Live blog (now closed): Operation Pillar of Defense, Day 6, Part 1

Grad rocket hits Ashkelon school; kids had been sent home, so no injuries

Rocket fire from Gaza intensifies; vacant school suffers third hit in past decade; Palestinian sources say 11 killed in overnight strikes on Gaza; conflicting reports on progress of talks in Cairo

Police  inspect the damage to an Ashkelon school caused by a rocket fired from Gaza (screen capture/Channel 2)
Police inspect the damage to an Ashkelon school caused by a rocket fired from Gaza (screen capture/Channel 2)

This live blog, detailing events as they unfolded through to midday Monday, is now closed.

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Palestinian sources are saying that Israel has a team in Cairo, not just a representative as was rumored before. According to the sources, serious negotiations are taking place and there are indications that an agreement may be possible in the next few days.

The Israeli administration and the IDF have given no indication that an end to hostilities is imminent. With President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman stating today that an end to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip must precede any de-escalation or ceasefire.

In the last hour and a half rockets were fired at Kiryat Malachi, Ashdod, Eshkol and the Be’er Tuvia area, with one rocket hitting a home in Be’er Tuvia, and the rest falling in open areas or being shot down by Iron Dome.

The Iron Dome battery next to Ashdod misfired during that volley, and one of its missiles crash-landed shortly after the launch. There were no reports of injuries or damage. Channel 10 captures the moment:

Officials have announced that schools in the south will be closed again Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s approval rating is at 73%, indicates a poll sponsored by Channel 2 News and conducted after the start of Operation Pillar of Defense.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has a 66% approval rating, according to the poll.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

PA official Nabil Shaath tells Ma’an news agency from Cairo that although negotiations between Hamas and an Israeli representative have entered “a serious stage”, a ceasefire will not likely be finalized soon.

Shaath says he has been fully updated on developments by Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal and his deputy Moussa Abu-Marzouq who are both in Cairo.

According to Shaath, Hamas and the other factions in Gaza are demanding the following conditions for a ceasefire to take effect:

1. Israel must completely lift the blockade on Gaza.

2. Israel must stop its incursions into the Gaza Strip.

3. Israel must stop targeted killings of faction leaders in Gaza.

4. Israel must stop attacking Gaza fishermen and firing at them.

The Israeli conditions, reported by Palestinian sources on Ma’an are as follows:

1. The ceasefire must last for over 15 years.

2. Weapons must no longer be let into Gaza.

3. Hamas and the factions must stop shooting missiles and targeting Israeli forces on the border.

4. Israel may conduct a “hot” pursuit into the Gaza Strip if it has information on an imminent attack.

5. The removal of the blockade will be done from the Egyptian side, not the Israeli.

6. President Morsi is the personal guarantor for the agreement, and not Egyptian security forces.

Shaath tells Ma’an that Mashaal could not speak of a timetable for implementing the agreement, due to “the threats of [Benjamin] Netanyahu.”

After a late night meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman have approved the expansion of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip and preparations for a ground incursion, reports Walla News.

Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, the party’s legislative body has called for an emergency meeting to discuss the situation in Gaza, according to the Ma’an News Agency.

Palestinian sources are reporting that two people are dead after an Israeli airstrike on a car in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announces that starting Monday reserve soldiers will be able to use all forms of transportation, including Jerusalem’s light rail system, free of charge.

Soldiers sit on the bus on their way to an army base in Beersheba (photo credit: Serge Attal/Flash90/File)

For the last couple of hours, quiet in southern Israel.

Fifty rockets were shot down by Iron Dome on Sunday, and the IDF says that Hamas’s firing capability is dwindling.

Palestinian sources reporting that the Al Abbas police station in Gaza City has been struck by the Israeli Air Force.

According to the sources, the station is close to the Al-Shifa hospital, which is the Gaza Strip’s central medical facility.

Imprisoned terrorist Marwan Barghouti is calling on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to visit the Gaza Strip in order to “demonstrate the stability of the resistance,” according to the Ma’an News Agency.

According to the report, Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison on multiple charges of murder, condemned the “Israeli aggression” and called the offensive on Gaza and attack on all Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and citizens of the free world.

Marwan Barghouti in court in 2002 (photo credit: Flash90)

Palestinian sources reporting heavy casualties after the IAF struck a house in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

Medical officials cited by Reuters say that three people, including two children, were killed and some 30 injured in the attack.

