FEARS GROW OTHER GROUPS MAY JOIN HAMAS FIGHT VS. ISRAEL AFTER KERRY PEACE EFFORT FAILS

KERRY2Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. Mr. Kerry reported progress in indirect negotiations, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for a temporary truce to allow humanitarian relief into Gaza.

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By Dave Boyer | The Washington Times

Hamas rejected Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s call for a cease-fire amid concerns that an agreement won’t be reached before other parties are drawn into its conflict with Israel.

A new jihadi media outlet called Al Fawaris released a video Wednesday calling on Gazans to endure the military operation. Its message said victory looms and that Muslims all over the world support them.

While Hamas is using tactics favored by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Islamist group has not shown signs of entering the conflict. Analysts say Hezbollah, which has offered words of support for Hamas, is fully occupied with Syria’s civil war.

“Right now, Hezbollah has way too much invested in the Syrian conflict to provoke an unnecessarily destructive war with Israel,” said Daniel Nisman, president of the Levantine Group, a geopolitical risk and research group based in Tel Aviv.

The Middle East Media Research Institute’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor published a report with a video featuring jihadi cleric Abu hareth Al-Maqdisi, who said he and his fighters in Syria want to join the battle in Gaza.

“True, we are fighting in Syria, but our heart yearns to arrive and fight the sons and brothers of the apes and pigs [the Jews],” the institute reported Al-Maqdisi as saying. The jihadi cleric said Gazans must be patient and wait for either victory or martyrdom, and that Allah will soon send “extraordinary soldiers who will fight and defeat the Jews.”

Mr. Kerry reported progress in indirect negotiations, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called for a temporary truce to allow humanitarian relief into Gaza. But Mr. Meshaal said his group would keep fighting Israel and would not agree to a more lasting cease-fire without a full negotiation of terms.

“We need the calm for a few hours to evacuate the wounded and assist in the relief. This means a real truce backed by a real relief program offered to the people of Gaza,” Mr. Meshaal said at a news conference in Qatar.

However, he said any permanent cease-fire could be reached only if Israel ends its siege and could be implemented only after full negotiations.

More than 680 Palestinians and 34 Israelis have been killed since fighting began in early July.

Already hurt by mass tourism cancellations, Israel faced increased economic pressure after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration took the rare step Tuesday of banning flights to Tel Aviv and renewed the order Wednesday. Many other foreign carriers, on heightened alert after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over a combat zone in Ukraine last week, followed suit. Israeli carriers continued to operate.

Hamas‘ success in closing the Israeli airspace is a great victory for the resistance, a terrible failure for Israel that wrecks the image of Israeli deterrence,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. The Tel Aviv stock exchange and shekel were flat, with traders showing little concern about the flight stoppages.

Mr. Kerry landed at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, despite the flight bans, and met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a grim-faced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said indirect talks had made some progress but returned later to Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza and has mediated with Hamas.

“We have certainly made some steps forward. There is still work to be done,” said Mr. Kerry, whose most recent efforts at peace negotiations between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas broke down in April.

Mr. Kerry has been working through Mr. Abbas, Egypt and other regional proxies because the U.S., like Israel, shuns Hamas as a terrorist group. Hamas brushed off the U.S. diplomat’s appeal, saying it would not hold fire without making gains.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said there was “a strong possibility” that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza, where most Palestinian casualties have been civilians.

She also condemned indiscriminate Islamist rocket fire out of Gaza.

The U.N. Human Rights Council said it would launch an international inquiry into suspected violations.

Israel dismissed the threat. “Get lost,” Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on her Facebook page in response to the investigation.

“Our interest and that of our people is that no agreement should be made before the conditions of factions of resistance are met,” Mr. Abu Zuhri said.

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, meanwhile, said Hamas must be denied the ability to “rain down rockets on Israeli civilians.”

“One of the results, one would hope, of a cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn’t continue, doesn’t repeat itself,” Mr. Blinken said in an interview with NPR. “That needs to be the end result.”

On the ground, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, a Palestinian health official said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate some 250 people from the area, which has been pummeled by airstrikes and tank shelling since early Wednesday.

