In Brief

Family of Hamas 'mastermind' killed as Israel-Gaza talks fail

Wife and child of Hamas leader Mohammed Deif hit by Israeli airstrikes after truce breaks down

An Israeli airstrike has reportedly killed the wife and child of Hamas's top military commander Mohammed Deif.

Hamas officials announced the deaths hours after Palestinian militants broke a ceasefire agreed with Israel and negotiations to end the six-week conflict collapsed in Cairo.

Reuters describes Deif as the "mastermind of the war with Israel", the leader of Hamas's armed wing in Gaza and the chief strategist behind a network of tunnels beneath Israel's border.

There are conflicting accounts as to whether his late child was a son or a daughter.

The Palestinian Maan news agency said the attack happened at the home of the al-Dalou family in the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood of north Gaza. The New York Times says it is "common practice" for senior Hamas leaders to move from home to home, often rented in others people's names, to avoid detection by Israeli intelligence services.

A third person was also reported to have been killed in the bombing, but no information was offered about the whereabouts of Deif, who has survived several Israeli assassination attempts in the past, reportedly leaving him with severe disabilities.

Hamas's armed wing said Israel had opened "the gates of hell" and would pay a heavy price.

Palestinian militants began firing rockets at around 4pm yesterday following a nine-day break, prompting Israel to withdraw from talks in Cairo. A barrage of more than 50 rockets continued until past midnight and then began again this morning, although no injuries have been reported.

Israel retaliated with 52 airstrikes in Gaza overnight, one of which killed seven people, including a pregnant woman, according to Gaza's health ministry. More than 2,000 Palestinians are said to have been killed and more than 10,000 injured in the conflict, most of them civilians. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and three civilians have died.

Israel offers to extend Gaza ceasefire with Hamas


Israel has said it is ready to extend the three-day truce in Gaza, but insists that its intense bombardment had been "justified".

The clock is ticking on the current 72-hour ceasefire, which began on Tuesday after nearly a month of conflict.

Indirect talks between officials from Israel and the Palestinian side, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, are taking place in Cairo through Egyptian intermediaries.

The Palestinian side has so far made no agreement on extending the truce. It has called for an internationally funded reconstruction of Gaza and an end to Israel's seven-year blockade of the strip.

Israel wants Hamas to disarm, a concession the group appears unwilling to make.

Barack Obama has said that "long term" there has to be recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself while permanently closed off from the world.

"I have no sympathy for Hamas," said the US president, speaking in Washington. "I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza."

The Palestinian death toll has reached more than 1,800, the great majority of whom are believed to be civilians. At least 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have also been killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced internal criticism for the bombing campaign, notably from the United Nations, which has accused the Israeli military of shelling several of its refugee shelters. Netanyahu said the Israeli bombardment was a necessary response to Hamas attacks, adding: "It was justified. It was proportionate."

He continues to blame Hamas for all the civilian casualties, claiming the militants had used civilians as human shields. But UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that in the most recent shelling of a UN facility, Israelis were informed of the co-ordinates 33 times. "Attacks against UN premises, along with other suspected breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated," he said.

Jon Donnison, a BBC correspondent in Gaza, said that hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians in Gaza have been returning to their homes since the ceasefire began, but many have found nothing left.

Israeli politician calls for Gazans to be sent to 'tent camps'

06 Aug

The deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset has called for the "conquest" of Gaza, and for its citizens to be put in tent encampments on the Sinai border "until relevant emigration destinations are determined", The Times of Israel reports.

In an open letter to the Israeli prime minister published on Facebook, Moshe Feiglin, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party and the deputy speaker of the Israeli assembly, said the country must change its strategy on Gaza entirely. Referring to the Oslo Accords, which set Israel and the Palestinians on a path towards Palestinian self-government, Feiglin said "Oslo is finished" and there are "no two states for two people; there is only one state for one nation".

Feiglin called for the establishment of tent encampments "in which the civilian population will be gathered, far from the built-up areas that are used for rocket launches and tunnelling … until relevant emigration destinations are determined".

He continued: "The formerly populated areas will be shelled with maximum fire power. The entire civilian and military infrastructure of Hamas, its means of communication and of logistics, will be destroyed entirely – down to their foundations."

Feiglin called for the "conquest of the entire Gaza Strip" after which the area could be turned into a "flourishing Israeli city with a minimum of hostile residents".

