric Sheikh Raed Salah.

IDF soldiers find 3 tunnel shafts during Gaza operations

IDF troops uncover three tunnel shafts used by terror groups during operations in the Gaza Strip, the army says.

These are in addition to the 13 tunnels leading into Israeli territory that the army had uncovered by Friday night.

Over 30 rockets have been fired at Israel since midnight

Several rockets hit Eshkol region in past 30 minutes

Between three and four rockets are launched into Israel in the past half-hour, hitting open areas in the Eshkol region.

Around 35 rockets have been launched at Israel since midnight.

Army says Eshkol residents free to leave homes

The army has given the all-clear to residents of the Eshkol region, near the site of this morning’s infiltration attack, saying they can leave their homes.

Residents were earlier instructed to stay indoors, due to fears that terrorists were still in Israeli territory following the cross-border attack.

Egypt turns back aid convoy headed for Gaza

Egyptian soldiers in north Sinai are preventing an aid convoy of activists from reaching the Rafah Border Crossing and entering the Gaza Strip, an AFP correspondent reports.

An army officer at the Balloza checkpoint, one of many along the desert highway to Rafah, said that the security situation in the restive peninsula was too unstable to allow the convoy of 11 buses and 500 activists to pass, the journalist says.

The report is being confirmed on Twitter by numerous people who were part of the convoy.

Massive anti-Israel protest underway in London

Tens of thousands of protesters are marching in London against Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, now in its 12th day.

Protesters, marching to the Israeli Embassy in the British capital, are calling for “freedom and justice in Palestine.”

People are carrying placards that read “Gaza, stop the massacre.”

The director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Sarah Colborne, tells Huffington Post UK: “Today’s national demonstration will give people from across the country the chance to say enough is enough; Israel’s siege of Gaza and its occupation of Palestinian land has to end now.

“People want justice and freedom for the Palestinians, and they will be voicing this in their thousands,” she says.

IDF officer in serious condition after morning clash with infiltrators

An IDF officer is in serious condition following this morning’s clash with a group of five terrorists who infiltrated Israel from the Gaza Strip through an underground tunnel.

The incident occurred near Ein Hashlosha, a community close to the Gaza border.

A total of four soldiers were hurt in the attack on the patrol. At least one Palestinian gunman was killed.

Rocket explodes in Eshkol region, no injuries

A rocket explodes in the Eshkol Regional Council near the Gaza Strip, triggering a siren in the area.

There are no reports of injuries.

Kashmir teenager killed during anti-Israel protest

SRINAGAR, India — Government forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir fired Saturday on protesters rallying against Israel’s invasion of Gaza, killing a teenage boy, police say.

Troops opened fire after the protesters clashed with security forces in Khudwani, a village south of Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir, a police officer says, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

Police did not give the boy’s age, but residents say he was 15 or 16.

More protests erupted following the boy’s death and spread to at least two nearby towns where police were using tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.

Kashmir has witnessed massive pro-Palestinian protests almost every day since Israel launched its military campaign in Gaza.

Protesters have been burning Israeli flags and clashing with government forces at several places in the region, injuring at least five people.

— AP

Two rockets explode near Sdot Negev

Two rockets explode in open territory near Sdot Negev in southern Israel. There are no reports of injuries or damage.

IDF says two gunmen killed in southern Gaza Strip

The IDF says its forces killed two Palestinian gunmen who fired an anti-tank missile at troops in the southern Gaza Strip.

Bedouin man killed in rocket fire near Dimona laid to rest

The Bedouin man killed earlier today in a rocket attack near Dimona is laid to rest.

Ouda Lafi al-Waj, 32, was killed and four members of his family were injured when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a small Bedouin area near the city.

A three-month-old baby is in serious condition following the attack and remains in hospital. A four-year-old boy and two women suffered light injuries.

Hamas seems euphoric, says ToI analyst

The Times of Israel’s Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff files an analysis piece highlighting that Israel is caught in a war between the divided Sunni Muslim world. On one side: Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, with Jordan and Saudi Arabia likely to join them in the next couple of days. On the other, Qatar, Turkey and Hamas, as well as other global supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

He says Hamas “is confident, even euphoric. In recent days, people who came into contact with the Palestinian terror organization’s leaders report that the sense they are broadcasting is that Hamas is besieging Tel Aviv, and that it will be starting its invasion of Israel shortly — and not that the IDF is striking hard at Gaza, has its ground troops hitting Hamas in the Palestinian enclave, and is setting back the Hamas terrorist infrastructure by years, as IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz put it on Friday night….

