Wednesday 7 October 2015

Israel to step up offensive as death toll reaches 700

David Blair

Published 24/07/2014 | 02:30

A Palestinian relative holds the body of a two-year-old girl, who medics said was killed by an Israeli tank shell, at the morgue in Beit Lahiya. Photo credit: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
A Palestinian relative holds the body of a two-year-old girl, who medics said was killed by an Israeli tank shell, at the morgue in Beit Lahiya. Photo credit: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
Light streaks and smoke trails are seen as rockets are launched from Gaza towards Israel. Reuters
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal talks during a news conference in Doha. Meshaal said he was ready to accept a humanitarian truce in Gaza where the Islamist group is fighting an Israeli military offensive, but would not agree to a full ceasefire until the terms had been negotiated. Reuters
Palestinians flee during a two hour temporary ceasefire in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighborhood. AP
People hold a banner next to sheets stained in red paint, mimicking blood, depicting the children, who medics said were killed by a shell fired by an Israeli naval gunboat, on a beach in Gaza City during a protest against Israel's military action in Gaza, at La Constitucion square in Malaga, southern Spain. Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and United Nations diplomats pursued talks on halting the fighting that has claimed more than 600 lives. The banner reads, "Israel kills. The international community is silent". Photo credit: REUTERS/Jon Nazca
Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, as Israeli airstrikes pummeled a wide range of locations along the coastal area and diplomatic efforts intensified to end the two-week war. Photo credit: AP Photo/Hatem Moussa
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces pounded Gaza on Wednesday, meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists and sending thousands of residents fleeing. Photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen
Palestinian rescue workers inspect the remains of a house which witnesses said was destoyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City. Israeli forces pounded the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, sending thousands of residents fleeing, and said it was meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Tel Aviv to push ceasefire talks. Some 643 Palestinians, many of them children and civilians, have died in the conflagration, including a seven-year-old hit by a shell in southern Gaza early Wednesday, a medic said. Photo credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Palestinians walk past a damaged mosque, which witnesses said was hit by Israeli shelling, in Gaza City. Reuters
Palestinian relatives of Tawfiq al -Aga, who medics said was killed in Israeli shelling, mourn during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Israeli soldiers play cards at a military staging area outside the Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Jewish worshipper takes part in a special prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City for the well-being of Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Reuters
The Israeli community of Netiv Haasara is seen in front of flares fired by the Israeli army in Gaza. Reuters

ISRAEL threatened to escalate the Gaza offensive to the "next stages" yesterday as the United Nations said that war crimes may have been committed.

Air strikes and tank shells killed another 47 people in Gaza, taking the number of Palestinians killed to 678, according to the health ministry. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said that three more soldiers were killed, taking their total military losses to 32.

All of these troops have died since Operation Protective Edge escalated into a ground invasion last Thursday.

Moshe Ya'alon, the defence minister, visited troops near Gaza and warned of a further expansion of the offensive, which is designed to protect Israel from rocket attacks and destroy a network of storage and attack tunnels dug by Hamas.

"We are preparing the next stages of the fighting after dealing with the tunnels and you need to be ready for any mission," Mr Ya'alon told soldiers.

"You need to be ready for more important steps in Gaza and the units that are now on standby need to prepare to go in." He said the offensive had been "very successful so far".

However, he added: “Hamas is trying to cause more casualties here, and we must remain vigilant – its highest goal is to kidnap a soldier.”

On day 16 of Israel's offensive, Hamas was still able to launch rockets. Salvos of outgoing missiles could be heard in central Gaza City during the day and evening.

Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that Hamas was guilty of “indiscriminate attacks” by firing rockets at Israeli cities.


She also accused Israel of failing to do enough to protect civilians, adding: “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”

Children continued to die yesterday, including two killed by tank fire in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, visited Israel as he sought to broker a ceasefire. “We have certainly made some steps forward, but there is still work to be done,” he said.

Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to lift all movement restrictions on Gaza before any truce can be agreed. However, Palestinian Authority negotiators are trying to persuade the Islamists to accept a truce in return for talks to reopen Gaza's borders.

Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, stuck to the movement's position, saying “we reject today and will reject in the future” a ceasefire before negotiations on Hamas's demands, which include lifting years of blockade against the Palestinian enclave.

The threat posed by Hamas rockets has caused American and European airlines to suspend flights to Tel Aviv. The Federal Aviation Authority has banned all American airlines from landing at Ben Gurion Airport, while the European Aviation Safety Agency said it “recommended” the same.

British Airways, however, said it was continuing to serve Tel Aviv, adding that each airline “draws its own conclusions” over the risks.

Jim Fitzpatrick, an aviation minister in the former Labour government, questioned this decision. “Given the experience of MH17, which was a deliberate act, and the number of rockets Hamas are firing, one has |to wonder about the safety of |aircraft in Israeli airspace,” he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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