The deputy speaker said that Israel should then seek out countries willing to take refugees in exchange for a “generous economic aid package” which would be granted once the refugees arrived at their destination.

After the proposed bombardment and relocation of Gazan citizens is completed, Feiglin concluded, "the city of Gaza and its suburbs will be rebuilt as Israeli tourist and commercial cities".

When asked by CNN's Wolf Blizter whether the proposal in his letter was sincere and accurate, Feiglin replied: "Definitely, we should understand, Wolf, this is a war between evil and good; between light and darkness."

The post received more than 8,000 likes on Facebook, but "hundreds of people took to the comments below condemning Feiglin’s letter", The Independent says.

Israel offers hope for truce by withdrawing troops

05 Aug

Israel's decision to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip has offered hope that its current truce with Hamas can hold out for a full three days.

The 72-hour Egyptian-mediated ceasefire began at 8am local time today. It came as Israel announced that its ground forces had completed their mission to destroy cross-border tunnels.

"The Israel Defence Forces will be redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions," said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner. Israel also confirmed that it will send a delegation to Cairo for peacekeeping talks today.

"The withdrawal announcement appeared to indicate a change of heart by the Israeli government," says The Times. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously insisted that the 28-day military campaign would continue until long-term calm is restored.

The operation has faced growing international outrage, intensifying after Israel shelled yet another UN school on Sunday, killing ten people.

No previous ceasefire in this conflict has lasted more than a day. Even yesterday's seven-hour ceasefire "failed to silence the guns", says The Times. Gaza officials say the four-week conflict has killed 1,800 Palestinians, while around 67 Israelis have also died.

BBC correspondent Martin Patience, in Gaza City, acknowledges that ceasefires, truces and lulls in the fighting "have all come and gone" but the difference with this ceasefire, he says, is that Israeli troops have withdrawn. "The reason they have been in here is to destroy the cross-border tunnels that have been dug by Hamas – the Israeli media are now reporting that that operation is complete," he says.

Some Israeli officials told the Wall Street Journal that international criticism had made it "unthinkable" for Israel to escalate the offensive and try to crush Hamas. Nevertheless, other ministers criticised Netanyahu's decision to pull back. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday that the prime minister had left Israel in a vulnerable "limbo" without a long-term ceasefire or a decisive defeat of Hamas.

In The Independent, Patrick Cockburn asks what Israel has achieved in the recent conflict. It has inflicted heavy losses in Gaza, the great majority of which have been civilians, yet its military superiority is "failing to produce comparable political gains", he says.

"Worse, from the Israeli point of view, it is the Palestinians and, in this case, Hamas, who are in a stronger position than they were a month ago. By its actions, Israel has put the Palestinian issue firmly back on the international agenda."     

Gaza: Israel-Hamas ceasefire over almost before it begins

01 Aug

A 72-hour "humanitarian" ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas appears to be over just hours after it began.

The truce, which came into effect this morning, had offered a glimmer of hope for a resolution to the conflict that has claimed more than 1,500 lives in the last three weeks.

But Israel's military has reportedly announced that it is resuming operations, claiming that Hamas was first to break the ceasefire.

Palestinian sources told the BBC that at least 30 people have died in an Israeli attack in Gaza this morning. Israel claims it was responding to rocket fire from Hamas, and says that one of its soldiers has been captured by Hamas.

According to a statement from the Israeli Defense Force quoted in The Times, soldiers are "currently conducting intelligence efforts and extensive searches in order to locate [the] missing soldier".

The short-lived truce, which was brokered by the US and UN, was announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry last night.

Kerry said the ceasefire was critical to giving innocent civilians a "much-needed reprieve from violence" and that they would be given "urgently needed humanitarian relief". It was expected to give Palestinians the opportunity to bury their dead, take care of the injured and restock food supplies.

Representatives from Israel and Hamas were also due to meet in Cairo for talks on a broader agreement to end the conflict.

Hours before the ceasefire was due to begin, eight Palestinians were killed, including two children, by tank shelling, while mortar fire killed five Israeli soldiers.

The Palestinian death toll has now exceeded the number of people killed in Israel's 2008-2009 assault, Operation Cast Lead. According to medical groups, at least 1,460 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the latest conflict, along with 61 Israeli soldiers.

Pressure has been mounting on David Cameron to take a more robust stance over Israel's actions in Gaza. Margot James, an MP previously regarded as pro-Israeli, is among several Conservative backbenchers to condemn Israel's "wholly disproportionate" attacks.

