Israel Says Offensive to Continue as Kerry Seeks Truce

Hamas vowed to keep fighting until the embargo on Gaza is lifted and Israel also said it has no plans to halt its military campaign, damping expectations that U.S.-brokered talks can bring a rapid cease-fire.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal asked the people of Gaza for “more patience” late yesterday, and said he sees no sign of a breakthrough in talks on a cease-fire, though he said Hamas welcomes the diplomatic efforts. Earlier, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel won’t stop its Gaza Strip offensive as long as the Palestinian territory’s Hamas rulers continue to pose a threat, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told soldiers to prepare for a broader ground war.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Israel yesterday in pursuit of truce negotiations in which Egypt, the traditional mediator of Gaza conflicts, has also been involved. More than two weeks of fighting, which intensified last week when Israel added to its air bombardment by sending troops into Gaza, has left more than 700 people dead, including hundreds of Palestinian civilians. The United Nations Human Rights Council voted to investigate allegations of Israeli war crimes.

Israel says its operation aims to destroy tunnels that militants have used to make raids from Gaza, and prevent a barrage of rockets fired from the territory. After one landed near Israel’s international airport on July 22, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration banned flights to Tel Aviv by American carriers for the first time since 1991, a suspension that was extended yesterday.

Latest Toll

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.

Palestinian health officials put the latest death toll at 695 late yesterday, with more than 4,500 injured. Israel’s army says at least 32 soldiers have been killed and one is missing in action, while about 2,250 rockets have been fired at Israel since July 8. Israel, the U.S. and the European Union list Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Livni said Israel may be headed toward an ongoing offensive “whose objective is not to contain the threat, but to disarm terror organizations, including Hamas.” Ya’alon, while visiting troops on the border yesterday, said the Israeli army is “preparing for the next stages of battle once the tunnels have been taken care of.”

Not ‘Invincible’

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 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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 stock index fell 0.1 percent yesterday, while the shekel rose by about the same amount. Both are little changed from the start of the month, as investors looked beyond the escalation of violence in Gaza.

Mostly Civilians

The UN rights body’s decision to investigate alleged war crimes followed testimony by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that was condemned by Israel. While Pillay told the council in Geneva that rocket fire from Gaza was endangering the lives of Israeli civilians, most of her criticism was directed at Israeli attacks, including strikes on homes, a hospital and a center for the disabled.

“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated,” Pillay said. Preliminary UN figures indicate about three-fourths of the Gazans killed were civilians, including about 150 children, she said

After Israel’s last offensive, the UN conducted an investigation and accused Hamas and Israel of potential war crimes. The panel’s head, Richard Goldstone, later said new information on the events may have produced different conclusions.

Israel says Hamas uses civilians as a human shield. The government called the Rights Council’s decision a “travesty,” and Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor accused her of making “intolerably biased statements” based on newspaper reports.

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