UPDATE: The truce takes effect this evening local time VIDEO
Palestinians bury the body of Tahrer Salman, covered with a blanket, during her funeral in Beit Lahia, north Gaza, Friday, Nov. 16, 2012. According to relatives, Tahrer Salman and Mohammed Salman were killed after an Israeli airstrike hit the yard of their house. (Credit: AP/Bernat Armangue)
Update (Nov. 22, 8.27 a.m. EST):
The parties announced a ceasefire which will take effect at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday, according to news reports.
Update (Nov. 21, 8.27 a.m. EST):
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in the Middle East from Southeast Asia in an attempt to broker a ceasefire deal to stave off the possibility of an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. Clinton met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian authority chief Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank before a planned trip to Cairo, the New York Times reported. Abbas is seen by the U.S. as the legitimate Palestinian leadership while Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, is considered a terrorist group.
Overnight, Israeli strikes continued hammering tunnels and government buildings in Gaza, according to press reports
On Wednesday, a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv injuring about 10. The origin of the bomb was not immediately clear, though a Hamas group claimed credit for the attack on Twitter. AP:
Update (Nov. 20, 12.00 p.m. EST): The AP reports that senior Hamas official has said a truce is close but has not yet been agreed. Egypt’s Morsi echoed the sentiment, calling a ceasefire imminent.
Reuters had announced that a truce will be declared at 9 p.m. local time, citing Hamas official Ayman Taha, but appears to have jumped the gun, since no truce agreement has in fact been finalized.
Update (Nov. 20, 9.30 a.m. EST): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has left President Obama’s side in Cambodia to head to Jerusalem as pressure builds to secure a ceasefire. She is due to meet Wednesday with Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and other top Israeli officials along with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi suggested positive results would come Tuesday in truce talks. He said he expects “the farce of Israeli aggression” to end today.
Haaretz reports that a hospital in Gaza city claimed 130 people have been killed since Israel began Operation Pillar of Defense. Haaretz posted this footage from Gaza on Day 7 of aerial bombardments:
Update (Nov. 19, 12.00 p.m. EST): President Obama Monday spoke on the phone with both Egyptian president Mohammed Moris and Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the Guardian “He called for a de-escalation of the crisis, reportedly emphasizing the need for Hamas to stop launching rockets.”
Meanwhile, on the West Bank, where according to AFP there were no clashes, a 22-year-old Palestinian has been shot multiple times by IDF forces. He is the second West Bank Palestinian to be killed since Wednesday.
And Reuters reports that, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza reached 100 on Monday, including 24 children and 10 women.
Update (Nov. 19, 12.00 p.m. EST): A CNN/ORC International poll surveying American opinion on the current Gaza crisis found a significant generation gap in where sympathies lie in the conflict. While just over 50 percent of respondents aged 18-34 said their sympathies were mostly with Israel, 68 percent of individuals 50-years-old and over said they sympathized most with Israel. While 19 percent of those under 34 said their sympathies were with the Palestinians, only 6 percent of those over 50 had more sympathy for Palestine than Israel.
The poll also showed an ebbing over time of sympathy for Israel. In 2011, 67 percent of total respondents said they sympathized more with Israel in the conflict, compared to 59 percent of respondents now. In January 2009, in the wake of Operation Cast Lead which led to 1,417 Palestinian deaths, American sympathy for Israel was, as now, around 60 percent.
Update (Nov. 19, 8.00 a.m. EST): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman met until early Monday morning to deliberate over whether to give Egyptian-led ceasefire talks more time, or whether to go forward with a ground invasion in Gaza.
They decided to allow more time for the international mediation efforts. “The situation is now 50-50, between cease-fire and expansion of the operations,” said an Israeli official according to Haaretz. “If there is no choice, we’ll go into Gaza. There is no other way.”
Meanwhile, over the weekend, U.S. lawmakers warned Egypt over their support for Palestinians in the crisis. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was unnecessarily combative towards the ceasefire negotiators: “Egypt, watch what you do and how you do it. You’re teetering with the Congress on having your aid cut off if you keep inciting violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
Reuters reported that Egyptian foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, is to head to Gaza tomorrow with other Arab ministers to “express solidarity” with the Palestinians.
Haaretz reports the current Palestinian death toll at 95 (one third civilians). The IDF tweeted that since last Wednesday 570 rockets from Gaza hit Israel, and 307 more were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.
Update (Nov. 18, 10.00 a.m. EST): As of Sunday morning, according to the Gaza health ministry, the Palestinian death toll has risen above 58 with over 560 injured since Wednesday. Three Israelis have died and over 50 have been injured.
On Sunday ten Palestinian civilians — including six children — were killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in Gaza, Palestinian medics said, the highest civilian death toll in a single incident during five days of fighting.
Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet Sunday that Israel is ready for a “significant” expansion of its Gaza offensive.