Last night a pro-Palestine group, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, projected the national flag onto the Houses of Parliament, calling for sanctions against Israel and an end to the bloodshed in Gaza.

Gaza: 'world stands disgraced' as another UN school shelled

31 July

Israel has promised to investigate the shelling of a school in Gaza yesterday morning that killed at least 20 refugees and injured more than a hundred others.

The attack on Jabaliya Elementary Girls School, which was sheltering more than 3,000 civilians, was described as a possible war crime by the UN.

In a statement, officials said: "The world stands disgraced."

Israel insists its policy is not to target civilians but acknowledged that its military had been responding to mortar rounds launched from near the school. It has repeatedly claimed that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are storing and using weapons in civilian areas.

But the UN says it told Israeli authorities no less than 17 times that the school was full of refugees, with the last warning message delivered less than eight hours before the attack on Wednesday.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told BBC's Newsnight that the attack would be investigated. "If we find that it was errant fire from Israel I'm sure we will apologise," he said.

It was the sixth time a UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) site has been hit during Israel's current campaign.

One UNRWA spokesman, Chris Gunness, broke down in tears over the deaths of Palestinian children during an interview screened by Al Jazeera Arabic. Earlier in the day he tweeted that UNRWA had "reached breaking point", with its staff being killed and its shelters overflowing. The average shelter population is 2,554, he said, describing the situation as "appalling".

The White House condemned the shelling of the school and said it was "extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in UN designated shelters in Gaza".

An attack on a market near Gaza City claimed the lives of 17 more people later in the day, while three Israeli soldiers were also killed. At least 1,360 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since the conflict began on 8 July.

Gaza 'ceasefire' short-lived as Israel destroys power station

30 July

Gaza has suffered its "heaviest day of bombardment yet" in the three-week conflict, with 100 Palestinians killed, a power plant destroyed and renewed hopes of a ceasefire dashed.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, yesterday claimed that Hamas had agreed to a 24-hour pause in fighting.

But this was swiftly rejected by Mohammad Deif, the reclusive commander of Hamas's military wing, who said his soldiers were "eager for death".

He said: "We don't accept any condition of ceasefire. There is no ceasefire without the stop of the aggression and the end of the siege."

The short-lived hope for an end to the fighting came as much of Gaza's remaining infrastructure was "pulverised" by the Israeli military in a night of "ferocious and relentless attacks by air, sea and land", says The Independent.

At least 100 Palestinians were killed and Gaza's only power station was shut down in what The Independent calls the "heaviest day of bombardment yet".

Fuel tanks exploded, causing huge black clouds of smoke at the power station, signalling a new crisis for the population, which was already enduring power cuts of more than 20 hours a day, says The Guardian.

The power plant's facilities manager told the BBC that it could be out of action for up to a year.

At least 1,200 Palestinians and 55 Israelis have been killed since 8 July, when Israel began retaliating against intensified Hamas rocket fire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims the objective of his ground offensive, Operation Protective Edge, is to destroy the tunnel networks used by Hamas to launch rockets and carry out cross-border infiltration. But the death toll in Gaza consists mostly of civilians.

David Cameron is among the international leaders calling for an "unconditional, immediate, humanitarian" ceasefire.

Gaza: UN security council calls for immediate ceasefire

28 July

The UN has called for an "immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire", allowing for the delivery of "urgently needed" humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

At an emergency session in New York, the security council adopted a presidential statement - one step below a legally-binding resolution - urging Israel and Hamas "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid period and beyond", the BBC reports.

However, the Israeli and Palestinian envoys to the UN both criticised the presidential statement.

The Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor said: "Miraculously, it doesn't mention Hamas. It doesn't mention the firing of rockets. You don't have to have the IQ of a rocket scientist to understand that if rockets are falling on you, you are allowed to defend yourself."

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative, said he was "disappointed" a formal resolution demanding Israel withdraw its forces from Gaza has not been agreed. "They should have adopted a resolution a long time ago to condemn this aggression and to call for this aggression to be stopped immediately," he said.

The UN’s statement emphasised that "civilian and humanitarian facilities, including those of the UN, must be respected and protected". It also stressed an urgent need for "immediate provision of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip".

Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama called for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire during a phone call to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday.

More than 1,030 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed in the fighting.


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