Israel, Hamas war enters second month

McClatchyAugust 9, 2014 

Mideast Israel Palestinians

Smoke rises after an Israeli strike over Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

ADEL HANA — AP

— The war between Israel and Hamas entered its second month on Saturday as Israel launched fresh air strikes in the Gaza Strip, killing at seven people, according to local reports, and militants fired rockets and mortar rounds at Israel.

The level of fighting, however, remained lower than in the weeks preceding a 72-hour ceasefire that expired Friday. Egyptian-mediated efforts to restore the ceasefire continued in Cairo, but there were no indications of a breakthrough toward halting the renewed hostilities.

Israeli police banned a planned anti-war rally Saturday night in Tel Aviv, citing the danger of rocket strikes from Gaza. Organizers called the move an attempt to stifle dissent.

Militants in Gaza resumed rocket attacks on Israel on Friday after refusing to extend the temporary ceasefire, stepping up pressure to meet their demands in negotiations on a durable truce. Israel responded with airstrikes, declaring that it would not negotiate under fire.

A delegation of Palestinian factions remained in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials. Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the delegation, said it would stay in Egypt until it reached an accord that "ensures" Palestinian rights. However an Israel team was not expected to return for further indirect talks Saturday night.

An Israeli official, who spoke anonymously under Israeli rules, said that there could be no negotiations without a ceasefire.

"The Cairo process was based on two stages: the first stage, an unconditional ceasefire, and the second stage, talks with the Egyptians, where both sides can present their concerns," the official told McClatchy. "The minute Hamas refused to extend the ceasefire, they pulled the rug out from under the talks, because the premise was nonviolence, and that clearly is not the case today."

Hamas wants Israel to agree in principle to lift border closures imposed on Gaza, permit construction of a seaport there and release dozens of former prisoners rearrested by Israel in June in the West Bank. The arrests were part of a crackdown on Hamas, which Israel accused of abducting and killing three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, a charge the group has neither confirmed nor denied.

Hamas also wants Israel to ease fishing limits of the Gaza coast, allow access to areas near Gaza's border with Israel that have been declared no-go zones, and permit passage for Palestinians between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Hamas officials assert that Israel has not responded to their demands.

"Gaza needs a gateway to the outside world," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman. "There is no retreat from any of our demands."

Israel has demanded measures to prevent the re-arming of Hamas after the current conflict, as a prelude to demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, ridding it of rockets and other heavy weapons. Hamas says that it will never disarm, and that its weapons stocks are not up for discussion.

Israel is also reported to be demanding assurances that reconstruction aid sent to Gaza will not be used by Hamas to build networks of concrete tunnels that militants from the group have used to infiltrate Israel. The Israeli army said it destroyed more than 30 tunnels during a ground push into the Gaza Strip.

Chris Gunness, a spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinian refugees, called on Saturday for the lifting of the blockade on Gaza to enable reconstruction.

With an estimated 65,000 homes destroyed in a month of Israeli shelling and bombardments, Gaza is facing "a housing crisis of massive proportions," Gunness said in a statement. "Reconstruction under blockade is unsustainable."

"Huge swathes of Gaza have been leveled," he added. "We cannot rebuild it with our hands tied behind our backs. The blockade must end. ... It is time for Israel to enable, not disable."

In the fighting on Saturday, 28 rockets and mortar rounds were fired at Israel, causing no casualties, and airstrikes hit 49 targets in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said.

Officials in Gaza said that the Israeli strikes hit houses, mosques, a security complex and training sites.

Three bodies were found under the rubble of one mosque in the Nuseirat refugee camp, including that of a senior Hamas official, according to the Gaza health ministry. The army said weapons were stored in the building.

Two people riding a motorcycle were killed in an airstrike in the Maghazi refugee camp, medical officials said. The army confirmed that it had targeted suspected militants.

Reports from Maghazi said another strike destroyed the local sports club, but the army had no immediate explanation for the attack.

Two more people died in a later strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinians reported. The army had no immediate response.

In Israel, police banned a planned anti-war rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night organized by a coalition of peace groups, citing civil defense regulations prohibiting large public gatherings in areas threatened by rocket strikes from Gaza.

A statement by the organizers said that the police had failed "to protect democratic free speech in Israel."

Tamar Zandberg, a parliament member from the leftist Meretz party, one of the sponsors of the rally, said that "the meaning of the police decision is that it is not possible to demonstrate against a war in wartime."

The Israeli offensive against Hamas and allied groups in Gaza has enjoyed wide popularity among Israelis, with street banners pledging support for the troops. More than 1,900 Palestinians have been killed in the campaign, most of them civilians, according to the UN. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed, along with three civilians killed in missile strikes in Israel.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service