“All this requires Israel to reconsider its preconceived notions and its plans of action with regard to Hamas… Hamas has been operating under the basic assumption that Israel will ultimately work to preserve its hold on the Strip. Hence Hamas’s current confidence, even euphoria. Hamas believes Israel does not want to bring it down or to assassinate its leaders….

“This is not a recommendation for the IDF to reoccupy Gaza. But to bring an end to this conflict, Hamas must be led to believe that its demise may be just around the corner if it does not lay down its weapons. It certainly doesn’t think that now.”

Read the full story here.

Hamas official says only Egypt can broker ceasefire

Cairo-based Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk says Egypt is the only country that can broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but that he will not agree to have Hamas’s actions described as terror activities, as the Egyptian initiative proposes.

In an interview with Egyptian TV cited by Israel Radio, Abu Marzouk says Hamas and other organizations in the Gaza Strip feel that they have the upper hand, intimating that they are in no rush.

Abu Marzouk confirms that most of the homes hit by the IDF in Operation Protective Edge belong to Hamas members.

The Hamas official called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defeatist and a coward, and said the Israeli leader chose to put boots on the ground after he failed to achieve anything from the air.

He added that Netanyahu has sent him almost two dozen messages via mediators, expressing an interest in a ceasefire.

Egypt says it has no intention of amending the terms of its proposed ceasefire, submitted on Tuesday.

IDF set to expand ground op, go further into Gaza

The IDF is set to expand its ground offensive in Gaza, moving further into the Palestinian enclave.

To date, IDF forces have generally not entered more than three kilometers into Gaza. Channel 2 says that more reservists and standing army forces, not hitherto involved, may be utilized.

The IDF has numerous targets for ground forces to tackle, according to the report.

Avi Dichter, who was head of the Shin Bet when Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield to stop Hamas suicide bombers and other terrorism from the West Bank in 2002, says Israel can and must destroy Hamas’s rockets, tunnels and other terrorist capabilities in a major offensive.

“This is not the same as reconquering the Gaza Strip,” he says, noting that Israel did not reconquer the West Bank in Defensive Shield.

Avi Dichter speaks at a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel (photo credit: AP/File)

Avi Dichter (photo credit: AP/File)

IAF destroys Gaza City rocket launcher primed to fire

The Israeli Air Force destroys a rocket launcher primed to fire, which was located in the “Botanical Garden” in Gaza City, Channel 2 says.

Defying ban, thousands of anti-Israel protesters gather in Paris

Thousands of anti-Israel protesters are gathering in Paris, defying a police ban on demonstrations announced Friday following a clash with riot police last weekend that trapped hundreds of Jews in two synagogues.

The demonstrators are protesting against Operation Protective Edge, using the event to also chant against the French government and French President Francois Hollande, in particular, for issuing the ban, France 24 reports.

Hollande has said he will not allow the flare-up in hostilities to spill over into France.

“That’s why I asked the interior minister, after an investigation, to ensure that such protests would not take place,” he said.

Police are using tear gas to disperse the protest.

“Those who do not respect the ban, in support of protests or against them, face the risk of being stopped, arrested and handed over to the courts,” Paris police said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Hamas leaders hiding under Gaza City hospital, says IDF official

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Major General Yoav Mordechai, says Hamas leaders are hiding in bunkers under the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and that one of them even made use of an ambulance to leave.

In an interview with the BBC in Arabic, picked up by Israel Radio, Mordechai adds that senior Hamas military wing official Marwan Issa is hiding in a home with children, using them as human shields.

Three rockets intercepted over Beersheba

The Iron Dome intercepts three rockets over Beersheba, after a salvo of eight rockets is fired at the city.

Five land in open terrain.

Sirens sound in Hof Ashkelon Regional Council

Hamas’s English Twitter feed suspended

According to initial reports, the English Twitter feed of Hamas’s military wing has been suspended and could not be accessed as of Saturday afternoon.

Its Hebrew and Arabic feeds are active.

Sirens in Ashdod, Sharon region, Rishon Lezion

Sirens blare in Ashdod, the Sharon region, Ashkelon, Herzliya, Rishon Lezion and Rehovot.

2 soldiers killed in morning Hamas infiltration

Two IDF soldiers, including an officer, were killed this morning when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israeli territory through a tunnel from the central Gaza Strip and ambushed a military vehicle patrolling on the Israeli side of the border, the IDF says.

The information has been cleared for publication, after the families were notified of the deaths.

The deaths were the first of soldiers killed by Hamas since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8.

This morning, the terrorist cell infiltrated Israeli territory through an underground tunnel, in an apparent attempt to carry out a major attack on one of the nearby communities.

