Israel to step up offensive as death toll reaches 700
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)