In Brief

Gaza strikes: half of dead were women and children

Russia, France and the US call for ceasefire as death toll in Gaza reaches 80

Israeli airstrikes hit hundreds more targets yesterday, as the Palestinian death toll, including many women and children, continued to rise.

US president Barack Obama phoned Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to offer US assistance in brokering a ceasefire. "The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement," a White House statement said.

The offer comes against a backdrop of mounting civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. According to the Daily Telegraph, an Israeli airstrike hit a beachside café in the south of Gaza on Wednesday, killing eight people inside who were watching the World Cup semi-final between Argentina and Netherlands.

"The strike killed Mohammed Fawana along with three sets of brothers – Ahmed and Suleiman Astal, 18 and 16, their cousin Musa, also 16, Mohammed and Ibrahim Ganan, 24, and 25, and Hamdi and Ibrahim Sawaleh, 20 and 28," the Telegraph reported. "A third Sawaleh brother, Salim, 23, was still missing on Thursday."

Palestinian hospital officials said the death toll has now risen to 80 and claimed "half of those killed were women and children", The Guardian reports. The Palestinian health ministry said that some 600 people – mainly civilians – had also been injured. Israel insists that "dozens of terrorists" are among those who have died in the strikes.

Israeli authorities say militants have fired nearly 500 rockets from Gaza since the country launched Operation Protective Edge on Tuesday morning. No casualties have been reported from Hamas rockets being fired into Israel.

During his phonecall with the Israeli prime minister, Obama "strongly condemned" rocket fire by Hamas, but also "expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasised the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm".

The French and Russian Presidents, Francois Hollande and Vladimir Putin, also appealed for calm and called for a ceasefire, the BBC reports.

Gaza 'on a knife edge' says Ban Ki-moon

10 July

The situation in Gaza is "on a knife edge", the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned as 14 more people were killed by Israeli air strikes overnight.

Strikes hit a coffee shop and two houses in the city of Khan Younis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told Agence France-Presse, as well as the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza.

The Palestinian health ministry said that five of the victims were children. An Israeli military spokesman said the deaths were "a tragedy – not what we intended", and that occupants of the two houses had returned to their homes too soon after telephone warnings had been given ahead of the attack.

"Dozens" more strikes were heard falling on the Palestinian territory on Thursday morning, The Guardian reports, as Israel's Operation Protective Edge entered its third day.

Amid the escalation of violence and rhetoric from both sides, Ban warned that the region "cannot afford another full-blown war".

"The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get out of control," the UN chief said. "The risk of violence expanding further still is real".

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has promised that militants will "pay a heavy price" for continued rocket attacks on Israel. The country's president, Shimon Peres, whose role is largely ceremonial and who is not involved in establishing policy, told CNN that a ground invasion "may happen quite soon".

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, cautioned that any ground operation "could bring a huge massacre in Gaza".

The UN Security Council is due to meet today for emergency talks on the crisis. In the meantime, Ban has called for restraint on both sides, urging Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets and the Israeli government to respect its international obligations to protect citizens.

Hamas and Israel exchange fire as war looms

9 July

Israel has launched its largest offensive against the Gaza strip in nearly two years, killing 25 people and injuring many more, after Palestinian militants fired more rockets at Israeli cities.

Four rockets hit southern Israel overnight and several were shot down by the country's Iron Dome missile defence system over Tel Aviv, Israeli army radio said.

As Gaza-based militants fired on cities including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel called up reservists and massed troops on the Gaza border in preparation for "possible ground manoeuvres".

According to the health ministry in Gaza, 25 Palestinians have been killed and 70 more injured since the offensive began, the BBC reports.

Recent hostilities have led to the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas since an eight-day battle in late 2012.

Militants have fired 160 rockets into cities around Israel including an M-302 surface-to-surface rocket that reached the northern city of Hadera for the first time, The Independent reports. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said rocket attacks against Israeli communities would result in retaliation.