The gunmen encountered an IDF patrol and opened fire with machine guns and anti-tank weaponry, killing the two officers, moderately wounding two other soldiers and lightly wounding two more.

IDF names two soldiers killed in morning raid near Gaza

The two IDF soldiers killed in this morning’s raid by Hamas infiltrators on a military patrol near Ein Hashlosha were named as Major (res.) Amotz Greenberg, 45 from Hod Hasharon, and Adar Barsano, 20, from Nahariya.

The families were notified of their deaths.

Gaza death toll climbs to 342

The Gaza death toll hit 342 on Saturday as Israel intensified its air strikes and troops pressed a ground assault on the 12th day of Operation Protective Edge.

The latest incident saw two men, aged 25 and 31, killed in an air strike near Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

And another two people were killed in Zeitoun, east of Gaza City, raising the number of Palestinians killed on Saturday to 45.

— AFP, Times of Israel staff

12 soldiers injured over past 24 hours, says IDF

The IDF says 12 soldiers have been injured over the past 24 hours as part of Operation Protective Edge.

“Since yesterday evening and up till now, two IDF officers were injured severely; three IDF officers and an IDF soldier were moderately injured; and an IDF officer, as well as five IDF soldiers, were lightly injured during IDF operations in the Gaza Strip,” according to an IDF statement.

Rocket intercepted over Greater Tel Aviv region

Iron Dome intercepts a rocket from Gaza fired at the Tel Aviv region.

IDF: 20 more tunnels of kind used in deadly morning raid

The IDF fears there are 20 more tunnels of the kind used in this morning’s deadly attack on an IDF patrol, which killed two soldiers, and has widened the search for them.

Materiel found after the attack, including handcuffs and bottles containing sedatives, indicates that Hamas planned to kill and kidnap soldiers and/or civilians and take them back to Gaza.

Thirty-four tunnel openings have been found since the ground operation began, many of them dug under the border with Israel.

The army has bolstered its deployment of troops on the Israeli side of the Gaza border to guard against future such attacks.

Lapid: There will be more fatalities on Israeli side

Finance Minister Yair Lapid says that Israel must prepare for more fatalities like those today, in which two soldiers were killed in a Hamas raid.

“All those who hesitated [ahead of a ground operation] must prepare for fatalities as there are likely to be more. We must take this into account,” he tells Channel 2.

Lapid assessed that Israel’s ground incursion into Gaza has been successful so far, as 34 tunnel shafts have been uncovered, including five very sophisticated ones that reach relatively deep into Israel.

“We’re talking about an ongoing operation; there are no magic solutions,” he says.

Lapid adds that there are discussions with Egypt — “and only Egypt” — on ceasefire negotiations.

US supports Israeli op to prevent rocket fire, says envoy

US envoy Dan Shapiro says the US “supports the Israeli operation to prevent rocket fire” and “understands” the current effort to thwart the tunnel threat.

He tells Channel 2 that the US also wants Israel to minimize civilian fatalities in Gaza, which, according to him, Israel also recognizes as an imperative.

“Only the Egyptians” have the history and the connections and regional clout to broker a ceasefire deal, claims Shapiro, recalling that they did so in 2012.

IDF spokesperson: We are taking apart Hamas’s tunnels

IDF spokesperson Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz says the IDF, in uncovering dozens of terror tunnels, has been neutralizing threats Hamas has been working on for years.

“We are taking apart Hamas’s tunnels. The tunnels we’ve uncovered have thwarted attacks and kidnappings,” he tells Channel 2.

“Hamas is looking for weaknesses in our defense,” he says, adding that the terror organization is being “hit hard.”

WATCH: IDF uncovers Gaza house rigged with explosives

While searching a house belonging to civilians in Gaza, the IDF discovers it is rigged with explosives.

Israel more barbaric than Hitler, says Turkish PM

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Israel of “barbarism that surpasses Hitler” during its ground invasion of Gaza.

Erdogan says Israel is using disproportionate force in Gaza and that the operation there has derailed efforts to normalize Turkish-Israeli ties. Those soured after Israel’s 2010 raid on an aid ship that killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American.

Erdogan spoke in a campaign speech Saturday in the Black Sea port city of Ordu. He is running for the presidency in elections next month.

The Turkish PM has been speaking out strongly against Israel during its offensive against Hamas, which has killed more than 300 Palestinians.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the parliament in Ankara, July 15, 2014.  (photo credit: AFP/ADEM ALTAN)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the parliament in Ankara, July 15, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)

Hundreds have also staged protests in recent days outside Israeli diplomatic missions in Ankara and Istanbul and more were scheduled for later today.

