On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued to work on a deal between Hamas and Israel for a seven day truce in Gaza as Israel’s defense minister earned that the military may soon broaden its ground offensive significantly, Karin Laub and Ian Deitch reports, John Kerry says no deal yet on 7-day Gaza truce. The total causalities amid the endless fighting on Friday were at 820 Palestinians and 38 people in Israel killed. After days of Kerry moving between the Egyptian capital, the West Bank and Jerusalem talking to official from Qatar who are in contact with Hamas, Kerry so far has been able to get Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to consider a 12 hour halt to fighting proposed by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. Kerry said, Netanyahu “has indicated his willingness to do that as a good faith down payment to move forward.” Kerry said the parties are closer than ever to reaching an agreement for a seven day humanitarian truce starting with Muslim Eid holiday Monday, ending the holy month of Ramadan. Alongside the U.N. secretary general and the Egyptian foreign minister, he explained: “Gaps have been significantly narrowed. It can be achieved, if we work through some of the issues that are important for the parties.” The fighting in Gaza continued while talks of a truce continued, while unrest intensified in the West Bank over the conflict where five Palestinians were killed during protests against the Israeli operation in Gaza. The U.S. top diplomat said the goal for the seven day truce was to provide time to address the demands of each side.
On Saturday, Israel agreed to extend the 12 hour humanitarian truce in Gaza by four hours, according to a Cabinet minister as the death toll surpassed 1,000 Palestinians, according to a heath official, Laub and Deitch report, Israel agrees to extend Gaza war truce by 4 hours. In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with European foreign ministers to find a way to build on Saturday’s lull which is the longest since the fighting erupted on July 8. Top United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, called for both sides to halt their fighting an additional 24 hours. The Israeli Cabinet voted by phone to agree to the four hour extension and will consider the U.N. request for a 24 delay in fighting at a Cabinet meeting later Saturday. According to Laub and Deitch, under a gradual extension of a humanitarian truce, Israel did not have to discuss new border arrangements with Gaza and could continue to destroy Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. A Hamas spokesman, Mushir al-Masri, speaking before Israel’s decision, said the group would consider an extension if “it does not mean that we retreat from our known demands.” During Saturday’s humanitarian truce, Palestinian health official Asraf al-Kidra said an additional 132 bodies were retrieved from rubble surpassing 1,000 casualties. In the 19 days of fighting, 6,000 Palestinians have been wounded, hundreds of homes destroyed and tens of thousands displaced in Gaza. Israel lost 40 soldiers and 2 civilians so far. During the truce on Saturday, thousands of Gaza residents returned to devastated border areas after fleeing the violence. The U.N. said more than 160,000 Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of U.N. schools, an eight fold increase since the start of Israel’s ground offensive more than a week ago. Unfortunately, late Saturday Hamas said it fired five rockets at Israel after rejecting Israel’s offer to extend a 12 hour humanitarian ceasefire by four hours making it more difficult to broker a deal to end the 19 days of fighting. Hamas said it fired two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv, While a spokesman said Police in Israel’s second largest city dispersed a peace rally attend by several thousand people because of the threat.
While Israel and Gaza continue to butt heads, two Hunter college students decided to start a social media campaign to spread love rather than hate, Mashable reports. Abraham Gutman, Israeli, and Dania Darwish, Syrian, posted photos of themselves with the hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies and launched a Facebook page under the same name. In the Christian Science Monitor, Gutman wrote: “With tempers only rising both on the ground and in social media platforms, we thought it would be productive to remind people that they are allowed to refuse to join the hateful discourse.” The campaign has proven to work as it has gone viral inviting Jews and Arabs around the world to share their stories. Sulome Anderson, a half Lebanese journalist, posted a photo of herself kissing her Jewish boyfriend that went viral getting thousands of re-tweets and favorites making her the face of the campaign. In New York Magazine, Anderson said: “He had seen that violence from the other side. As the region exploded into war, we started to come closer together in our opinions given the fact that we both share critical values: respect and concern for human life.”
While Israel and Gaza are taking steps to find common ground, the militant group ISIS continues to wreak havoc on Iraq by destroying the tomb of Jonah, a place thought to be the site of the prophet’s tomb who was swallowed by a whale or fish in Abrahamic faiths. On Thursday, civil defense officials in Mosul, Iraq, told CNN that ISIS operatives planted explosives around the mosque containing the tomb and detonated it remotely, according to Yasmine Hafiz, ISIS Destroys Jonah’s Tomb In Mosul, Iraq, As Militant Violence Continues. Though ISIS claims to follow the Sunni branch of Islam, they have targeted multiple Sunni shrines that they deem “unIslamic” and blow them up or bulldoze them. In addition, the Imam Aoun Bin al-Hassan mosque was destroyed on Thursday. Al-Arabiy reports that Zuhair al-Chalabi, a local Mosul official told Al-Samaria News that “ISIS implanted explosives around Prophet Daniel’s tomb in Mosul and blasted it, leading to its destruction.” AFP reports that an anonymous official said, “Islamic State completely destroyed the shrine of Nabi Yunus after telling local families to stay away and closing the roads to a distance of 500 metres from the shrine.” Sam hardy, a professor at the American University of Rome, told the Washington Post that ISIS will destroy, “basically pretty much anything in the Bible. It indicates they are going for total eradication not just of their enemies but even of the possibility of people living together under their rule.” Leila Fadel of NPR believes that ISIS’s destruction of shrines may be a big mistake since they establish the “Islamic caliphate” and “it may cause a deep rift in the uneasy alliances the Sunni extremist group has made with other Sunni fighting groups marginalized.”
Meanwhile in Libya on Saturday, the United States closed up and evacuated its diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Libya to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias, Matthew Lee and Lara Lakes reports, US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes. The withdrawal reinforces the Obama administration’s concern over risks to American diplomats overseas especially in Libya where a deadly attack in 2012 took place in Benghazi. The State Department issued a new travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to enter and to leave immediately. It read: “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including anti-aircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.” The State Department said embassy operations will be suspended until the security situation improves. Tripoli has for weeks been under siege by inter-militia violence that killed and wounded dozens on both sides. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, expressed gratitude toward U.S. forces who helped in the evacuation. Libya is experiencing one of the worst spans of violence since Gadhafi’s ouster. The U.S. is the latest country to close its embassy as Turkey on Friday shut its embassy and militia clashes in Benghazi prompted the United Nations, aid groups and foreign envoys to leave. The battle in Tripoli began this month when Islamist led militias launched an attack on the airport under the control of rival militias. The rival militia made up of former anti-Gadhafi rebels forced a weeklong closure of gas stations and government offices. In recent days, armed men have attacked vehicles carrying money from the Central Bank to local banks, forcing them to close as well. Libyan government officials and activist have been targeted in the violence recently with gunmen kidnapping two lawmakers in Tripoli a weak ago and on Friday abducted a well known Libyan political activist in Tripoli, Abdel Moaz Banoun.