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Airlines ban flights to Israel after rocket strike

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 22, 2014 at 6:35 pm •  Published: July 22, 2014
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"We understand the terror organization is looking for some leverage and as cynical as it sounds, one type of leverage is bargaining over parts of bodies," said Lior Lotan, a reserve Israeli colonel and former head of its POW and MIA department.

Israeli airstrikes continued to pummel Gaza tunnels, rocket launchers and militants on the 15th day of the war Tuesday as diplomatic efforts intensified to end fighting that has killed at least 630 Palestinians and 29 Israelis — 27 soldiers and two civilians.

Israel says its troops have killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen, while Gaza officials say the vast majority have been civilians, many of them children.

Israel says it is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties and blames Hamas for using civilians as "human shields."

Human rights activists say past confrontations have shown that when Israeli carries out attacks in densely populated Palestinian areas, civilian deaths are inevitable.

The Israeli military said that after a firefight with Palestinian militants on Tuesday, troops saw some Palestinian gunmen flee the scene in an ambulance.

The military said soldiers "did not target the ambulance in light of the possibility uninvolved civilians were in it."

Egypt, Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional cease-fire, to be followed by talks on a possible new border arrangement for Gaza. Israel and Egypt have severely restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007. But Hamas has rejected repeated Egyptian truce proposals.

Both U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Kerry were in the region to make the highest-level push yet to end the deadly conflict.

Kerry met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and other senior officials in Cairo. He stopped short of advocating a new round of peace talks but left the door open for broad negotiations between Israel and Palestinian officials once a cease-fire is in place.

"Just reaching a cease-fire is clearly not enough," Kerry said. "It is imperative that there be a serious engagement, discussion, negotiation, regarding the underlying issues and addressing all the concerns that have brought us to where we are today."

El-Sissi said he raised with Ban the possibility of an international donor conference for Gaza reconstruction after a cease-fire is implemented.

The U.N. secretary-general, meanwhile, said it was his "hope and belief" that his mission would lead to an end to the fighting "in the very near future." Ban told the Security Council by videoconference from the West Bank city of Ramallah that he could not publicly reveal details "at this highly sensitive moment." As he spoke a siren could be heard in the background.

Ban earlier met with Netanyahu in Israel, where he urged a resumption of talks toward bringing about a two-state solution.

Netanyahu responded that Hamas, a group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, does not want a two-state solution and said the international community needed to hold Hamas accountable for the latest round of violence, saying its refusal to agree to a cease-fire had prevented an earlier end to the fighting.

"What we're seeing here with Hamas is another instance of Islamist extremism, violent extremism," Netanyahu said at a joint press conference in Tel Aviv. "What grievance can we solve with Hamas? Their grievance is that we exist. They don't want a two-state solution, they don't want any state solution."

Hamas, with backing from its allies Qatar and Turkey, says it wants guarantees on lifting the blockade before halting its fire.

Israel launched a massive air campaign on July 8 to stop relentless Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and expanded it to a ground war last week aimed at destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis.

Israel has struck almost 3,000 sites in Gaza, killed more than 180 armed Palestinians and uncovered 66 access shafts of 23 tunnels, the military said.

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Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Maggie Michael in Cairo, Tia Goldenberg, Ian Deitch and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Follow Heller on Twitter @aronhellerap.