Israel pressed ahead with its Gaza offensive saying it was days from achieving its core goal of destroying all Islamist guerrilla cross-border attack tunnels, but a soaring Palestinian civilian toll has triggered international alarm.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet on Wednesday approved continuing the assault launched on July 8 in response to a surge of rocket attacks by Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists. Israel also sent a delegation to Egypt, which has been trying, with Washington’s blessing, to broker a ceasefire.
A military source said some 16,000 reservists were being called up at short notice in the coming hours to relieve a similar number who would be stood down.
Gaza officials say at least 1,361 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered enclave and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed in Palestinian shelling in Israel.
UN chief calls it ‘outrageous’
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was incensed on Wednesday at the deaths of at least 15 Palestinians among thousands sheltering at a school whose UN administrator said appeared to have been hit by Israeli artillery.
“It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice,” Ban said.
Israel said its forces were attacked by guerrillas near the school, in northern Jabalya, and had fired back. It did not comment immediately on another incident, in nearby Shejaia, in which Palestinian officials said 17 people were killed by Israeli shelling near a produce market.
“Such a massacre requires an earthquake-like response,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, whose group has kept up dozens of daily rocket launches deep into Israel. The Israelis have kept casualties from the salvoes low with nine Iron Dome interceptor batteries and air-raid sirens that send people to shelters.
Two lakh displaced
Rolling Israeli ground assaults on residential areas, prefaced by mass warnings to evacuate, have displaced more than 200,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians. The tiny territory’s infrastructure is in ruins, with power and water outages.
Israel says it is trying to avoid civilian casualties and blames these on Hamas and other Palestinian factions dug in for urban combat.
Both sides have voiced openness to a truce but their terms diverge dramatically. Israel wants Gaza stripped of infiltration tunnels and rocket stocks. Hamas rules that out, and seeks an end to a crippling Gaza blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt, which view the Palestinian Islamists as a security threat.
The negotiations are further complicated by the fact Israel and the United States shun Hamas as a terrorist group, while the go-betweens – Egypt, Qatar and Turkey – disagree on Gaza policy.
In the absence of a deal, Israel has ordered its ground forces to focus on locating and destroying a warren of tunnels through which Hamas has menaced its southern towns and army bases.
Major General Sami Turgeman, chief of continued…