Israel Pounds Gaza Strip as Palestinian Death Toll IncreasesYaacov Benmeleh and Saud Abu Ramadan
Israeli warplanes pounded the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for a fifth day, taking the death toll among Palestinians past 130 amid international efforts to broker a cease-fire.
In a new tactic, Hamas sent an announcement in Hebrew during Israel’s 8 p.m. television news programs that it would fire long-range missiles at Tel Aviv within an hour. As Israelis went to bomb shelters buzzing about the warning, the missiles were launched and tracked live on the TV news. Three were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, according to an army text message.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers military strategies to stop the rocket fire, world leaders are seeking to steer him away from a land invasion that would send casualties higher. The United Nations Security Council called for a cease-fire today in a statement approved by all members.
Egypt is stepping up efforts to end the crisis and has started “high-level” talks with Israel, different Palestinian groups, as well as the UN and Arab League, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement today. U.K. Foreign Minister William Hague said he’ll discuss cease-fire efforts with his U.S., French and German counterparts when they meet tomorrow in Vienna for Iran talks.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid, a member of Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet, said Israel would only be interested in a long-term truce that would “dramatically weaken the capabilities of Hamas.” Interviewed on Channel 2 television after the bomb warning was announced, Lapid said Israel would escalate its military operations and “raise the bar until Hamas understands it’s not worth it for them.”
Two Palestinians were killed during the day at the Charitable Institute for the Disabled in Gaza’s northern Beit Lahia neighborhood and four others were seriously wounded, Ashraf al Qedra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry, said by phone today. The Israeli army said it was investigating the report. Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured during the military operation and at least 135 have died, according to the ministry.
During the pre-dawn raids today, Israeli warplanes struck a total of 60 sites, including a mosque the army said was being used by militants to store weapons. An aerial photo released by the military on Twitter showed the mosque site surrounded by civilian homes.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters “systematically use mosques to conceal weaponry and establish underground tunnel networks, abusing the holy nature of these sites for their own terror-oriented agendas,” the military said in a statement. “These sites are part of a vast terror network embedded deep within civilian populations purposefully.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged Israel yesterday “to take all possible measures to ensure full respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions” in avoiding harm to civilians. The Israeli army said Hamas uses civilians as human shields.
At least 28 children are among the dead in Gaza, the UN aid agency in the region said. The violence is straining the Palestinian health system, and the World Health Organization is appealing for $60 million to help prevent its collapse.
Netanyahu spoke by phone July 10 with President Barack Obama, who offered to “facilitate a cessation of hostilities,” according to a White House statement. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called on Hamas, which recently ended its seven-year rift with his Palestinian Authority, to end the bloodshed by ceasing its rocket fire.
Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed and more than 1,000 wounded when Israel last invaded Gaza in January 2009. Israel evacuated the territory in 2005 after a 38-year occupation.
“What’s important now is to save the people of Gaza,” Abbas said yesterday in an interview with Al Mayadeen television. “The only answer is a political solution.”
U.S.-brokered peace talks between Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and Israel collapsed in April. Tensions have since been heightened by the killing of teenagers on both sides of the conflict and Israel stepped up its air strikes after weeks of rocket fire intensified.
Netanyahu said the pace of attacks is double that of Israel’s November 2012 operation, also designed to quell rocket bombardments. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S., and the European Union.
At least 680 rockets have been fired from Gaza in the past five days, with about 138 intercepted by the Iron Dome. Israel has struck about 1,100 targets in the coastal enclave, including tunnels militants dug under the border with Israel, their homes, rocket launchers, command centers and training camps, according to the army.