The Body Count Rises As Israel Continues Its Ground Assault

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Early on Friday, Israel stepped up its ground offensive pounding targets with artillery fire and using tanks and infantry to battle Hamas fighters, Reuters reports, Twenty-three Palestinians, Israeli soldier killed in Gaza ground offensive. Palestinian Health officials confirmed that 23 Palestinians have been killed since the ground invasion started on Thursday, While Israel confirmed one soldier was killed in fighting. A video clip released by the military showed six tanks rolling through Gaza after a border fence was opened and two long rows of foot soldiers. Israeli military spokesman Brigadier General Motti Almoz said, “We are using a very high level of fire power and artillery. A great number of soldiers are in action in the Gaza Strip, soldiers are overtaking their targets, tunnels, Hamas targets.” Almoz said one soldier had been killed and several wounded in fighting concentrated in several areas in the north and south of the territory, Israeli media reported. The soldier was only the second casualty in the eleven days of fighting which spilled into a land offensive late Thursday. The grand total since fighting began on July 8 comes to 251 Palestinian soldiers and civilians dead. Israel began the air and sea offensive in response to increasing rocket fire, more than 100 a day,from Gaza militants into Israel. A military spokesman said on Friday that 20 more rockets were fired at Israel. In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said, “”The directive for ground action was approved by the security cabinet after Israel agreed to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, whereas Hamas rejected it and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities.” The fighting between Israel and Palestine is the worst its been in two years prompting the United Nations Security Council to meet Friday to discuss the developments. The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke after the announcement of the ground assault implored Israel to do more to prevent Palestinian civilian deaths. On Friday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will visit the Middle East to try to defuse the crisis and discuss a European mission on the Gaza Israel border according to a diplomatic source Thursday.

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Obama administration accused Israel on Thursday of failing to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza during cross border attacks. As the Associate Press reports, Gaza crisis: Obama administration accuses Israel of not protecting civilians, the State Department said the high civilian death toll in Gaza has been heartbreaking as three more children were killed on Thursday along with the four boys killed on a Gaza beach a day earlier due to Israeli strikes. However, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also criticized Hamas militants who are still firing rockets and mortars into Israel prolonging the violence in the Mideast. Psaki said, “I don’t think we’ve made any secret about our strong concern about the actions of Hamas, the indiscriminate rocket attacks, the targeting of civilians. And that concern remains.” With regards to the Gaza beach attack that killed four cousins on Wednesday, Psaki said,”The tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed. We will continue to underscore that point to Israel.” In a statement late Thursday, the state department said that Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated U.S. concerns about civilian casualties. In addition, Netanyahu describe the threat Hamas tunnels pose to Israel and Kerry reaffirmed strong U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself. Kerry also stressed the need to restore the 2012 ceasefire and avoid further escalation. On Thursday, Kerry spoke to top diplomats in Cairo and the Qatari capital Doha to negotiate an end to the conflict entering its eleventh day. The conflict intensified Thursday as thousands of Israeli troops backed by tanks entered the Gaza Strip to destroy Hamas’ weapons arsenal, rocket-firing abilities and tunnels.

Israel Reaches its Boiling Point Deploys Ground Troops into Gaza

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On Wednesday, Israel war planes and naval vessels intensified attacks across the Gaza Strip targeting senior Hamas leaders and bombarding coastal areas killing four Palestinian boys and injuring several others at the beach, according to Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav, Israeli strike kills 4 Gaza youths on coastal road. These deaths have raised the total deaths in nine days to 213 Palestinians and one Israeli. The renewed violence came after Hamas rejected a ceasefire proposal that Israel had accepted to end the nine day old conflict. In response, Hamas fired dozens of rockets into Israel vowing no to agree to a ceasefire until its demands are met which include easing border closures and releasing former Hamas prisoners who were released in 2011 then rearrested last month in the West Bank. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri in a press conference called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of the rival Fatah faction in the West Bank, for support in Hamas’ refusal to accept Egypt’s ceasefire proposal. Many Hamas leaders have gone into hiding since the beginning of the Israeli offensive as Israel in recent days has been targeting their homes. One leader Zahar was a key figure in Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, while the other three leaders were members of Palestinian parliament elected in 2006. The uncle of the four boy, Abel Kareem Baker said, “It’s a cold blooded massacre. It’s a shame who come they didn’t identify them as kids with all of the advanced technology they claim they’re using.” The Israeli military said it was looking into the incident. Along with the airstrikes, Israel also warned tens of thousands of residents of the northern town of Beit Lahiya and the Zeitoun and Shijaiyah neighborhoods of Gaza City near the border of Israel to evacuate by 8am Wednesday. The warnings were delivered in automated phone calls, text messages and leaflets dropped from planes, Barzak and Enav report. The message itself warned that due to the large number of rockets fired from these areas Israel plans to bomb these locations. In addition the message said: “Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families.” On Wednesday morning, hundreds of residents in these areas were walking the streets and carrying small bags. The Wafa Rehabilitation Center in Shijaiyah caring for 15 disabled and elderly patients received many calls to evacuate, but its director, Basman Ashi, said his patients have nowhere to go and will not evacuate. Four foreign volunteers from England, U.S., France and Sweden have set up camp in the center to deter the military from targeting it. The office of the Israeli military spokesman said the residents were asked to leave and added that a rocket launching site was in the area including the center.