Medical officials in the Gaza Strip say the overnight death toll has risen to nine people, including the three from the Israeli airstrike in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

Palestinian sources calling the airstrike on a house in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City a “massacre.” The Associated Press is now reporting that four people were killed in that attack, including two children, and 42 people were injured.

The incident follows Sunday’s apparent accidental targeting of the Gaza home of the Dalo family, in which 11 people were killed, including several children.

The upsurge in civilian casualties over the last 24 hours is likely to increase international pressure on Israel to negotiate an end to hostilities.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrives in the region today, stopping first in Egypt to meet with President Mohammed Morsi regarding the situation in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

In a statement, Ban said Sunday that he was “deeply saddened” by the deaths of the civilians and “alarmed by the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns.”

The UN chief is expected in Israel later this week.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Rockets lands in an open areas in the Shaar Hanegev and Eshkol regions. No reports of injuries or damage.

Israel Radio is reporting that 40,000 reserve soldiers have been drafted and equipped and are prepared for the order to enter the Gaza Strip.

Soldiers take part in exercises simulating fighting in Gaza, at a military base in the Negev on November 17 (photo credit: Edi Israel/Flash90)

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Ge, Yoav Mordechai says that despite the ongoing rocket fire from Gaza, the IDF has seriously diminished the terrorists’ missile firing capabilities.

The IAF has carried out 1,350 airstrikes since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday.

Shaul Mofaz. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Former Defense Minister and IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz says the IDF has additional tools at its disposal that it can utilize before launching a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.

“Any ground operation must have concrete goals: striking a blow to the terror organizations top command echelon, ending rocket fire on Israel and destroying terrorist weapons, all these in order to lay the groundwork for a favorable ceasefire,” says Mofaz, who is the chairman of Kadima and current opposition head.

Mofaz says that Israel currently enjoys international support for its actions, but that the safety of Israeli citizens is more important than world opinion and that if necessary, it must act with its full might.

Hamas television says three killed in air strike Monday morning in Gaza.

Sirens sounds in Hof Ashkelon, media reports four rockets exploded in open areas of Eshkol region, no reports of injuries or damage.

Army Radio interviews a dairy farmer from Kibbutz Zikim, in the Hof Ashkelon region, who says that the stress humans feel during the hostilities is also experienced by cows.

The farmer says that the near constant sirens and sounds of explosions heard over the last few days causes stress that manifests in reduced quantity and quality of milk. Irregular milking due to attacks also harm production, he says.

The dairy farmer union has opened a hot line for farmers offering them advise on how to calm the nerves of their bovine friends.

Dairy cows in Kibbutz Galgal (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli media reports that rockets were fired at southern port city of Eilat. Initial reports suggest rockets landed in open areas causing no damage or injuries.

The Gaza conflict is leading to an increase in the price of oil, raising concerns about crude supplies.

The price of oil rises above 87 dollars a barrel Monday in Asia.

Gordon Kwan, head of energy research at Mirae Asset Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong, says some investors fear that oil supplies could be disrupted if the Israel-Hamas conflict engulfs countries elsewhere in the Middle East, a huge producer of crude.

The “market is putting a geopolitical premium on the price of oil amid escalating tensions between Israel and Palestine and that could continue for some time,” Kwan says. The fighting comes just as winter arrives in the US and China, at time when energy demands climb.

Security services say reported explosions in Eilat were not as a result of a rocket attack. Security forces and police are investigating the source of the loud noises heard in the resort town this morning.

Security forces say explosion in Eilat on Monday morning was caused by an anti-tank missile, apparently fired from Sinai. One person was treated for shock and there are no reports of other injuries or damage.

Palestinian blogger Shahd Abusalama posts a list of the names and ages of people killed by Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. The list, arranged in chronological order, details the manner of death of each of the 84 deceased. It doesn’t differentiate between combatants and civilians.

“We’ll remain ready to pay any price for attaining of freedom and dignity,” writes Abusalama.

Palestinian mourners in Gaza pray over five bodies, draped in Hamas flags, of people who were killed by an Israeli air strike, November 17 (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)


Musa Abumarzuq, deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, explains the organization’s version of the Gaza conflict in an op-ed in The Guardian.

Abumarzuq says Hamas has the right to defend the Palestinian people against Israeli aggression if the world stands by. He also claims that the current round of fighting was orchestrated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to boost his popularity before the coming general elections in Israel.

