Death tolls mount, airstrikes drop in week 3 of Gaza conflict

Death tolls mount, airstrikes drop in week 3 of Gaza conflict
U.S. Department of State
News
Thursday, July 24, 2014 - 6:54am

In the third week of a bruising conflict between Israel and Hamas, there were some positive signs as the intensity of the fighting seemed to dip a bit even as diplomatic efforts ramped up.

The number of Israeli airstrikes took a precipitous drop, the Israeli military reported Thursday.

Israel Defense Forces said it hit 35 terror targets overnight. A day earlier, the number was 187.

The Israeli military also reported a sharp fall in the number of rockets fired from Gaza in the early hours of Thursday, although as the day wore on, more rockets were lofted toward Israel, some in the direction of the international airport in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli military said it captured 150 "terrorist suspects" in Gaza Wednesday.

Even with a slump in airstrikes and rocket attacks, the toll the fighting has taken is clear.

It can be seen in the blocks of rubble that line Gaza neighborhoods, where the Israeli military has relentlessly bombed. It can also be found in the frayed nerves of Israeli citizens who dive into bomb shelters as Hamas rockets fly in their direction on a daily basis.

Mideast shuttle diplomacy took no break on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was back in Cairo, continuing his shuttle diplomacy to forge a truce a day after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as well as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"Over the last few days Secretary Kerry has been engaged with the Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Europeans, the UN, the Arab League, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to determine how to achieve an end to the current violence and build a process that can create a sustainable path forward," White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said.

The diplomatic effort wasn't solely limited to the United States, as several Middle Eastern nations worked to try to win Hamas' agreement for an Egyptian-led cease-fire. Hamas said Turkey and Kuwait were also involved.

Death tolls jump

The Gaza Health Ministry said Thursday that 732 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, including at least166 children. More than 4,600 people have been wounded, the health officials said.

It's unclear how many of the dead were civilians. The United Nations estimates that more than 70% were. The Israeli military said 230 militants have been killed.

Three more Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday, bringing the total to 32 plus three civilians. Among the soldiers, three died from friendly fire.

A Hamas mortar shell killed a foreign worker in Ashkelon on Wednesday, marking the third civilian death on the Israeli side.

Hamas has said it is holding an Israeli soldier it captured in an ambush on an armored personnel carrier Sunday. Six other IDF soldiers died in the ambush.

On Tuesday, the Israeli military released the soldier's name -- Sgt. Oren Shaul -- but said it was "working to identify his body."

Israeli media reported that Shaul was missing and presumed dead.

U.N. slams possible 'war crimes'

"There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday.

"I unequivocally reiterate to all actors in this conflict that civilians must not be targeted. It is imperative that Israel, Hamas and all Palestinian armed groups strictly abide by applicable norms of international humanitarian law and international human rights law," Pillay said.

Some Israeli officials rejected Pillay's statements about Israel.

"She would be better advised to seek credible first-hand information rather than making intolerably biased statements based on newspaper clippings," Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said, according to The Jerusalem Post. He added that Pillay's "embarrassingly shallow and populist affirmations ... do a huge disservice to actual human rights."

Also Wednesday, Ban announced he was ordering a review of incidents where rockets were placed at United Nations Relief and Works Agency schools.

Ban "expresses his outrage, and regret, at the placing of weapons in a UN-administered school," a written statement from the U.N. said.

He demanded that militants stop endangering civilians by putting rockets at the schools.

Battered neighborhood

The Shaja'ia area of Gaza City has been among the hardest hit in the Israeli onslaught. The International Committee of the Red Cross went into the neighborhood on Wednesday and found it "partially demolished," the ICRC said.

The Israel Defense Forces has warned residents of the neighborhood to flee multiple times and has accused Hamas of telling people to remain in their homes.

Looking for the living and the dead, the Red Cross found anger instead.

"Do you see?" Ahmed al-Halo said Wednesday, pointing to where his house lies in ruin after four straight days of Israeli military strikes. "They're hitting civilians. They didn't hit one of the fighters or any of their so called military targets. Look at what they did. They destroyed the houses, the street, and killed civilians."

"I've never seen destruction like this," fireman Kamal Abu Assi said.

In the end there was nothing the Red Cross could do for Shaja'ia, a firefight broke out, forcing the ICRC team to evacuate.

Tunnels and hospital strikes

During their ground offensive in Gaza, The IDF has found 31 tunnels that go from Gaza into Israel. "Since the beginning of the ground operation, more than 60 access shafts leading to (the) tunnels were uncovered," Isarel said.

The al-Wafa hospital, near hard-hit Shaja'ia, "is a Hamas military compound," the Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday. At Israel's request, it was evacuated of patients and staff Tuesday, though Hamas gunmen remained, firing at Israeli forces, the IDF said. Israel confirmed the evacuation with a World Health Organization official, then struck the "terror targets" at the site, the IDF said.

The Israeli military released video it said showed secondary explosions from stockpiled munitions when the hospital was hit.

Palestinian ambulances have been shelled, Gazan medics have complained. On Wednesday, the IDF said militants used one to escape the Israeli military.

Ian Lee reported from Gaza City. Ben Brumfield and Josh Levs reported from Atlanta. CNN's Steve Almasy, Tal Heinrich, Ali Younes and Tim Lister contributed to this report. 

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