Protests on Thursday turned violent when demonstrators attacked the embassy and consulate in the country. In response, Israel announced that it was pulling some diplomatic staff out of Turkey.

Demonstrators throw stones at the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, as they protest against Israel's military action in Gaza, on July 18, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)

Demonstrators throw stones at the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, as they protest against Israel’s military action in Gaza, on July 18, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)

— AP, Times of Israel staff

Rocket shot down over Beersheba

The Iron Dome intercepts a rocket over Beersheba, after terrorists fire a salvo of five projectiles at the city.

The rest land in open territory. There are no reports of injuries or damage.

Liberman disses Hanin Zoabi for comments on Gaza op

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman says he will appeal to the Central Elections Committee to disqualify the Arab-Israeli Balad party from running in the next Knesset elections due to MK Hanin Zoabi’s recent comments about Operation Protective Edge.

Zoabi said in an interview with Al Jazeera that Israelis want a short campaign “because the Israeli home front cannot stand a protracted conflict.”

Israel is afraid of a ground invasion into Gaza, the controversial lawmaker said, adding that the “Palestinian resistance will not surrender.”

Following her comments, a Hamas spokesman, in an official statement, hailed Zoabi as a “Palestinian woman full of patriotism,” expressing the wish that some in the Palestinian Authority would follow her example, according to Liberman.

Members of Balad are “sworn enemies of Israel,” Liberman says, and don’t deserve to serve in the Knesset.

Iron Dome intercepts two more rockets over Beersheba

Iron Dome intercepts two more rockets over Beersheba. Two others explode in open terrain.

IDF says troops kill gunman who emerged from tunnel in Gaza

The IDF says troops from the Paratroopers Brigade fired on a gunman who emerged from a tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, killing him.

Hamas infiltrators wore IDF uniforms in morning raid

The Hamas terrorists who infiltrated into Israel via an underground tunnel this morning, in a raid which killed two soldiers, were wearing IDF uniforms.

They were also carrying weapons, handcuffs and sedatives, indicating the plan was to kidnap soldiers or civilians and take them back into Gaza.

Military sources say the two soldiers and the IDF jeep in which they were patrolling were not the target of the infiltration. That their patrol happened to be in the area when the Hamas gunmen emerged prevented a far worse terrorist attack, the sources said.

Envoy indicates US wants to see Abbas ruling Gaza after conflict over

More of what US Ambassador Dan Shapiro said in a Channel 2 interview earlier tonight.

He indicated that the US wants to see Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority restored to ruling Gaza after the current conflict is over, and will make efforts to bring this about.

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro (Photo credit: Curtesy)

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro (photo credit: Courtesy)

Shapiro was asked about the unity government formed last month by Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas. He did not reply directly and instead noted that Abbas was currently in close contact with Egypt, trying to broker a ceasefire to end the Hamas-Israel hostilities.

Then he said, “At the end of this conflict, we’ll seek to help the moderate elements among the Palestinians to become stronger in Gaza,” referring to Abbas’s PA. “They might be able to run Gaza more effectively than Hamas, a terror organization.”

Read the full story here.

Police arrest two in Tel Aviv rallies protesting Gaza op

Police arrest two right-wingers for disturbing the peace at a rally in Tel Aviv in support of Operation Protective Edge as hundreds of others were protesting against the Gaza operation at Habima Square in Tel Aviv.

The anti-operation demonstrators were calling for the IDF to leave Gaza.

Police and Border Police forces were on the scene, separating the two opposing rallies.

‘Security consultations’ held throughout day at Defense Ministry

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been holding “security consultations” with senior ministers and military officials throughout the day at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, the Prime Minister’s Office says.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s routine cabinet session has been cancelled. Since both the full cabinet of all government ministers and the eight-member security cabinet convened Friday, no additional meeting is necessary, officials in Jerusalem say.

— Raphael Ahren

Anti-Israel protests in Paris turn ugly once again

Clashes broke out in Paris after hundreds gathered in defiance of a ban on their demonstration, with crowds throwing stones and bottles at riot police, who responded with tear gas.

Some 33 people were arrested by early evening, a police source says, while three police officers were injured in the disorder near Montmartre in the north of the French capital.

Protests were permitted in other French cities, where thousands turned out including in Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg, while several thousand also rallied in solidarity with the Palestinians in Brussels.

