Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country’s military will continue its operation against Palestinian militants in Gaza, with little sign of a breakthrough in talks to reach a cease-fire.
Hamas vowed yesterday to keep fighting until Israel’s blockade on Gaza is lifted, with the Islamist group’s leader Khaled Mashaal asking Palestinians for “more patience” after the death toll in the territory rose above 700, including hundreds of civilians.
“We are doing our best to minimize civilian casualties, but we cannot give our attackers immunity,” Netanyahu said at a meeting today in Jerusalem with British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, repeating Israel’s charge that Hamas is using Gaza’s residents as “human shields.” Israel will carry on with its ground incursion into Gaza aimed at destroying Hamas’s rocket arsenal and infiltration tunnels, Netanyahu said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Cairo in pursuit of truce negotiations in which Egypt, the traditional mediator of Gaza conflicts, has also been involved. Kerry spoke today with a number of regional leaders, including Netanyahu, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohamed Al-Attiyah, according to a State Department official not authorized to speak on record.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration today lifted a ban on flights to Tel Aviv by American carriers it instituted two days ago after one Gaza rocket landed near Israel’s main international airport. The FAA cited new measures taken to “mitigate risks to civil aviation” for its decision to revoke the first suspension on flights to Israel since the 1991 Gulf War.
Efforts to end the third major round of violence between Israel and Gaza since 2009 have been complicated by hostility between Hamas and Egypt, whose new government has cracked down domestically on Islamists. Hamas spurned a truce proposal last week after Israel accepted it, saying the plan didn’t guarantee lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Israel and Egypt have tightly controlled Gaza’s borders since 2006, citing security concerns. The embargo has battered Gaza’s economy and confined the territory’s 1.8 million people to a 140-square-mile (363-square-kilometer) patch of land.
“We are greatly concerned by the ongoing heavy level of civilian casualties,” Hammond said. “We welcomed the earlier cease-fire proposal by Egypt,” and were “greatly disappointed” by Hamas rejecting it, the U.K. foreign minister said.
The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to investigate allegations of Israeli war crimes. Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group.
Hamas is a spinoff of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, whose leaders were ousted from power by the military last year. It was founded in 1987 amid the first Palestinian uprising and later gained notoriety for a campaign of suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis.
The group won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. It took control of Gaza the following year after a bloody confrontation with forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Palestinian health officials put the latest death toll at 737, with more than 4,500 injured. Israel’s army says at least 32 soldiers have been killed and one is missing in action, and two civilians have died in rocket attacks.
More than 2,250 rockets have been fired at Israel since July 8, including at least 10 today, the army said, with most intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system or landing in open areas.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, while visiting troops on the Gaza border yesterday, said the Israeli army is “preparing for the next stages of battle once the tunnels have been taken care of.”
Hamas leader Mashaal, who spoke at a press conference in Qatar, said the group won’t disarm or settle for any accord short of the lifting of the embargo on Gaza. He said Hamas’s fighters have “destroyed the idea that the Israeli army is invincible.”
Kerry, who shuttled yesterday from Cairo to Israel and the West Bank for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu, said there have been “steps forward but there is still work to be done.” Aides to Abbas were more optimistic, with chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat predicting a cease-fire deal today.
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 rose 0.1 percent in Tel Aviv trading today at 12:45 p.m. Israel’s shekel rose 0.1 percent to 3.4098 to the dollar.