"I have ordered the military to significantly broaden its operation against Hamas terrorists and against the other terrorist groups inside Gaza," he announced in a broadcast on national television. "I call on you to display patience because this operation could take time."

Israel said that its overnight strikes targeted ten Hamas command centres, 118 concealed rocket launchers and a number of tunnels. "Operation Protective Edge" has now struck 440 targets in the Gaza strip.

Mark Regev, an Israeli spokesman, said that the government was "now acting to put an end to this" by "dismantling Hamas's military machine".

"We don't want to have some sort of band-aid solution whereby we have a quick fix, a ceasefire and then we only have rockets on Israeli citizens next week," he said.

Israel prepares for Gaza ground invasion

8 July

Israel has called up some reservists and sent troops to the Gaza border as part of its "open-ended and escalating" offensive against Hamas.

Air strikes and naval gunfire pounded positions in the Gaza strip last night, hitting about 50 targets including militant houses and military compounds, the Israeli military spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner told CNN.

The military action is part of a new offensive dubbed "Operation Protective Edge", which was announced after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last week. A Palestinian teenager was also killed in what authorities believe was a reprisal attack for the three Israeli teens' deaths. Rocket attacks from within Gaza have also increased in recent weeks.

The Israeli operation "will probably not end within several days," defence minister Moshe Ya'alon said. "We will not tolerate rocket fire and we are prepared to expand the operation and to exact a heavy toll on Hamas".

Meanwhile Israeli troops have been massing on the Gaza border and an unspecified number of reservists have been called up for "a possible ground invasion," The Guardian reports.

Israel's prime minister, Binyanim Netanyahu, has been under pressure from hardliners within his cabinet to respond with greater force, but so far he has shown a "marked reluctance" to be drawn into a full military confrontation, the Guardian says. Instead he has offered Hamas "quiet for quiet".

Nevertheless, the military has been put on full alert and has reportedly been ordered to prepare to expand its operation significantly.

"We are entering into a long operation," a senior IDF source said. "We are only at the start. Patience is required. We are preparing further steps and a gradual expansion of our order of battle".

Hundreds of reservists have already been called up "with a view to possible ground manoeuvres," Lerner said on Tuesday.

During Israel's last assault on Gaza in November 2012, more than 30,000 reservists were called up.

Israeli air strikes kill nine Palestinian militants

7 July

Nine Palestinian militants have been killed in air strikes launched by the Israeli army this morning in response to rocket and mortar attacks on Israel. 

Hamas confirmed that six members of its armed wing died in an attack on the southern Palestinian city of Rafah, 19 miles south of Gaza, and another three fighters were killed elsewhere, making it the "deadliest day for Hamas since 2012", The Daily Telegraph reports.

Israeli military authorities said that they had "responded to rocket attacks against southern Israel" with attacks that had made "direct hits" on "terror" sites and concealed rocket launchers.

Lt Col Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said rocket attacks from Gaza were "unbearable and unacceptable".

"We will continue to act in order to debilitate and incapacitate the Hamas terror infrastructure," he said, "striking its warehouses, rocket manufacturing capabilities and those that endanger the wellbeing of the Israelis in the south of the country."

Tensions have been running high, the BBC says, since the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdair last week. The Palestinian teenager was kidnapped on Wednesday morning and found dead hours later. According to reports, he had been burnt to death.

Israeli police have arrested six Jewish suspects they believe may have been retaliating against the murder of three Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were located earlier last week.

According to Kevin Connolly, the BBC's Jerusalem correspondent, more than 300 members of Hamas have been arrested by Israel following the teenagers' deaths.

Hamas's military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, promised that Israel would pay "a tremendous price" for the latest air strikes on Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to his cabinet on Sunday "to do whatever is necessary" to bring an end to the latest surge in rocket strikes at Israel from Gaza. But far-right politicians say that his response has not gone far enough.

Today's deaths amount to the largest loss of life since Israel's "Pillar of Defence" campaign at the end of 2012. Six Israelis and 180 Palestinians died during the eight-day conflict.

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