Israel Says It Is Escalating Gaza Campaign
Defies International Pressure for Immediate Cease-fire
By Tamer El-Ghobashy in Gaza City and Joshua Mitnick in Tel Aviv
July 29, 2014
Israel's leaders said they were escalating the military campaign in Gaza and told the country to prepare for a prolonged operation, defying international demands for an immediate cease-fire after Hamas militants broke a Muslim holiday lull.
The military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said Israel's assault on Gaza's Hamas rulers was being "intensified" after three weeks of fighting that has cost more than 1,100 lives.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised address, gave no sign the military would go beyond its stated goals--degrading Hamas's rocket arsenal and finding and destroying a network of cross-border tunnels that fighters use to infiltrate Israel. The military needs about another week to accomplish that, officials said.
"We will not finish the mission, we will not finish the operation, without neutralizing the tunnels, which have the sole purpose of annihilating our citizens and killing our children," the prime minister said. He told Israelis to brace for a prolonged fight.
As he spoke, the military sent messages instructing thousands of Palestinians living on the outskirts of Gaza City to leave their homes and take shelter in the city center--an apparent prelude to an assault on suspected Hamas positions in civilian neighborhoods.
Just before midnight, missiles struck several buildings in Gaza City, some of the heaviest bombardment since the assault began three weeks ago. Flares lit the moonless sky, followed by strikes that rattled and broke windows several blocks away. Acrid smoke hung over the city that houses many of Gaza's municipal buildings and its commercial center.
Later, flares lighted up the midnight sky over Gaza City, accompanied by repeated explosions that rattled windows.
There had been a brief lull in fighting from Sunday afternoon as Israel eased up on strikes for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr,  which began on Monday.
But Mr. Netanyahu ordered a resumption of attacks after Hamas struck two military targets inside Israel on Monday, lobbing a mortar that killed four soldiers at a makeshift base 4 miles from the Gaza border and popping up from a cross-border tunnel to open fire on a military patrol. The military said it killed five militants in a firefight at the tunnel opening, and that five of its soldiers were killed.
In Gaza City, two blasts shook a residential neighborhood called Beach Camp, killing eight children and two adults, Gaza's health ministry said. Both Israel and Hamas denied responsibility. Palestinian officials blamed an Israeli airstrike. Israel's military released an aerial photo diagram purporting to show the paths of four rockets fired from Gaza, with one of them landing at Beach Camp.
Hamas responded defiantly to Mr. Netanyahu's comments.
"His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people," said Samy Abu Zohry, a spokesman for the Islamist group that governs Gaza. "The [Israeli] occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children."
Mr. Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership each appear to have strong support at home for continuing the fight. But the mounting death toll has put both under international pressure to stop fighting and negotiate a deal that would ease severe restrictions by Egypt and Israel on Gaza's borders, while guaranteeing Israel's security.
The Gaza health ministry said 1,079 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began on July 8. Most were civilians,  according to the United Nations and Palestinian officials. Fifty-three Israeli soldiers have died and three civilians have been killed by rocket fire in Israel, the military said.
After the blasts in Gaza City, Naji Adeen said he found his wounded son Ahmed in a pool of blood and took him to a hospital for treatment.
"We saw pieces of children," he said. "There were so many ugly things there."
Mohamed El Helw, 36 years old, stood at the hospital next to a gurney carrying a bloodied white body bag, weeping. He said the bag contained the remains of his father, who had gone out to buy treats for his grandchildren for the holiday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon singled out Israel,  accusing it of "pummeling" Gazans with "indiscriminate destruction" and warned the Jewish state to fulfill its obligations as "an occupying power" to protect civilians.
The U.N. chief demanded that Israel and Hamas end the violence "in the name of humanity." He accused Mr. Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal of being "morally wrong" for letting their people get killed. Mr. Ban said he spoke to Mr. Netanyahu on Monday, urging him to accept a cease-fire first, then to address the root causes of the conflict. An emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Monday called for an "immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire," echoing President Barack Obama's appeal in a phone call to Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday.
Mr. Obama's call to Mr. Netanyahu stoked concern among Israelis about a rift with the U.S. that could complicate the search for a cease-fire. Tensions are still raw after Israel's cabinet on Thursday rejected a proposal for a one-week cease-fire  by Secretary of State John Kerry, saying it addressed Hamas's demands for open borders but not Israel's demand for the demilitarization of Gaza.
--Nicholas Casey in Gaza City contributed to this article.
Write to Tamer El-Ghobashy at email@example.com