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Battles rage; toll over 800 EU calls for probe

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, July 25, (Agencies): International efforts for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza ramped up on Friday, as tensions erupted in the West Bank where five Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire. The United States has worked with Egypt on a plan that, diplomats say, would provide a humanitarian pause in the deadly Israel-Hamas conflict ahead of talks on key issues. The plan is being pressed by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is with UN chief Ban Ki-moon in Cairo for talks to end violence that has killed 832 Palestinians as well as 37 people on the Israeli side. Israel’s security cabinet was meeting to discuss a truce proposal passed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Kerry, Israeli media reported.

Meanwhile Hamas claimed it had fired three rockets at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, with an army spokeswoman confirming “two rockets were shot down over metropolitan Tel Aviv”. The claim raised new fears after many US and European carriers resumed flights to the airport after rocket fire near the facility prompted a two-day suspension. In a statement released by his office, Ban called for “an immediate, unconditional humanitarian pause in the fighting in Gaza and Israel.” “This pause would last through the Eid al-Fitr holiday period,” Ban said, adding that a halt in the fighting could lead to a “longer-term ceasefire plan”.
 
Ban’s remarks were contained in a speech emailed to reporters, but which the UN said later was a draft of prepared remarks that had “not been delivered”. His comments tracked reports from Western and Palestinian officials of efforts to secure an initial week-long humanitarian ceasefire to be followed by negotiations on a longer-term cessation of hostilities. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu flew to Qatar Friday to help efforts after Kerry reached out to Hamas allies Ankara and Doha to push for a ceasefire. Under the proposal, once a humanitarian lull takes hold, delegations from Israel and Hamas will arrive in Cairo — which has mediated past conflicts between the two — for indirect talks that could lead to a lasting deal.
 
Hamas’s exiled Doha-based leader Khaled Meshaal insisted in a Thursday interview with the BBC that any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza. “We want a ceasefire as soon as possible, that’s parallel with the lifting of the siege of Gaza,” he said. In the West Bank, tensions over the situation in Gaza erupted into protests in several cities after Friday prayers. Overnight, one Palestinian was killed and 150 injured in clashes in the West Bank, and on Friday afternoon, five more Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops and settlers. In one incident, three Palestinians were shot dead by troops in the village of Beit Ummar near the flashpoint southern city of Hebron, Palestinian security sources said.
 
A group of Israeli settlers later opened fire on protesting Palestinians after they threw stones at their car near Nablus in the northern West Bank. The settler fire killed one Palestinian, and a second was killed by live bullets fired by Israeli soldiers who arrived on the scene, the sources added. In Gaza, the death toll rose to 832 on the 18th day of the conflict, with a five-year-old child and a pregnant woman among the latest deaths announced. On Thursday, at least 15 people were killed in the alleged Israeli shelling of a UN school sheltering some of the 100,000 Palestinians who have fled their homes during fighting.
 
The UN said it had been trying to coordinate with the army to evacuate civilians before the strike, without success, but the army said it had offered a humanitarian window, and suggested militants firing rockets in the area were responsible for the deaths. Rights groups say around 80 percent of the casualties so far have been civilians, and the UN agency for children UNICEF said Friday that 192 children had been killed during the conflict. In Lebanon another Israeli foe, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, made a rare public appearance in Beirut, preaching “solidarity with the people and the resistance in Gaza.” The Israeli army on Friday announced the death of a 36-year-old reserve soldier.
 
It also confirmed the death of Oron Shaul, who had been missing in action since July 20 but ruled dead, bringing the toll of soldiers and officers killed in Gaza since July 8 to 34.
Three civilians have been killed inside Israel, by rocket fire from Gaza, which continued Friday.
The army said militants fired 25 rockets which hit southern Israel with another 10 intercepted, bringing the number of rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza that hit Israel since July 8 to 1,870, with another 473 intercepted.
A French lawyer said Friday he had lodged a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on behalf of the Palestinian justice minister accusing the Israeli army of “war crimes”.
More than 800 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, launched on July 8 in response to Hamas militants firing rockets into the Jewish state.
The complaint targets “war crimes committed by the Israeli army in June and July 2014 in Palestine” in the context of the operation known as Protective Edge, Gilles Devers told reporters.
“Israel, the occupying power, is carrying out a military operation which in principle and form violates the basis of international law,” he said.
“Every day new crimes are committed and over 80 percent of the victims are civilians. Children, women, hospitals, UN schools ... the Israeli soldiers respect nothing.
“This is a military attack against the Palestinian population”
The Israeli offensive has left more than 5,200 Palestinians injured, according to emergency services in Gaza, and 33 Israeli soldiers and two civilians have died, too.
The Palestinian Authority, which has non-member observer state status at the United Nations, has not yet signed up to the Hague-based ICC, due to what Devers said were “political” quarrels over the Palestinians’ status.
But according to Devers, the complaint is still valid.
The UN Human Rights Council is launching a probe into Israel’s offensive in Gaza, with rights chief Navi Pillay saying the Jewish state’s military actions could amount to war crimes.
Iranians rallied nationwide on Friday in a show of support for Palestinians as archfoe Israel pursued its deadly campaign against the Gaza Strip.
Demonstrations were held in Tehran and more than 700 towns and cities across the country on the last day of prayer and rest of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, state television reported.
In the capital, footage showed demonstrators, carrying placards proclaiming “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”, converging from nine different points on Tehran University in the city centre.
Iran holds Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) rallies in support of the Palestinians every year on the last Friday of Ramadan, but this year’s demonstrations came on the 18th day of Israel’s deadly campaign against rocket-firing militants in Gaza.
More than 800 Palestinian civilians have been killed in the assault on Gaza and the Islamist Hamas movement that dominates it and has long been supported by Iran.
Rockets and mortar rounds fired into Israel have killed three civilians — two Israelis and a Thai farm worker — and fighting in and around Gaza has killed 32 Israeli soldiers.
“The Islamic world must in unison declare this day one of anger, hatred, unity and resistance against Israel,” President Hassan Rouhani said at the Tehran demonstration.
Rouhani, who has overseen a fledgling rapprochement with the West condemned, “those who stay silent in the face of the Zionist regime’s crimes”.
“The world demands an end to the Gaza blockade, opening the Rafah crossing and halting attacks on Gaza so its people can live normally,” he said.
He was referring to the demands of Hamas for any truce with Israel to end the deadly violence. The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt is the territory’s only one not controlled by Israel.
General Hossein Salami, second in command of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, struck a defiant tone in a speech broadcast on state television.
“Now no place in the occupied territories is safe for the Zionists. The missiles of Palestinian fighters have a range well beyond what the Zionists believe,” he said.
“We will continue house by house and avenge the blood of martyrs shed in Palestine.”
Salami’s sentiments were echoed by demonstrators.
“My message to the Palestinians is this: continue the struggle until your last drop of blood. Islamic countries, especially Iran, are behind you to save you,” a young protester called Hassan told AFP.
Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of Amman and other cities Friday to support Hamas and condemn Israel’s offensive in Gaza, where more than 800 Palestinians have been killed.
Around 2,000 people demonstrated in central Amman after Friday midday prayers, chanting: “We sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Gaza,” in support of Hamas’s armed wing the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades.
“Bomb and destroy Tel Aviv!” chanted protesters waving flags of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and holding banners that read “Stop the barbaric aggression on Gaza” and “The resistance represent us”.
Similar demonstrations were held in the northern cities of Zarqa and Irbid as well as in the south, in Karak.
Jordan has repeatedly demanded that Israel stop its “brutal aggression” and “targeting civilians” in Gaza.
The kingdom, which has a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, is home to more than two million Palestinian refugees, as well as large numbers of Jordanians of Palestinian origin.
Relations between Turkey and Israel have hit their “lowest level” amid the Jewish state’s assault on the Gaza Strip, and may not be able to improve for some time, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said.
Arinc, one of the founding members of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), said Turkey had always calibrated its relations with Israel according to Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians.
“Our relations have always been reduced to a minimum whenever Israel continued occupation, dropped bombs in Palestine and carried out massacres,” he told AFP in an interview in Ankara on Thursday.
Israel has withdrawn most of its diplomatic staff from Turkey after violent protests against its missions while Erdogan has enraged Israeli leaders by describing the Gaza assault as a genocide.
“The lowest level (in relations) right now will maybe continue for a while,” said Arinc.
Before Israel began the Gaza assault to stop Hamas rocket attacks, Arinc was leading talks on normalising ties between the two countries after the deadly storming by Israel commandos of the Mavi Marmara ship carrying Turkish activists and humanitarian aid to Gaza in 2010.
Nine Turks died in the raid and one more died in hospital this year after four years in a coma.
The ensuing outcry in Turkey led to a degrading of diplomatic relations between the former allies to below ambassador level.
 
Arinc said Israel had been holding up the signing of the final deal. Then came the Gaza offensive, which according to Erdogan has now put normalising ties off the agenda. “Gaza is being bombarded, it is a big tragedy. In these circumstances the normalisation of relations between Turkey and Israel at the level of ambassador does not seem possible,” said Arinc. “And we are not enthusiastic about this either,” he added. Arinc added that relations between Turkey and Israel ebbed and flowed according to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, ever since Turkey recognised Israel in 1949.
 
“Turkey has always displayed a principled stance towards Israel,” he said. Israel’s elder statesman Shimon Peres bowed out of active political life on Thursday with an ardent defence of the war in Gaza against Hamas militants and a defiant prediction that peace will “one day” come to the Middle East. At a ceremony overshadowed by the 17-day Gaza conflict in which nearly 800 people have died, Peres, 90, relinquished his largely ceremonial post as Israeli president to Reuven Rivlin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party.
 
Israeli heads of state are not directly involved in political decision-making, but Peres, a Nobel Peace Laureate, has used the presidency over the last seven years as a pulpit for advocating peace with the Palestinians, often taking a more conciliatory stance than right-winger Netanyahu.
In his farewell speech, Peres invoked the biblical prophets he said had taught Israel to see “social justice and world peace as guiding principles” and he urged the Jewish state to “practise equality for all its citizens”.
 
“I will not give up my right to serve my people and my country. And I will continue to help build my country, with a deep belief that one day it will know peace,” he added, making clear he did not envisage a quiet retirement. But Peres also defended Israel’s offensive in Gaza, launched in response to rocket attacks on its territory, despite the deaths of at least 762 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers. He accused Hamas militants of turning Gaza “into a man-made tragedy” and of deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way.
“Israel is not the enemy of the people of Gaza,” he said. But he also said Israel should welcome and encourage debate about the rights and wrongs of the conflict in Gaza.
 
“In these difficult days in which the eyes of the nation are on its leaders, on you, please do not lessen the debate. It is the essence of democracy,” said Peres. Peres was born in Poland in 1923 and began in politics as a close aide to Israel’s founding father and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion. In a career spanning nearly seven decades, he has served in a dozen cabinets and twice as prime minister. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Israel’s late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for a 1993 interim peace deal that they and their successors failed to turn into a durable treaty.
 
Unlike Peres, Rivlin, a former parliamentary speaker, is opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state. A champion of Jewish settlements built on occupied land, Rivlin, 74, has called for a confederation with the Palestinians rather than negotiating an independent state for them — something Palestinian leaders have long rejected. Yet Rivlin, chosen by parliament last month, has won endorsements from Israeli doves for his longtime advocacy of Jewish-Arab cooperation and for a sense of humour known to cross political and ethnic lines. Rivlin had tears in his eyes as he was sworn in as head of state, but he sounded a combative note against Gaza militants. “They will not defeat us. Terror will not defeat us, or weaken our resolve or our spirit or conviction in our feeling of justice,” the new president said.

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