Diplomatic efforts to mediate a ceasefire in Gaza intensified Tuesday, as Israeli warplanes continued to bombard Hamas terrorist targets, as they responded with more rockets Also on Tuesday, Israeli military officials confirmed the identity of a missing soldier presumed dead.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State John Kerry met in Cairo in an effort to end the conflict. The top U.S. diplomat said an Egyptian initiative could be the framework for a ceasefire, a proposal Israel said a week ago it would accept, even as Hamas rejected it.
Ban arrived in Jerusalem late Tuesday afternoon and met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling for an urgent end to the death and suffering.
"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 back to the same position in another six months or a year," Ban said.
He said the underlying issues must be addressed, including mutual recognition, occupation, despair and what he called denial of dignity, so that people will not feel that they have to resort to violence.
Netanyahu responded by saying Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza, refuses to recognize Israel and calls for its destruction. He also said Hamas rejects the two-state solution that has been accepted by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
"In the face of such extremism, in the face of such violence, in the face of such terror, Israel has no option but to defend itself,” Netanyahu concluded. “And this is what we are doing, as is our right.”
“We welcome the Secretary General’s clear condemnation of Hamas attacks on Israel, and for his ongoing efforts to work for a cessation of hostilities,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.
“As he continues to meet with leaders across the region, we urge him to maintain a consistent message: that Hamas must stop rocket attacks, that Israel has a right to defend itself against this threat, and that that any agreement leads to Hamas giving up its rockets, missiles and strategy of terrorist violence.” Mr. Foxman added, “We hope that the Secretary General will use his good office to help find a meaningful path to the permanent end of Hamas’ murderous violence.”
Ban flew to Israel from Egypt, where he met with Egyptian officials and Secretary of State John Kerry as part of the mediation effort.
Unconfirmed Ceasefire Report
Arab media reported on Monday night that a ceasefire in Gaza was imminent and could start as early as Tuesday, according to an INN report.
According to the Lebanese-based Al Mayadeen network, the ceasefire will be signed in Cairo, when Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrives there.
According to the report, the agreement includes a long-term humanitarian ceasefire sponsored by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Under the agreement, the network reported, both sides will stop the fighting and agree on the lifting of the restrictions on Gaza. However, the agreement will not stipulate when the crossings into Gaza will be opened.
It should be noted that the report has not been confirmed by any sources in Israel.
Also on Tuesday, leaders of the European Union issued urgent appeals for the hostilities to be brought to an end. According to a report from The Times of Israel, the EU Foreign Affairs Council released a statement calling on all terrorist groups in Gaza to disarm, and condemns rocket fire on Israel.
“The EU strongly condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza Strip, directly harming civilians. These are criminal and unjustifiable acts. The EU calls on Hamas to immediately put an end to these acts and to renounce violence. All terrorist groups in Gaza must disarm. The EU strongly condemns calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.”
Missing Israeli soldier identified
Israel Defense Forces named Sergeant Oron Shaul as unaccounted for in Gaza, the Jerusalem Post reported and news services reported. The 21-year-old was among seven Israeli soldiers whose armored vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile fired by Palestinian fighters Sunday morning. The other six were confirmed dead.
It’s unclear whether Shaul is alive or dead, the paper reported, noting the military is urgently working to confirm his status.
The military’s announcement Tuesday followed a claim by Hamas that it had kidnapped an Israeli soldier Sunday during heavy fighting on the Gaza border, the Jerusalem Post said.
Israel’s chief military spokesman said on Israel Radio that "we are still trying to locate one soldier from the team," Reuters quoted Brigadier-General Motti Almoz as saying.
Flights to Israel Suspended
According to an INN report, American airlines temporarily halted flights to and from Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport Tuesday following a rocket strike in the area. According to some reports, the change is due to a decision from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
A rocket hit a home in the city of Yehud, near the airport, on Tuesday morning, July 22. Having failed to cause significant casualties due to Israel's extensive defense systems, Gaza terrorists have focused rocket fire on the area in hopes of disrupting Israeli air travel.
Shortly after that development was announced Lufthansa, Germany's largest airline, also temporarily cancelled flights to and from the Jewish state for the next 38 hours due to "security concerns". Austria Airlines, German Wings and Swiss Airlines have also suspended flights to Israel, though it is not clear for how long.
Delta Airlines, United Airlines and other American companies subsequently announced that they will suspend their flights to and from Israel. A Delta Airlines flight that was en route to Israel was rerouted following the Tuesday morning attack.
A U.S. Airways flight that was to leave Israel for America on Tuesday evening was cancelled.
Hamas Targets Destroyed
So far on Tuesday IDF soldiers have successfully hit 187 terror targets, military sources have revealed. One hundred of the targets were in the Sheijaya neighborhood in northern Gaza, according to an INN report.