As the battle unfolded, hundreds of eastern Khan Younis residents, many with children in tow, fled their homes and flooded into the streets with what few belongings they could carry. They said they were seeking shelter in U.N. schools.

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Farther north, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, which endured intense fighting earlier this week, an airstrike demolished a home, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather Hassan and his nephew Osama.

Israel launched its offensive July 8 to halt rocket salvos by Hamas and its allies, which have struggled under an Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade on Gaza and have been angered by a crackdown on their supporters in the West Bank.

After aerial and naval bombardment failed to quell the outgunned guerrillas, Israel poured ground forces into the Gaza Strip last Thursday, looking to knock out Hamas‘ rocket stores and destroy a vast network of tunnels.

“We are meeting resistance around the tunnels. They are constantly trying to attack us around and in the tunnels. That is the trend,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.

Israel said three of its soldiers were killed by explosive devices Wednesday, raising the army death toll to 32. Three civilians, including a Thai laborer hit Wednesday, have died in rocket attacks launched from Gaza.

The military said one of its soldiers is missing and believes he might be dead. Hamas said it has captured the soldier but has not released a picture of him in their control.

Clouds of black smoke hung over Gaza, some 40 miles south of Ben Gurion. The regular thud of artillery and tank shells filling the air drove out thousands of civilians in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip.

“This is not war; this is annihilation,” said 17-year-old Hamed Ayman. “I once dreamt of becoming a doctor. Today I am homeless. They should watch out for what I could become next.”

Palestinian medics said two worshippers were killed and 30 wounded in an attack on a mosque in the heart of the densely populated Zeitoun neighborhood in eastern Gaza City.

In southern Abassan and Khuzaa villages, residents said they were besieged by Israeli snipers who wounded two Palestinians as they tried to emerge from hiding with white flags in hand.

The Israeli army also seized Wafa hospital in eastern Gaza, saying it had been used to shelter Hamas fighters — a regular complaint from the military. The hospital removed patients after receiving warnings of the pending assault.

Israel named four commanders of the Islamic Jihad, a Hamas ally, that it said it had killed in recent days.

U.S. TALKS CEASEFIRE AS ISRAEL INTENSIFIES ASSAULT ON GAZA

By Bill Van Auken

US Secretary of State John Kerry shuttled between Egypt, Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority Wednesday promoting a ceasefire proposal that amounts to an unconditional surrender by Gaza’s Palestinian population.

Amid reports that the Hamas leadership had rejected such conditions, there were strong indications that the US diplomatic gambit represented little more than window dressing for a sharp escalation of the Israeli slaughter in Gaza.

The Israeli onslaught on the narrow, densely populated and impoverished Palestinian territory is now entering its seventeenth day, with the ground invasion beginning its second week. The death toll in Gaza rose toward 700 Wednesday night, with more than 4,500 wounded.

The United Nations reported Wednesday that fully three-quarters of those killed have been civilians, and that over the previous two days one child had been killed in Gaza every hour. With many believed to be buried beneath the rubble in neighborhoods razed by Israeli fire, the casualty figures are certain to rise.

This may well be only the beginning, however. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet met Wednesday night to discuss both the ceasefire maneuvers and the next phase of the Israeli military onslaught.

In advance of the security cabinet meeting, one of its members, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, told Israel’s Channel 2 television that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would have to “achieve its objectives” before the Netanyahu government would enter into any ceasefire. He added that, in addition to destroying tunnels used by the Palestinian resistance and eliminating its ability to fire rockets at Israel, the IDF would carry out a campaign to wipe out the Hamas political and military leadership. “We see them as legitimate targets,” he said, laying out the rationale for a program of mass assassinations.

An indication of what is being prepared was provided by the web site Debkafile, which has close ties to Israeli military and intelligence circles. IDF commanders, according to its report, had said on Wednesday that “the time had come for a decisive war move.” This would take the form of “a large-scale assault on the bunker complex housing Hamas’ top military command and infrastructure.” Tank units, the commanders reportedly added, “could undertake the opening moves for the next, critical stage of the Israeli operation at no more than hours’ notice.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, speaking to troops of the Golani Brigade on the Gaza border, gave the same basic message, telling the soldiers they needed “to be ready for more important steps in Gaza and the units that are now on standby need to prepare to go in.”