Protesters stand next to burning pallets as they clash with riot police near the Barbes-Rochechouart aerial metro station in Paris on July 19, 2014 in the aftermath of a demonstration, banned by French police, to denounce Israel's military campaign in Gaza and show their support for the Palestinian people. (Photo credit: AFP/ JACQUES DEMARTHON)

Protesters stand next to burning pallets as they clash with riot police near the Barbes-Rochechouart aerial metro station in Paris on July 19, 2014, in the aftermath of a demonstration, banned by French police, to denounce Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and show their support for the Palestinian people. (photo credit: AFP/Jacques Demarthon)

Protesters run by a fire barricade near the aerial metro station of Barbes-Rochechouart, in Paris, on July 19, 2014, during clashes with French riot police in the aftermath of a demonstration, banned by French police, to denounce Israel's military campaign in Gaza. Photo credit: AFP/ FRANCOIS GUILLOT)

Protesters run by a fire barricade near the aerial metro station of Barbes-Rochechouart, in Paris, on July 19, 2014, during clashes with French riot police. (photo credit: AFP/Francois Guillot)

Last weekend, anti-Israel protesters trapped hundreds of Jews in a synagogue in Paris after clashing with pro-Israel protesters outside the shul.

PA President Abbas to meet Hamas’s Mashaal in Doha

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to meet Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal on Sunday in Doha, Qatar. to discuss a ceasefire with Israel.

An official close to Abbas, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, says: “The president will meet Mashaal to discuss ways of reaching a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.”

— AFP, Times of Israel staff

94 rockets fired from Gaza today, 36 shot down

The Iron Dome system has intercepted 36 rockets so far today from a total of 94 projectiles launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli cities throughout the day, according to the latest IDF figures.

Reports of heavy IDF tank shelling in Gaza

Journalists in the Gaza Strip are reporting heavy tank shelling in several Gaza City neighborhoods.

Netanyahu speaks to Canadian PM, French FM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, discussing the ongoing operation in Gaza.

“I don’t think that the international community should create any kind of symmetry between a democracy that acts in legitimate self-defense while trying to avoid civilian casualties and a terrorist organization deliberately trying to harm millions of innocent civilians,” Netanyahu tells Fabius at the beginning of their meeting today. “I know this is not France’s position and it shouldn’t be the position of anyone in the international community.”

Speaking to Harper over the phone, Netanyahu mentioned the rockets found late last week in a Gaza school run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency in charge of Palestinian refugees.

“Hamas hides rockets in schools and shoots them at [Israeli] schools,” he says. Hamas is using schools, homes, mosques and hospitals to launch rockets at Israeli citizens. Hamas is using innocent civilians as human shields for their terrorist activities. Therefore, when civilians are inadvertently hit, it’s Hamas’s responsibility,” he tells the Canadian PM.

— Raphael Ahren

‘Likely stray’ Gaza rocket wounds Egyptian soldier

A rocket probably fired from the Gaza Strip hit Egypt’s Rafah Border Crossing with the coastal enclave, wounding a soldier, a security official reports.

The rocket “was most likely fired from Gaza and fell into Egyptian territory by mistake,” the official says.

The incident comes on the heels of an attack by gunmen in western Egypt that left 21 Egyptian soldiers dead.

— AFP and Times of Israel staff

Hamas submits ceasefire demands to Qatar, Turkey

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum tells Palestinian daily Al-Resalah that the Islamist group has submitted its ceasefire demands to Qatar and Turkey, but so far there is no other initiative than Egypt’s.

Osama Hamdan, Hamas’s international relations spokesperson, tells the paper that the Egyptian initiative didn’t favor the Palestinian people, and there was no serious initiative they could accept.

Elhanan Miller

Slate’s Middle East friendship chart

In case the convoluted nature of international relations in the Middle East is making your head spin, Slate offers a simple guide to which state and non-state actors are friends, foes, or somewhere in between.

While the column for Israel has no shortage of red faces (indicating enemies), it does show a surprising “it’s complicated” for Saudi Arabia, a state which doesn’t have formal relations with the Jewish state. Only Al-Qaeda and ISIS have more enemies than Israel on the Slate Middle East Friendship chart.

The end of another harrowing day

It’s the end of another harrowing day, and we’re going to close this Saturday live blog.

The 12th day of Operation Protective Edge saw the IDF intensify its hunt for Hamas cross-border tunnels, after gunmen emerging from one such tunnel opened fire on an IDF patrol, with fatal consequences. Israeli troops were also still trying to stop the Hamas rocket fire, which caused one fatality, and left a baby girl badly injured. The Gaza death toll rose inexorably.

Around the world, meanwhile, and notably in Europe, anti-Israel protests spread — though much of the Arab world was notably quiet.

We wish you a good night from Jerusalem, which seems a lot to ask for these days.

Our colleague Ilan Ben Zion has started Sunday’s live blog here.

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