Fortunately, on the same day, Israel agreed to a proposed six hour cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip for humanitarian reasons, a senior Israeli official told Reuters (Israel Accepts Proposal For Temporary Ceasefire In Gaza: Official). Speaking on conditions of anonymity, the official stated that the lull in fighting had not been determined, while Hamas had no comment. Israeli media reports confirmed that the appeal came from a United Nations official shortly after Hamas rejected an Egyptian ceasefire to end the nine day war. According to the Associated Press article, Hundreds Of Palestinians In Gaza Flee After Israeli Warning by Ibrahim Barzak and Daniel Estrin, Israel and Hamas had agreed to the five hour U.N. brokered humanitarian pause offering some hope that the fighting may come to an end. Israel said it would hold its fire Thursday from 10 am in order to allow Palestinians to restock food, water and other necessities, but would retaliate if Hamas or other militant groups launched attacks during that time. Later, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Hamas and various factions would respect the pause and refrain from firing rockets during those hours as well. Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, asked Israel to agree to a unilateral humanitarian pause so supplies can be delivered to Gaza and urged the parties in Gaza to respect the pause, according to U.N deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. In Washington, President Barack Obama said the U.S. supports efforts by Egypt to restore the 2012 ceasefire and will use diplomatic resources and relationships to secure a deal to end the violence. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said that Palestinian death toll rose to 222 with 1,670 wounded and only one Israeli death. Abbas met with deputy Hamas chief Moussa Abu Marzouk to discuss Egypt’s initiative in an effort to get Hamas on board, according to what an official with Abbas’ Fatah faction told the Associate Press.

Unfortunately, as the five hour U.N. humanitarian ceasefire expired, Palestinian militants fired a rocket at Israel on Thursday, the Israeli military said. According to the article, Gaza rocket hits Israel as humanitarian lull ends, the military states that the rocket struck the city of Ashkelon at 3pm as the pause in military activity ended. No injuries were reported. In addition Gaza militants fired three mortar shells toward Israel after the truce took effect at 10am. Israel had yet to response to either incident but promised to strike hard if it continued. Israel accepted Egypt’s initial call for a halt to all hostilities, but Hamas rejected because it does not want to return to the situation before the outbreak of fighting. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri in an interview with the Associate Press insisted a ceasefire deal was still alive and expressed frustration that Hamas did not agree to it demanding that the blockade be eased significantly which Israel and Egypt will likely reject as it would strengthen the group’s hold on Gaza. Thursday’s truce, brokered by the United Nations, came after Israel carried out 2,000 airstrikes on Gaza over 10 days and Hamas fired 1,300 rockets into Israel. The fighting continued early Thursday in the lead up to the ceasefire with the military saying it foiled an attack by 13 militants who came through a tunnel from Gaza. The military said 15 rockets were fired at Israel Thursday morning including toward areas in the center some 90 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. A senior Hamas official said the group’s deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, met with Egyptian officials Wednesday night to present Hams’ demands which were also delivered to Jordan and the U.N. In addition, Hamas want other countries involved in forging the agreement to end fighting. Egypt’s new leaders have since launched a sweeping crackdown on Hamas by shutting down smuggling tunnels along the border and weapons supply route. Also on Thursday, a Jerusalem court indicted a 29-year-old and two 16-year-olds in the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16,who was kidnapped and set on fire. According to the indictment, the suspects carried out the crime in revenge for the death of three Israeli teens last month and killed the boy because he was an Arab by strangling, beating and burning him to death. In response to the boy’s death, Palestinians protested in east Jerusalem and clashed with the police.

As the 10 day military operation escalated on Thursday, Israel launched a large scale ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to destroy Hamas’ weapons arsenal, rocket firing abilities and tunnels under the Palestinian territory’s border with Israel. According to Karin Laub and Ian Deitch, Israel says it has sent ground troops to Gaza, it was the first major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza in over five years coming hours after Hamas militants tried to enter Israel through a tunnel under the border. Thousands of Israeli soldiers had massed at the border in recent days waiting for order to go in. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the army to go ahead after Hamas rejected the ceasefire plan earlier in the week and after militants tried to invade Israel through tunnels. The statement said: “In light of the despicable and relentless aggression by Hamas and the dangerous infiltration into Israel, Israel is obliged to protect its citizens.