Meanwhile, leaders from Turkey, Egypt and Qatar met in Cairo to discuss ways of ending the escalating violence. An Israeli envoy is holding talks with Egyptian officials on a ceasefire, but, as the AP reported, “Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers remain far apart on any terms”:
Hamas is linking a truce deal to a complete lifting of the border blockade on Gaza imposed since Islamists seized the territory by force. Hamas also seeks Israeli guarantees to halt targeted killings of its leaders and military commanders. Israeli officials reject such demands. They say they are not interested in a “timeout,” and want firm guarantees that the rocket fire will finally end.
Israeli hardliners have also amped up their public rhetoric. Israel’s Deputy P.M. said, “We must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.”
Update (Nov. 16, 6.06 p.m. EST): A long-range missile fired from Gaza has landed close to Jerusalem, bringing closer the possibility of a ground offensive by Israeli troops. There were no casualties.
Update (Nov. 16, 4.45 p.m. EST): The Israeli cabinet has given the go ahead for the plan to call up 75,000 reserve troops, approved earlier by the defense minister. The Guardian noted that “The legal and bureaucratic barriers to a ground operation have been cleared” but whether it will actually happen is still unclear.
Update (Nov. 16, 3.20 p.m. EST): Gaza residents have reportedly received ominous text messages from an automated IDF service, warning of “the next phase” of attacks.
+972 Magazine (an Israel-Palestine commentary publication) reported that cell phones received the message in Arabic which read, “The next phase is on the way. Stay away from Hamas elements.”
“During the 2008-9 Israeli military assault on Gaza, the army sent thousands of similar messages to mobile phones in Gaza. But according to several friends and acquaintances who were there, the messages were often either false alarms or designed to sow panic,” noted +972, posting an Instagramed photograph of the most recent warning text:
Update (Nov. 16, 8.30 a.m. EST):As of Friday morning, on the third day of Israel’s military operation on the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian death toll has risen to 21. Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday.
Egypt’s prime minister, Hisham Kandil, has arrived in Gaza to show solidarity and urge a ceasefire. He visited a Palestinian hospital and condemned Israel’s actions. “This tragedy cannot pass in silence and the world should take responsibility in stopping this aggression,” he said.
While the U.S. has thus far defended Israel’s military offensive and blamed Hamas for the current crisis, Britain sternly cautioned Israel on Friday, Haaretz reported. “Israel does have to bear in mind that it is when ground invasions have taken place in previous conflicts that they have lost international support and a great deal of sympathy around the world,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC.
Update (Nov. 15, 4.40 p.m. EST): (Via Haaretz) Israeli aircraft have bombed tunnels on Gaza’s border with Egypt through which basic civilian goods and arms destined for militant groups pass into the tightly blockaded region.
White House adviser Ben Rhodes said Thursday afternoon that the U.S. has asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the group to stop its rocket attacks. “We’ve … urged those that have a degree of influence with Hamas such as Turkey, and Egypt and some of our European partners to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate.”
Meanwhile, Rhodes made clear that no such de-escalation requests were made by the U.S. to Israel. “Ultimately it’s up to the Israeli government to make determinations about how they’re going to carry out their military objectives” he told press.
Update (Nov. 15, 3.50 p.m. EST): The White House doubled down on its support for Israel’s military offensive Thursday afternoon. White House press secretary Jay Carney said there is “no justification” for the violence perpetrated by Hamas and other terrorist organizations. His statement placed all blame in the Palestinian camp. Carney meanwhile made no response to Egypt’s plea earlier Thursday for the U.S. to encourage an end to “Israel’s aggression.”
Update (Nov. 15, 2.30 p.m. EST): Two rockets from Gaza targeted Tel Aviv Thursday, triggering air raid sirens in the city (but no casualties). Following the missile threat on Tel Aviv — the first in two decades — Israel’s defense minister authorized the call-up of 30,000 reservists.
In a typically combative press conference, Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu said: “In the past 24 hours, Israel has made it clear that it will not tolerate rocket and missile attacks on its civilians. I hope that Hamas and the other terror organizations in Gaza got the message. If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people”:
Update (Nov. 15, 12.30 p.m. EST): Israeli forces have struck 100 targets in the Gaza Strip since beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, Haaretz reported. According to the AP, Palestinian rocket fire was heard near Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital. An IDF spokesperson said that no missiles landed on the ground, but that residents of central Israel should prepare for a night that “won’t be calm”. The AP noted that “A strike on Tel Aviv would be the first time Gaza rocket squads have reached the city and that would mark a significant escalation.”
Update (Nov. 15, 11.00 a.m. EST): The death toll continued to rise in Gaza on the second day of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense — a full military assault which began yesterday with airstrikes that killed Hamas military leader Ahmad Jabari. Reuters, citing the Gaza health ministry, says the death toll in the blockaded region since the start of the Israeli operation has risen to 15, including eight civilians among them a pregnant woman with twins, an 11-month old boy and three infants. Meanwhile three Israelis have been killed since Wednesday by Palestinian rocket fire.