Such an offensive would bring Israeli tanks and troops into the center of Gaza City, where many tens of thousands of civilians have fled to escape intense shelling, bombing and missile strikes in the south, east and north of the Gaza Strip.

With thousands more forced to flee their homes every day, there is no place for civilians to go to save their lives. The IDF has already declared a three kilometer buffer zone on the Israeli border a “no go” area, effectively turning 44 percent of Gaza into a free-fire zone.

Schools and hospitals, where many of the more than 140,000 displaced Palestinians have sought refuge, have been subjected to bombardment. An Israeli air strike leveled the Wafa hospital in the east of Gaza City Wednesday after some 97 patients and staff were forced to flee the facility. Palestinian health officials said that more than 25 medical facilities have been struck.

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal delivered a televised speech in Doha Wednesday night declaring the movement’s readiness to enter into a “humanitarian ceasefire,” but rejecting the unconditional surrender terms dictated by Israel, the US and the Egyptian regime of military strongman Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and accepted by the subservient Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas.

The Turkish government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which had earlier sought to broker an alternative to the US-Israeli-Egyptian ceasefire proposal, reportedly attempted on Wednesday to pressure Hamas to accept the deal, claiming the Palestinians’ demands could be negotiated later.

The Palestinian ambassador to Turkey, Nabil Maarouf, told the Hürriyet Daily News Wednesday: “All the groups in Gaza refused, because they want to guarantee something before the ceasefire. They want the Rafah border [with Egypt] to be opened, the release of prisoners from the Gilat Shalit deal who were arrested again by the Israelis, free access to the port, and they want to build an airport [in Gaza] so that people can go and come without complications at the borders. The main aim of these is guaranteeing a new life to the Palestinians in Gaza.”

“There is no real breakthrough and many are still insisting on a ceasefire that would be later followed by negotiations,” said the Hamas leader Mashaal. He added, “We cannot accept any proposal that does not include the lifting of the siege on Gazans,” referring to the land, air and sea blockade of Gaza maintained by both the Israeli and Egyptian regimes for the last seven years, condemning the population to intense poverty and more than 50 percent unemployment in what amounts to the largest open-air prison in the world.

Mashaal also rejected the demands made by Israel, Washington and the European Union that any negotiations following a ceasefire be directed at the complete disarmament of the Gaza Strip, leaving it completely defenseless in the face of the Israeli military machine. “No one can disarm the resistance,” he said in the speech.

The United Nations provided an understatement of the obvious on Wednesday, with Navi Pillay, the UN’s top human rights official, declaring in relation to Israel’s actions, “There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”

This assessment was delivered to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which subsequently passed a resolution calling for an independent investigation into Israel’s actions. Representatives of 29 countries voted for the investigation, while 17, including a number of EU states, abstained. The sole “no” vote was cast by the United States, which finances the Israeli war machine and is deeply implicated in its crimes.

Israeli officials reacted with a mixture of rage and contempt for the UN vote. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni posted a response on her Facebook page: “Get lost.” She described the deaths of civilians as “regrettable,” but put them down to Hamas telling people to stay in their homes after Israel had demanded that they evacuate them. “That is what happens,” she said.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office issued a statement condemning the proposed investigation as a “travesty” and repeating the standard Israeli alibi that the slaughter of civilians in Gaza is all a matter of Hamas using them as “human shields.”

It dismissed the proposed investigation by comparing it to the Goldstone report issued following an investigation into Israel’s 2009 Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians. That report described the war as “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

Following a relentless Israeli pressure campaign, the head of the investigation, the former South African judge Richard Goldstone, issued a cringing retraction, while the other three members of the fact-finding mission defended its conclusions.

Despite the vituperative bluster from Tel Aviv, the Netanyahu government has clearly been shaken by the results of Operation Protective Edge, as it has dubbed its blitzkrieg against Gaza. The Palestinian resistance has been more intense than anticipated, claiming the lives of at least 32 Israeli soldiers—more than triple the Israeli casualties suffered in Operation Cast Lead.

