More troops, fire power for Israel
Israel said on Thursday it was calling up another 16 000 reserves following a security Cabinet meeting that decided to keep up military operations in Gaza, ignoring international pressure for an immediate ceasefire.
The move will allow the Israeli military to widen its 23-day campaign against Hamas substantially, which has already claimed more than 1 360 Palestinian lives – most of them civilians – and reduced entire Gaza neighbourhoods to rubble. Three Israeli civilians and 56 Israeli soldiers have died in the campaign.
Israel has now called up a total of 86 000 reserves during the Gaza conflict. At least 19 air strikes were carried out overnight on Wednesday, officials said.
Against a background of heavy fighting in Gaza and the shelling of a United Nations-run school, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on Wednesday convened his senior colleagues in a security Cabinet to discuss the crisis amid warnings that Hamas’s demands for lifting the siege of the Palestinian coastal enclave were a “nonstarter” and stalling ceasefire efforts in Cairo.
Israel was not close to a ceasefire, the newspaper Haaretz quoted an unnamed senior official as saying after the five-hour Cabinet meeting.
“When a ceasefire proposal that answers Israel’s important needs is laid on the table, it will be considered. The operation continues and the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] will expand its attacks against Hamas and the other terror organisations.” Temporary humanitarian ceasefires would continue, the official said.
Unusually firm condemnation
The White House, which has been at odds with Netanyahu over efforts to secure a ceasefire, reacted to the shelling of the school by issuing an unusually firm condemnation of the incident and expressing serious concern that thousands of Palestinians taking shelter in supposed UN havens were now at risk.
The United States condemned the attack but refused to apportion blame and, just hours later, confirmed it had recently provided Israel with a shipment of ammunition, after the country’s existing supplies appeared to be running low.
The provision of ammunition could prove controversial for Washington, which has expressed growing concern about the deaths of Palestinian civilians while maintaining support for its close ally.
“The US is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defence capability,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.
“This defence sale is consistent with those objectives.”
The Israeli military requested the extra ammunition on July 20. The US defence department approved the sale three days later, Kirby said.
In a later incident on Wednesday, Palestinian sources reported that 17 people had been killed and 200 injured in Israeli shelling in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shujai’iya during a supposed four-hour humanitarian pause.
Israel said Gazan rocket fire also continued. It announced too that three more IDF soldiers had been killed in a booby-trapped building in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, bringing its military fatalities to 56.
General Sami Turjeman, the head of Israel’s southern command, told Israel Radio that his forces would complete the destruction of cross-border tunnels in Gaza within a few days.
“We have killed scores of Hamas’s best fighters,” he said.
“With every day that passes we are getting closer to our goal of destroying the tunnels.”
Israel’s media and public are focusing narrowly on military operations, casualties and achievements.
In New York, the UN Security Council met in special session to discuss the Gaza situation at the request of Jordan, but there was little sign of any diplomatic breakthrough.
Haaretz reported that Israel was considering drafting a security council resolution containing its terms for ending the war.
Public relations move
Hamas has insisted that the blockade be lifted and prisoners released by Israel as its conditions for ending rocket fire across the border. It dismissed Israel’s latest offer of a pause as a public relations move, because operations in some areas of Gaza were exempted.
Hopes for progress lie in talks that are expected to take place in Egypt on Thursday involving Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and chairperson of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, at the head of a united Palestinian delegation.
“A representative from Hamas is part of the official Palestinian delegation and of course that’s a positive step,” said a Cairo-based diplomat.
“This is more or less what should have been done from the beginning. If you want something sustainable, you need all sides represented.”
Abbas was reported to have spoken to Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, who is based in Qatar, but there were signs of disagreement about the composition of the delegation and the terms of the talks.
Turkish media reported that Hamas had agreed that the Palestinian Authority would represent it and negotiate on its behalf, but Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson, complained of Egyptian pressure to agree to a ceasefire before any talks took place. – © Guardian News & Media 2014
The horror of the UN shelter that became a death trap
The first shell came just after the early morning call to prayer, when most of those taking shelter in a United Nations school in the Jabaliya refugee camp were asleep, crammed into classrooms with what few possessions they had managed to snatch when they fled their homes.
Three thousand people had squashed into the Jabaliya Elementary A&B girls’ school since the Israeli military warned people to leave their homes and neighbourhoods or risk death under intense bombardment. Classroom number one, just inside the school’s entrance, had become home to about 40 mostly women and children.
As a shell blasted through the wall, showering the occupants with shrapnel, Amna Zantit (31), scrambled to gather up her three terrified infants in a panicked bid for the relative safety of the schoolyard. “Everyone was trying to escape,” she said, clutching her eight-month-old baby tightly.
Minutes later, a second shell slammed through the roof of the two-storey school. Nineteen people were dead and more than 100 injured. Most were women and children.
Khalil al-Halabi, the UN official in charge of the schools in the area, was quickly on the scene. Bodies were littered across the classroom, and the badly injured lay in pools of blood amid the debris and rubble caused by the blast. “I was shaking,” he said. “It was very, very hard for me to see the blood and hear the children crying.”
By daylight, the debris of people’s lives was visible among the ruins of the classroom: a ball, a bucket, some blankets, tins of food, a pair of flip-flops. The bodies of donkeys, used to carry the meagre possessions of refugees to what they thought was safety, lay at the school’s entrance, while two lads wearing Palestinian Boy Scouts scarves collected human body parts for burial. Five of the injured are in a critical condition in hospital.
Halabi was facing impossible requests for advice from those who escaped the carnage. “These people are very angry. They evacuated their homes and came here for protection, not to be killed inside a UN shelter. Now they are asking me whether to stay or leave. They are very frightened. They don’t know what to do.” – Hazem Balousha © Guardian News & Media 2014