The targets include hidden rocket launchers, Hamas command centers, tunnels, launchers used for firing ground-to-ground missiles, and a weapons factory.
Soldiers report hitting at least 14 terrorists. One terrorist opened fire on a group of soldiers in northern Gaza shortly before 2 p.m. Tuesday. Soldiers returned fire, and the terrorist was killed.
Earlier in the day a terror cell was spotted and hit by an airstrike. Roughly 10 terrorists were killed. Another two fled by ambulance. INN reported that soldiers withheld fire for fear of hitting innocent bystanders.
Also Tuesday, troops spotted three terrorists and fired a tank shell in their direction. Soldiers have found 66 tunnel entrances leading to a total of 23 tunnels. Six tunnels have been entirely destroyed.
A total of 28 terrorists have been arrested, and are being questioned.
Death toll climbs
Israel kept up its assaults in the Gaza strip, pummeling a wide range of targets. Overnight, it bombed five mosques, a sports complex and the home of the late Hamas military chief, a Gaza police official said.
There has been no let-up in cross-border rocket fire either, with 116 rockets hitting Israel on Monday, one striking the greater Tel Aviv area, and another 17 shot down. On Tuesday, 42 rockets were fired by Hamas into Israel’s southern cities.
Two Israeli soldiers were killed on Monday afternoon, the 14th day of Operation Protective Edge, in battles with Hamas in Gaza, the IDF said overnight, and another was killed on Tuesday morning, bringing the IDF death toll to 29, which includes two civilians.
The IDF released the following names, five of the 13 soldiers killed in Gaza over the weekend. Major Tzafrir Bar Or, 32, from Holon; Captain Tzvika Kaplan, 28, from Kdomim; Sgt. Gilad Ya’akovi, 21, from Kiryat Ono; Sgt. Uzi Mandelovitz, from Avtalion; and Sgt. Sean Carmeli, 21, from Ra’anana.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu in an address to the nation: “To the families of the fallen, we feel your pain. We bow our heads for those who fell so that we can continue to live here in Israel. I speak for the government and the whole nation; we send our condolences to the parents, to the children, to the families of the IDF soldiers who fell on the battlefield.”
“There is no war which is more justified than that for which your sons have died. We will complete the mission which they [the fallen soldiers] began. We will return quiet and peace to the communities in the South and to all of Israel.”
“We find ourselves at a war for our home. Our soldiers are operating professionally and with great effort.”
“We did not want this war, but we will continue until we succeed. We are undaunted. Last night we discovered more tunnels, adding to those we have already uncovered, many of those leading to Israel. Hamas invested for years in its infrastructure for terrorism.”
“This operation will extend as long as is needed until quiet and peace are restored to Israel. We knew from the beginning that it could be a long operation, but the ‘eternal people’ are not daunted by a long journey,”
Also killed in battle over the weekend were two American lone IDF soldiers. Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, of Raanana. Sean was a lone soldier from Texas, who made aliyah at 16 and joined his two sisters in Israel. He left behind two parents and two sisters. Also killed was Max Steinberg, 24, who made aliyah from Los Angeles, California, and moved to Be'er Sheva. He joined the military on 2012, after completing his college studies.
On Monday night, the Israeli media estimated that anywhere from 12,000 to as many as 20,000 people had attended Sean Carmeli’s funeral as fans of the Maccabi Haifa soccer team heeded their call and attended the funeral.
In the call to fans, the soccer club said that “Carmeli was a lone soldier, and we don't want his funeral to be empty. Come to his funeral Monday night to pay respects to a man who died so that we could live. This is the least we can do for him and for our nation,” the message said.
The Gaza Health Ministry reported at least 609 Palestinians have been killed since the offensive's July 8 launch, the AP reported. On Tuesday alone, at least 23 people were killed in fresh Israeli strikes, Gaza health officials said. Another 3,640 people have been wounded, authorities said.
Since the offensive, more than 100,000 Gazans have fled their homes, seeking shelter in 69 schools run by the Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), the French news agency AFP reported.
In Tel Aviv, hundreds of Israelis demonstrated in support of their soldiers. In neighboring Jaffa, hundreds of Israeli-Arabs demonstrated against the Israeli offensive and in support of Hamas.
Israel has signaled it is not in a hurry to achieve a truce before reaching a goal of crippling Hamas' militant infrastructure, including rocket arsenals and networks of tunnels threatening Israelis living along the Gaza frontier.
Hamas has demanded that Israel and Egypt lift a blockade on the coastal territory packed with 1.8 million people, mostly refugees, and that Israel release several hundred Palestinians detained during a search last month for three Jewish teenagers later found dead. Israel blamed the killings on Hamas.