And Palestinian rocket fire, which included a hit within close proximity of the runways of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has led the US Federal Aviation Administration to impose what has now become a 48-hour moratorium on US flights to Israel. A number of European airlines have followed suit.

The decision, clearly influenced by the downing of the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet flying over a war zone in Ukraine, was bitterly denounced by the Israeli regime. Israel’s transport minister, Yisrael Katz, accused the FAA of having “given a prize to terror.”

The web site Debkafile, however, cited military sources as saying the rocket strike had “exposed a hidden side of the war on Israel.” It was a further indication that despite the denunciations of the Palestinian rocket attacks as indiscriminate, “Most of the nearly 2,000 rockets fired over the last 16 days did not miss Israel’s urban centers by chance.” Instead, it said, “Hamas was focusing on strategic targets, such as Israeli Air Force bases …”

A “HUMANITARIAN” CEASEFIRE WOULD GIVE HAMAS TIME TO FIND ANSWERS FOR ISRAELI CHARIOT-4′S WINDBREAKER ARMOR

DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis

Thursday, July 24, the 17th day of the IDF’s Gaza operation, Israeli ministers were discussing a possible “humanitarian ceasefire” in IDF-Hamas hostilities, which could last up to five days. According to debkafile‘s military sources, it is Hamas which, behind its tough stance, is keen on a pause – and not just out of sudden concern for Gaza’s civilians. Its tacticians are desperate to find a chink in the Chariot-4 tank’s Armored Shield Protection-Active Trophy missile defense system, known as the Windbreaker. The 401st armored brigade is the only IDF unit with this armor.

Hamas has tried to stop these tanks with two kinds of advanced guided anti-tank missiles, the Russian Kornet-E, and the 9M113 Konkurs. But Windbreaker repels them and blows them all up.

Wednesday July 23 the IDF deliberately placed brigade commander Col. Sa’ar Tzur, one of the outstanding commanders in Operation Protective Edge, before TV cameras, while standing in front of a Chariot-4 tank.

He spoke at length about the brigade’s unstoppable performance under anti-tank missile fire. Those missiles are blown up without penetrating the tanks’ armor, he said, and are powerless to slow their advance.

Hamas has found no answer for the Active Trophy defense system, any more than it has for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense batteries, which keep Israeli civilian populations safe from its rockets. Both systems are home-made, developed by Rafael advanced armed systems industries.
Hamas is not giving up, which is why it is holding out against a long ceasefire, but aiming for just enough time to come up with new stratagems, debkafile‘s military sources say.

This was the message conveyed in the statement Hamas leader Khaled Meshal made Wednesday July 23 in Qatar: He rejected a long-term ceasefire, but left the door open for a “humanitarian” pause.

While its forces have taken serious punishment, most of Hamas’ underground command and military infrastructure is still far from knocked out. But if the Israeli military decides to go for a decisive coup against those core facilities – defined by the Israeli security cabinet’s euphemism of “expanding the operation” – Hamas chiefs expect it to be spearheaded by a fleet of Chariot-4 tanks hurtling towards them behind the protection of their impenetrable “Windbreakers.”

To maintain any kind of draw with the IDF, Hamas stands in urgent need of two resources: 1) Technology for neutralizing the Windbreaker; and 2) Missiles able to pierce it.

While Khaled Meshal haggles with ceasefire brokers in Qatar, his agents are known to have appealed urgently to Tehran to find the weapons they need and deliver them at top speed to the Gaza Strip – possibly from Libya by the Iranian-terrorists’ arms smuggling route through Egypt.
A reference to this appeal was made in a comment by a senior military intelligence official Wednesday, when he disclosed that Iran had promised to rebuild Hamas’ military machine, including its rocket production and launch systems. Hamas and Tehran also broached the problem of the Chariot-4 armor. Both fully understood that unless it can be solved, Hamas may have no way of defending its high command and arsenal in their elaborately furnished underground bunkers.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has all these facts to hand, fed by a steady stream of intelligence from US informants in and over the battlefield. His efforts for a ceasefire are based on his perception that Israel has so far not managed to inflict a clear defeat on Hamas and needs to expand its operation to tip the scales.

He calculates that if Israel launches its final thrust, which has not yet been approved, it will not accept a ceasefire before achieving its goal, and this may take at least a week to ten days.