Abumarzuq charges that the 1996 Second Lebanon War launched under then prime minister Shimon Peres and the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza under Ehud Olmert’s premiership are examples of Israeli leaders going to war to gain popularity ahead of an election. (Neither Peres nor Olmert was reelected.)

Veteran journalists Haim Yavin and Gadi Sukenik are being interviewed about the media’s coverage of the conflict on Channel 2. Both men are criticizing the near absence of the Palestinian side’s narrative in the Hebrew press.

Sukenik says news reports are censoring out much of the bloody images from the raw footage received from Gaza.

Photo released by the Defense Ministry shows the Iron Dome anti-rocket defence system placed in the Tel Aviv area, November 17 (photo credit: Alon Besson/Ministry of Defence/Flash90)

The IDF spokesperson tweets some numbers. Since the hostilities began five days ago, 848 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza. Of those, 302 have been intercepted by Iron Dome and 546 landed in Israel.

(Most of those that landed did minimal damage in open areas. The Iron Dome system only intercepts incoming rockets if they are heading toward population centers.)

Civil Aviation chief Giora Rom says Israel has adjusted flight paths for commercial planes leaving and departing Ben Gurion International Airport due to rocket fire from Gaza on the center of the country.

Rom says the new flight paths were put in place on Saturday, when an Iron Dome battery was installed nearby.

There have been no indications that the conflict has influenced commercial air traffic in the country.

The IDF reports that one of the targets hit in overnight airstrikes was the main soccer stadium in Gaza, where terrorists had set up a rocket launching area. The IDF also says that a cache of weapons was buried under the playing field.

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai says the air force also struck six rocket firing squads in the past 12 hours in addition to attacks on 40 Gaza smuggling tunnels, which he says will take a long time to rebuild.

Mordechai says there has been a decrease of 40 percent in rocket fire into Israel.

A view of the smuggling tunnels area along the Egypt-Gaza border (photo credit:AP/Hatem Moussa)

Security forces conclude that the explosion near Eilat this morning was caused by the accidental detonation of an old explosive device. The exact kind of device involved is not clear.

A tractor working on the new border fence between Israel and Egypt went over the device, setting it off. The tractor driver was treated for shock. Security forces are not treating the incident as a deliberate attack.

An Israeli envoy left Cairo Sunday night after receiving Hamas’s conditions for a ceasefire, the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reports.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi tells Egyptian press that he has no guarantees that Israel will implement a ceasefire, but that there are “indicators” that such an agreement was reached.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is expected to arrive in Cairo today to hold talks with Morsi.

Reports that two or three rockets have landed in the Eshkol region; no reports of injuries or damage.

Palestinian media reports that about 30 minutes ago two Palestinians riding a motorcycle were killed by an airstrike in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.

UPDATE: Ma’an reports that the two casualties were actually bystanders, and the motorcyclist escaped the strike.

Channel 2 is reporting that three rockets were just intercepted by Iron Dome over Ashkelon.

Ma’an News reports that a car in Gaza City was targeted by an airstrike, resulting in one dead.

News 1 reports that a delegation of mayors from around Israel are making a solidarity visit to Sderot and Ashkelon this morning.

Hamas television reports, then retracts report on journalists killed by Israeli airstrike.

The attack, it turns out, was on a taxi marked with the word TV, but the vehicle’s occupants were not reporters.

It is yet unclear who the victims of the attack were.

Walla news reports that a elementary school in Ashkelon has been damaged, either by a rocket or by falling debris from an Iron Dome interception. No injuries.

Al Jazeera reports that according to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Prisoners Affairs, 120 Palestinians have been detained by Israel since Operation Pillar of Defense was initiated last Wednesday.

Going around Twitter is a link to this MEMRI video, a translation of a terrorist propaganda song allegedly produced recently in Gaza. The song, done in pop Arabic style, threatens to send missiles to Tel Aviv and destroy the Israeli army and also references the (since discredited) Hamas claim that it downed an IAF fighter jet at the beginning of the current hostilities, among other topics.

Iranian News agency IRNA reports on a phone conversation between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, in which Ahmadinejad reiterated the need for achieving an international consensus against the continuation of Israeli aggression on Gaza.

Mohammed Morsi (left) shakes hands with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the NAM conference, August 30 (photo credit: AP)

Ahmadinejad reportedly thanked Morsi for his efforts to resume tranquility and sustainable security to Gaza.

