GAZA: Thousands of Palestinians were displaced on Wednesday as Israel intensified its 15-day-old offensive in the Gaza Strip, battering the occupied territory with almost round-the-clock artillery fire and tank shelling.
Fifty Palestinians were killed during the day, most of them in the southern town of Khan Younis — one of the focal points of Israel’s recent assault.
Israel lost three more soldiers, raising its military death toll to 32 — three times more than what it suffered during the 2008 incursion into the territory.
The military said one of its soldiers was also missing and believed he might be dead. Hamas says it has captured him.
For the first time since launching the offensive, the Israeli army admitted that “we are meeting resistance around the tunnels”.
Another 50 Palestinians killed
|A Palestinian man carries his father as he and others run for cover during an Israeli air strike here on Wednesday.—AP|
“They (Hamas) are constantly trying to attack us around and in the tunnels. That is the trend,” military spokesman Lt-Col Peter Lerner said.
In the far north of Gaza Strip, residents continued to flee Beit Hanoun as Israeli tanks thrust deeper into the border town and destroyed nearby orchards in their search for hidden Hamas tunnels.
“Columns of people are heading west of Beit Hanoun, looking for a safe shelter. 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 neighbourhood in 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. Israeli tanks fired shells near ambulances, discouraging their approach to recover casualties, witnesses said.
Officials in Gaza said that 475 houses had been totally destroyed by Israeli fire and 2,644 partially damaged since the Jewish state began its offensive on July 8.
Some 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals had also suffered varying degrees of destruction.
After aerial and naval bombardment failed to quell the outgunned Palestinian guerillas, Israel poured ground forces into the Gaza Strip last Thursday, looking to knock out Hamas’s rocket stores and destroy a vast, underground network of tunnels.
DIPLOMACY: On the diplomatic front, US Secretary of State John Kerry said indirect truce talks had made some progress.
Kerry met Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday before returning 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 John Kerry, on one of his most intensive regional visits since the peace negotiations he had brokered between Netanyahu and Abbas broke down in April.
We are doing this for one simple reason. The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence. And this needs to end for everybody.”
Mr Kerry has been working through Abbas, Egypt and other regional proxies as the United States, like Israel, shuns Hamas as a terrorist group. Hamas brushed off the US diplomat’s appeal, saying it would not hold fire without making gains.
“Our interest and that of our people is that no agreement should be made before the conditions of factions of resistance are met,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
PLO BACKS HAMAS: In a move that could effectively turn Mahmud Abbas into the main Palestinian point person for any Gaza truce, his umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) on Wednesday formally supported core conditions set by the Hamas-led fighters.
These demands include the release of hundreds of Hamas supporters recently arrested in the nearby West Bank and an end to the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has stymied the economy and made it near impossible for anyone to travel abroad.
Egypt has tried to get both sides to hold fire and then negotiate terms for protracted calm in Gaza, which has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005.
Published in Dawn, July 24th , 2014