Middle East

Gaza rockets cripple Israeli airspace

A relative bursts into tears as mourners try to comfort him as they gather around the bodies of seven members of the Kelani family, killed overnight by an Israeli strike in Gaza City, during their funeral in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, on Tuesday, July 22, 2014.

GAZA CITY: A rocket fired from Gaza landed near Israel’s main civilian airport Tuesday, forcing airlines from the U.S., Europe and Turkey to halt flights to Israel as diplomatic efforts failed to end a conflict that has killed over 630 Palestinians.

As the violence entered its third week, the U.S. and Egypt discussed cease-fire proposals in Cairo, and the Palestinian leadership sought to coax Hamas to end hostilities.

In Tel Aviv, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the two sides to “stop fighting” and “start talking,” but neither side appeared willing to do so.

Israel insisted it would press on with its punishing aerial and ground assault until it destroys cross-border tunnels used by Gaza fighters to launch attacks on the Jewish state, while Hamas continued to fire rockets and inflicted more casualties on the army.

One rocket that crashed just a few kilometers north of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion international airport prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority to ban airlines from flying to and from Israel for at least 24 hours.

The European Aviation Safety Agency advised all carriers to avoid Tel Aviv “until further notice.”

Israel’s Transportation Ministry called on the companies to reverse their decision, insisting the facility was safe and saying there was no reason to “hand terror a prize,” by halting the flights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to help restore U.S. flights, an Israeli official said.

In Cairo, Kerry discussed cease-fire proposals with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi with both voicing guarded hopes of an end to the violence. Kerry again placed the onus on Hamas to accept a cease-fire, voicing support for an Egyptian truce initiative as a “framework” to end the fighting.

Hamas has already rejected the Egyptian initiative, saying the plan ignores its demands for the release of prisoners and for a more comprehensive lifting of an economic blockade on the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian plan does not specify a timeline for easing the siege, saying “crossings shall be opened and the passage of persons and goods through border crossings shall be facilitated once the security situation becomes stable on the ground.”

In a sign of the intensity of the U.S. diplomacy, Kerry spoke to Netanyahu as well as the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar after his two-hour meeting with Sisi, according to a senior U.S. official.

A senior Palestinian official said talks were also ongoing between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas for a cease-fire.

Abbas has also proposed a formula for ending the fighting, calling for an immediate cease-fire followed by five days of talks, Palestinian official Azzam al-Ahmad said in Cairo.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, said a cease-fire “won’t happen before we really finish the tunnels project which was laid out as a strategic objective” of the ground offensive launched Thursday evening.

She said Hamas’ “completely unacceptable” preconditions for a truce had “no chance of being accepted by anyone.”

Following top-level talks in Cairo, Ban arrived in Israel to deliver his message in person.

“My message to Israelis and Palestinians is the same: Stop fighting, start talking and take on the root causes of the conflict so that we are not at the same situation in the next six months or a year,” he said.

Despite the flurry of diplomatic activity, the death toll on the ground rose to over 630 Palestinians, medics said, including three children and 10 women, one of whom was pregnant.Israel pummeled targets throughout the besieged coastal enclave, with its tanks hitting a U.N. school sheltering the displaced, said the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.

At the time a team, with Israeli clearance, was at the school observing damage from a possible strike the day before. “While they were there, they came under Israeli shelling,” an official said, adding there were holes blown through the walls of the school compound, but that no one was hurt.

Since the offensive, more than 100,000 Gazans have fled their homes, seeking shelter in 69 schools run by UNRWA.

In New York, the Palestinian envoy to the U.N. held up photographs of children slain in Gaza and read out names of the dead as he pleaded for action from the Security Council. “On behalf of the Palestinian people, we ask: What is the international community doing to stop this bloodletting, to stop Israel’s atrocities?” Riyad Mansour said during a debate on the Gaza crisis.

Wearing a black ribbon, he held up photographs of families overcome with grief and of children’s corpses, and read out the names of young victims who lost their lives.

The Israeli military said two more of its soldiers had been killed in the fighting a day earlier, hiking its overall death toll to 29, among them 27 soldiers who died in the past four days.

It also confirmed the death of a soldier who Hamas militants claimed they had kidnapped, saying his body remained unaccounted for. Publication of the name suggested Hamas was likely holding the soldier’s remains.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 23, 2014, on page 1.




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