“Our religious and humanitarian duties oblige us to try to prevent the further massacre of defenseless Palestinians and restore tranquility and sustainable security in the region and throughout the entire Palestinian territories,” the Iranian president is quoted as saying.

“It is necessary that all-out efforts be made to put an end to the killing and massacre of women, children and the oppressed people of Gaza and Palestine,” Ahmadinejad continues.

China releases a statement calling for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, according to a Reuters report. China has traditionally refrained from engaging in Middle Eastern issues, although it has come under fire for its support of Syria’s Assad government in the UN Security Council.

“China is extremely concerned about Israel’s continued large-scale military operations towards the Gaza Strip…China supports Arab countries’ position on the Palestine issue…We strongly urge relevant parties, especially Israel, to maintain maximum restraint and cease fire as soon as possible, to avoid any actions which may exacerbate the situation or raise tensions,” the statement reads in part.

Gaza civilians, caught in the crossfire between Israel and terror groups:

A member of the Abdel Aal family is rescued after the family house collapsed during an Israeli forces strike in the Tufah neighborhood, Gaza City, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012. (photo credit: AP/Majed Hamdan)

Reports in the Hebrew media that the Philippine government is planning to send a delegation to Israel and Gaza to examine the possibility of evacuating its citizens from Gaza. There are an estimated 100 Philippine nationals in Gaza, most of them married to locals.

Haaretz publishes a poll indicating that while 84 percent of the Israeli public supports Operation Pillar of Defense, only 30% support a ground operation in Gaza.

The poll also analyzes the political implications of the operation, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak the big winner. His Independence party is now predicted to remain in the Knesset following the January elections, where previous polls had indicated he would not pass the minimum threshold to gain a seat.

Palestinians are demonstrating on Route 443 against the IDF Pillar of Defense operation in Gaza. Demonstrators are throwing rocks and trying to block the road, a major east-west route in the middle of Israel. Army troops and police are at the scene trying to disperse the crowds.

Reports now indicate that the school in Ashkelon was in fact hit by a rocket, not debris from an Iron Dome interception as was thought possible. @IronDomeCount tweets, “Working at full capacity to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

There were no injuries. All Israeli schools within a 40-kilometer radius of Gaza are current closed.

Police inspect the damage to an Ashkelon school caused by a rocket fired from Gaza (screen capture/Channel 2)

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Martin Steinbauer/Wikipedia)

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is to pay a visit to Gaza tomorrow along with an Arab League delegation, the Turkish media reports.

Davutoglu is currently in Cairo, where he is to hold meetings on the Gaza situation with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Qatari PM Hamad bin Jassim.

Two rockets struck a short while ago in open areas near Sderot. No damage or injuries reported.

The Hamas military wing claims credit for 10 Grad rockets launched at Ofakim earlier today, the Hebrew media reports.

Palestinian demonstrations are planned for today across the West Bank, including at the Qalandiya checkpoint and in Jenin, Nablus and Hebron, according to Al Jazeera.

Ma’an News reports that “dozens of youths” are throwing rocks at an Israeli military station next to Rachel’s Tomb, just outside of Jerusalem in Bethlehem.

Haaretz financial reporter Zvi Zrahia says the cost of Operation Pillar of Defense could range from one billion shekels, if the fighting ends in the next few days, to several billion if it goes on to include a ground incursion.

For comparison, the 2008 Operation Cast Lead cost nearly 3 billion shekels and the 2006 Second Lebanon War cost upwards of 8 billion.

Channel 2 diplomatic correspondent Udi Segal was just on the air. In his opinion, before starting a ground operation in Gaza, Israel is planning to give Egypt and other countries more time to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas.

Reports that Iron Dome intercepted two rockets en route to Sderot.

Iron Dome intercepts four missiles in the skies over Ashdod.

Israel Radio’s diplomatic correspondent Chico Menashe says Israel’s leaders are toiling to produce a counteroffer to the ceasefire proposal presented by Egypt. Menashe says there is some disagreement about the details of the offer, including on whether a truce will precede discussion of long term calm.

Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon says that while it is good that there is an active diplomatic push, if an agreement isn’t reached soon, Israel will have to carry out its planned ground incursion.

Another rocket lands near Sderot, causing no injuries, amid continuing reports of sirens in Sderot and Sha’ar Hanegev.

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