But if  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hold off on Israel’s decisive attack, then negotiations can start for a truce of some kind, while both sides size up their respective situations and decide whether or not it is to their advantage.

MSNBC, MAINSTREAM MEDIA UNDER ATTACK FOR BIASED GAZA COVERAGE

MSNBC is the hot seat after being accused of having a pro-Israeli bias in its coverage of the conflict in Gaza. While on-air Monday, Rula Jebreal scolded the network for being “disgustingly biased” and ignoring the plight facing Palestinians as Israel and Hamas continue their fighting. Shortly after her critique, the journalist took to Twitter to claim that all of her future appearances had been cancelled, prompting a major backlash that prompted the network to have her reappear and make her case. RT’s Anastasia Churkina takes a look the drama.

ISRAELI ASSAULT ON GAZA CONTINUES DESPITE GLOBAL CEASEFIRE CALLS

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The UN ‘s top human rights chief has condemned Israeli actions in Gaza, saying war crimes may have been committed.

Navi Pillay made the comments at an emergency debate on the conflict in Geneva.

Israel says it will continue its air, sea and land assault on Gaza until Hamas rocket launch sites and fortified tunnels are destroyed.

Ordinary people continue to bear the brunt of the violence.

One Jabalya resident says the Palestinians are defenceless:
“Most of the wounded are children. There is no resistance here. The occupiers have lost their minds. They are just attacking civilians, they don’t know what they are doing.”

Thousands of Gazan homes have been destroyed along with, schools, hospitals and mosques.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, has lashed out out at Hamas after rockets were discovered hidden in a school for the second time in the conflict.

GAZA CRISIS: PALESTINIANS FLEE TO UNITED NATIONS SHELTERS IN SEARCH OF SAFETY

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United Nations humanitarian agency UNWRA has estimated that over 100,000 people have been displaced by the violence in Gaza.

Many of them have fled to UN-run schools which have been transformed into make-shift shelters.

Having escaped some of the worst shelling in the Shejaija district of Gaza City, Palestinian families assumed they would be safe there.

However one man who had just arrived with his family at one camp expressed his anger after an Israeli shell hit a building near the school. “We ran away when they shelled our homes but now they’ve followed us! There is no safety here,” he said.

Conditions are basic and communal but mixed with fear, many in the camp find daily life intolerable.

“I call on you to see how we live!” cried one woman. She went on to explain there were 55 people living and sleeping in one room – adults and children together – “This is not acceptable!”

Our reporter Valerie Gauriat went to another camp in Gaza City where she talked to some of the children about what had happened to them. After tales of bombings and people being killed their common question was “Why?”

“I pray to Hamas not to let me die. What did we do to Israel to strike us and shell our homes ? Why are you shelling us ? I ask the Israeli forces to move their air strikes onto the resistance and not my home and my family!” said one small boy.

For others the question was directed at the rest of the world: “Why are we here? . We lived comfortably in our houses. Why did they do this to us? Where is the international community?”

Euronews reporter Valerie Gauriat said:

“Israel, Hamas, Palestine, Egypt, Obama, the children’s words speak of politics and war. It’s hard to believe that this generation, with what they have gone through, will be able or willing to contribute to efforts for future peace in this region.”

UNITED NATIONS SCHOOL IN GAZA CAUGHT IN CROSS-FIRE, 15-KILLED

By IBRAHIM BARZAK and PETER ENAV | Associated Press

Israeli tank shells hit a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens who were seeking shelter from fierce clashes on the streets outside, Palestinian officials said, as Israel pressed forward with its 17-day war against the territory’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. said the strike occurred as staff members were trying to arrange a humanitarian pause in the hostilities so they could evacuate the civilians from the compound in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Israeli military said it was reviewing the incident and suggested Hamas rockets may have been to blame, although it offered no proof.

Kamel al-Kafarne, who was in the school, said that the U.N. was putting people on buses when three tank shells hit.

“We were about to get out of the school, then they hit the school. They kept on shelling it,” he said.