Rumors spread this morning that IDF ground troops were being sent in. However, during a CNN interview Avital Leibovich, the Israeli military spokeswoman, denied ground troops are being sent to the south, she said, “We are not beginning any ground operation as for now, but it is an option. Other options still exist. We do have from time to time operational assessments and then we’ll decide of the next steps.”
Meanwhile, as the Daily Beast’s Dan Ephron noted, despite expectations of huge protests against Israel’s operation,”the Arab reaction so far has been fairly tepid, even as images circulate of a Palestinian baby apparently burned to death in one of the Israeli assaults.” (Warning, very graphic images).
The strongest rebuke so far has come from Egypt, recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv and decrying Israel’s actions. As the AP reported Thursday, Egypt’s foreign minister asked the United States to push Israel to stop its offensive and warned that the violence could “escalate out of control.” Despite Hamas’ connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s new government appears committed to seeking on diplomatic means of intervening in the current Gaza crisis. Egypt’s prime minister Hesham Qandil reportedly plans to lead an Egyptian delegation into Gaza tomorrow as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians.
And as our own Alex Halperin noted yesterday, the IDF continues to use social media to chilling effect, publishing warnings to Hamas and expositions of military tactics and operations across Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.
(Nov. 14): Following four days of escalating cross border rocket fire between the Palestinian Gaza Strip and Israel, Israel launched a full military operation Wednesday on the beleaguered region. An airstrike early Wednesday killed Hamas military chief Ahmad Jabari, marking Israel’s official resumption of targeted assassinations. Hamas’ armed wing said the attack “opened the gates of hell.”
According to Haaretz, Israel’s Security Cabinet has now authorized the Israeli Defense Forces to draft military reservists and expand the Gaza operation (“Operation Pillar of Defense”) if necessary, suggesting that despite Hamas’ professed desire for a cease-fire, Israel does not belief this crisis is over.
During a Wednesday press conference, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak listed the operation’s goals: intensifying the warning to Hamas; thwarting the array of rockets; causing a painful blow to Hamas; limiting the damage on the home front. Haaretz reported that 60 rockets were fired on Wednesday from Gaza at Israel’s south. Meanwhile the civilian death count from Israeli airstrikes in Palestine is growing — estimated to be around 30 at the time of writing, including a number of children. BBC foreign editor Jon Williams tweeted that a colleague of his in the Gaza Strip lost his 11-month-old baby.
As Salon’s Alex Halperin noted earlier, “the IDF employed social media to chilling effect today, demonstrating that it is proud to kill those it deems a threat to Israeli citizens.” IDF accounts on both YouTube and Twitter were active Wednesday, posting a video of a targeted assassination airstrike and issuing warnings to Hamas.
According to Harriet Sherwood, the Guardian’s correspondent in Jerusalem, although today’s strikes were predictable following recent rocket fire, “the risks of a major military operation in the changing landscape of the Middle East are enormous.” She notes:
In Gaza itself, the emergence of radical militant organizations, largely beyond the control of the ruling Hamas, make the consequences of Israel’s operation highly unpredictable … Some analysts in Israel have warned that if Hamas were to be toppled in a sustained military operation, such groups could fill a power vacuum. Israel could conceivably find itself with an enemy even worse than Hamas, they say.
Operation Pillar Defense has also provided the first major test for the relationship between Israel and the new Egyptian government. “Before its revolution in the spring of 2011, Israel could count on the support of the country’s deposed president Hosni Mubarak. But his successor, Mohammed Morsi, who has long ties with the Muslim Brotherhood – Hamas’s parent organisation – is likely to vehemently oppose the latest Israeli operation. It could even threaten the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt,” reported Sherwood.
As of Wednesday, Egypt has publically condemned Israel’s actions and recalled its envoy from Israel:
“President Mohamed Morsi has followed the Israeli brutal assault in which a number of martyrs and sons of the Palestinian people were killed,” presidential spokesman Yasser Ali said in a televised statement. “On this basis he has recalled the Egyptian ambassador from Israel; has ordered the Egyptian representative at the United Nations to call for an emergency meeting at the Security Council … and summoned the Israeli ambassador in Egypt in protest over the assault,” the statement added.
Haaretz reported on Egypt’s plans going forward relating to the Gaza crisis:
Morsi called an emergency session of Egypt’s National Security Council and announced four steps Egypt will take in protest of Israel’s attack on Gaza. The most serious step is the recalling of the Egyptian envoy in Tel Aviv. Egypt will also summon the Israeli envoy in Cairo to reprimand him over the attack, call for an emergency meeting of the Arab League, and work to convene a special seating of the UN Security Council.
Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have also historically invoked international censure (except from the U.S. government) as the civilian death toll has been high. During Operation Cast Lead, which began in late 2008 and lasted 22 days, around 1,400 people were killed in Gaza, including more than 300 children.
The U.S. State Department issued a brief Wednesday statement condemning Hamas and expressing support for Israel.
“We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. “We strongly condemn the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, and we regret the death and injury of innocent Israeli and Palestinian civilians caused by the ensuing violence.”
The video below reportedly shows smoke rising from sites attacked in Gaza City Wednesday evening: