ABOVE: The Israeli military says it struck another 200 Hamas targets in Gaza today as militants fired back, launching a fresh salvo of rocket attacks. Alphonso Van Marsh reports on the escalating violence from Tel Aviv.
- Policeman possibly charged in beating of Palestinian-American teen
- Two more suspected militants reportedly tried to enter Israel by sea
- Hamas fires rockets near Israeli nuclear facility
- Rockets from Gaza reach further north into Israel
- Israel dropped more than 400 tons of explosives on Gaza since Monday
Egypt discusses ceasefire
With rockets raining deep inside Israel, the military pummeled Palestinian targets Wednesday across the Gaza Strip and threatened a broad ground offensive, while the first diplomatic efforts to end two days of heavy fighting got underway.
Egypt, which has mediated before between Israel and the Hamas militant group, said it spoke to all sides about ending the violence. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in touch with Israel to try to lower tensions. And the United Nations chief warned of a “deteriorating situation … which could quickly get beyond anyone’s control.”
As the Palestinian death toll rose above 60, neither side showed any sign of halting their heaviest fighting since an eight-day battle in late 2012.
In the first indication that cease-fire efforts were underway, the office of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said he held “extensive contacts with all active and concerned parties” to end the fighting.
It said the two sides discussed the “critical conditions and the need to stop all military action, and to stop the slide” toward more violence. It called on Israel to protect Palestinian civilians.
Egypt negotiated a cease-fire that ended the 2012 fighting, but the situation has changed since then. At the time, Egypt was led by the Muslim Brotherhood, a regional movement that includes Hamas. Following a military coup last year, el-Sissi was elected president, and the new government is far more hostile toward Hamas.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he spent Wednesday calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, el-Sissi and other regional leaders to push the two sides toward a cease-fire.
“This is one of the most critical tests the region has faced in recent years,” Ban told a news conference. “Gaza is on a knife-edge. The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get beyond anyone’s control.”
In Washington, the State Department said Kerry spoke by phone with Netanyahu and planned to talk to Abbas to urge both sides to de-escalate the crisis.
Netanyahu confirmed he spoke to Kerry, Ban and German leader Angela Merkel, but gave no indication the offensive would stop.
“Today I spoke with several world leaders. I appreciated their expressions of strong support for our right and our duty to defend ourselves, and this is what we will continue to do,” he said.
If the offensive drags on, Netanyahu could find himself under increased pressure to halt it, especially if the civilian death toll mounts.
UPDATES: What’s happening in Israel and the Palestinian territories
Charges possible in beating of Palestinian-American teen
Israel’s Justice Minister is considering charges against an officer involved in the severe beating of a 15-year-old Palestinian-American in East Jerusalem last week, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Tariq Khdeir’s was arrested amid protests over the death of his cousin—16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was kidnapped and burned alive on June 25 in what has been labeled a revenge killing following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
But the article also suggested Abu Khdeir could be charged.
“The statement said that Khdeir was arrested while wielding a slingshot with his make-shift face-mask and was among a group of protesters who were throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at police,” according to the Jerusalem Post. The boy and his family deny those allegations.
Abu Khdeir lives in Tampa, Fla. and was visiting relatives in East Jerusalem. He was taken into Israeli police custody after the alleged assault July 3 and held until July 6, when he was released and placed under nine-day house arrest at his uncle’s home.
Khdeir was also denied medical treatment for his injuries for five hours after he was detained, according to a Palestinian group that works with prisoners in Israeli jails.
Israeli police arrested six suspects on July 6; three of them confessed to the kidnapping and killing of Abu Khdeir’s cousin.
The Jerusalem Post reported Wednesday evening the other three suspects will be released Thursday, citing a legal aid organization saying “they are not connected to the murder.”
Two more suspected militants spotted off Israel’s coast
Israel’s Defence Force have reportedly spotted two more militants trying to enter Israel by sea.
“An IDF force spotted a short while ago what appeared to be two armed scuba divers on the northern coast of the Gaza Strip approaching Israeli territory,” Haaretz reported at 10:10 p.m. local time.
Maan News Agency reported Israeli soldiers opened fire, killing the two as they came ashore near Zikim Kibbutz, but Israeli news agencies did not have confirmation of that report.
The IDF said it killed five militants in a similar incident at the same location on Tuesday and released video showing the individuals being “neutralized.”
Hamas fires rockets near Israeli nuclear facility: IDF
A Hamas rocket attack came close to striking the Israeli city of Dimona on Wednesday, aiming to hit the city’s nuclear reactor.
According to the Times of Israel, Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack which Israel said was thwarted using its Iron Dome missile defence system.
The Israeli Defense Force said three rockets fired from Gaza were aimed at the city: one was intercepted using the Iron Dome, while the other two hit “open areas.”
But the attempted attack comes after a false report last week that the plant has been successfully attacked.
On July 3, the IDF’s official Twitter account was hacked and a message reading “WARNING: Possible nuclear leak in the region after 2 rockets hit Dimona nuclear facility,” was posted.
The attempted attack on Dimona followed Hamas firing longer range rocket on Tuesday, hitting the city of Hadera, about 45 minutes north of Tel Aviv.
It was the first time Hamas rockets have reached that far north from the Gaza Strip.
Rocket sirens sounded further north in Hof Hacarmel on Wednesday. Hamas had been aiming at the northern resort city of Haifa.
Militants fired more than 180 rockets from Gaza on Wednesday, but, Israel’s offensive is now more intense than the eight-day operation against Hamas in November 2012.
An Israeli Air Force commander told Haaretz the IAF has dropped more than “400 tons of explosives” on more than 400 targets in Gaza.
Ma’an News Agency reported 51 Palestinians have been killed since Israel’s Operation Protective Edge began on Monday, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants.
But the death toll, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, includes nine children killed in strikes on Wednesday. Three other children died on Tuesday, Ma’an News reported, adding at least 450 people had been injured.
Israel ‘ready for all possibilities,’ says Netanyahu
The military said it struck about 200 Hamas targets on the second day of its offensive, which it says is needed to end incessant rocket attacks out of Gaza. Militants, however, continued to fire rocket salvos deep into Israeli territory, and Israel mobilized thousands of forces along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground operation.
“The army is ready for all possibilities,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after holding a meeting of his Security Cabinet. “Hamas will pay a heavy price for firing toward Israeli citizens. The security of Israel’s citizens comes first. The operation will expand and continue until the fire toward our towns stops and quiet returns.”
The fighting stepped up as Egypt, which often serves as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, said it was in contact with both sides to end the violence. It was the first indication since the offensive was launched on Tuesday that cease-fire efforts might be under way.
The offensive has set off the heaviest fighting between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas since an eight-day battle in November 2012. As the death toll continued to rise, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing “genocide.”
Israeli leaders warned a ground invasion could be imminent.
“Despite the fact it will be hard, complicated and costly, we will have to take over Gaza temporarily, for a few weeks, to cut off the strengthening of this terror army,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister, told Israel Radio. “If you ask my humble opinion, a significant operation like this is approaching.”
The government has authorized the army to activate up to 40,000 reservists for a ground operation. An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing Israeli tactical strategy, said the reservists would be sent to the West Bank to allow active duty troops to amass near the Gaza border.
Despite the tough threats, Israeli security officials are still hesitant about ordering a ground invasion due to the many risks. Entering Gaza could lead to heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side while putting Israeli ground forces in danger.
It remains unclear whether the international community would support such an operation, or how Israel would end it. Officials have little desire to retake control of Gaza, a densely populated territory of 1.8 million people from which Israel withdrew in 2005.
With files from Global News’s Nick Logan and The Associated Press