Books, blankets, cushions and other belongings were scattered about the courtyard in the aftermath of the explosion. There was a large scorch mark in the courtyard marking the apparent site of impact. A sandal with a yellow flower lay beside a puddle of blood, and sheep and a horse that had belonged to those seeking shelter grazed nearby. Dozens of people, including children, were wheeled into a nearby hospital.

It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, since the conflict began July 8. UNRWA, the Palestinian refugee agency, has said it has found militant rockets inside two vacant schools.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli shells had hit the compound.

The Israeli military said Hamas had launched rockets that fell in the area that could have been responsible for the deaths.

“We can’t confirm that this is a result of errant fire. In any case, we do not target U.N. facilities,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said. Lerner said the military had urged the U.N. and the Red Cross to evacuate the school for three days leading up to the incident.

The U.N. said it was trying to do just that when the school was hit. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said the U.N. had asked the Israeli military for a lull in fighting to allow for the school’s evacuation but did not hear back.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said U.N. staff were among the casualties and demanded that Israel and Hamas abide by international humanitarian law, respect “the sanctity of civilian life, the inviolability of U.N. premises” and protect humanitarian workers. He said more than 100,000 Gazans have sought refuge in UNRWA facilities.

“Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop — and to stop now,” Ban said during a visit to Iraq.

Israel insists it does its utmost to prevent civilian casualties but says Hamas puts Palestinians in danger by hiding arms and fighters in civilian areas. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the violence, saying Israel was targeting displaced people and “committing massacres.”

Dozens of other people also were killed in a day of heavy fighting throughout the coastal territory, raising the overall Palestinian death toll in the conflict to at least 788, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israel has lost 32 soldiers, all since July 17, when it widened its air campaign into a full-scale ground operation. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also been killed by rocket or mortar fire.

With the number of casualties growing on both sides, the international community has stepped up diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire. But Hamas is insisting on the lifting of the 7-year-old blockade, which was imposed when the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says the war is meant to halt rocket fire from Palestinian militants in Gaza and destroy a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2006 after Hamas and other militants abducted an Israeli soldier in a deadly cross-border raid. It tightened the siege in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but had eased some of the restrictions in recent years.

Egypt tightened its own restrictions last year after the overthrow of a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo and has destroyed many of the cross-border smuggling tunnels that sustained Gaza’s economy, and which were also used by Hamas to bring in arms.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent the day in Cairo feverishly calling on regional leaders to help push Israel and Hamas agree to a cease-fire as a necessary first step toward resolving some their long-standing mutual grievances.

As in years past — most recently in 2012 — the U.S. wants the violence to stop before it tries to negotiate specific demands each side has put forward. For Hamas, that includes the release of Palestinian prisoners in addition to the end of the economic blockade against Gaza.

Kerry did not make any public appearances on Thursday as he called foreign ministers in Turkey and Qatar — who have influence with Hamas — and Netanyahu to try to press a solution. Like Israel, the U.S. considers Hamas a terrorist organization and will not directly engage with its leaders.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday’s attack on the U.N. school “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible.”

“We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we have condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Psaki added.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, meanwhile, urged Hamas to agree on an immediate humanitarian cease-fire and said Israel and Palestinian Authority could then come together to hold talks.

“Hamas must agree to a humanitarian cease-fire without preconditions for the sake of the people in Gaza,” he said during a news conference after meetings with Egyptian officials in Cairo.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, made no reference to the cease-fire efforts in underscoring his determination to neutralize the rocket and tunnel threats.

More than 2,000 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since July 8, and the Israeli military says it has uncovered more than 30 tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel, some of which have been used by Hamas to carry out attacks.

“We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel… And we shall return it,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Hammond earlier Thursday in Israel.

In other violence, six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp early Thursday, according to Gaza police and health officials. Another airstrike on a home in the southern Gaza town of Abassan killed five members of another family, al-Kidra said.

Heavy fighting was reported along the border of central Gaza, according to Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. Israeli troops fired tank shells that reached parts of the Bureij and Maghazi refugee camps, although no injuries were immediately reported. Clashes also erupted between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops in the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Batniji said.

Israeli naval vessels meanwhile fired more than 100 shells along the coast of Gaza City and northern Gaza, the spokesman said, adding that rescue teams were unable to operate in the area because of the heavy fire.

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