Gaza violence spills over to West Bank; Gaza deaths now 760
RAMALLAH, West Bank/CAIRO: Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Palestinian protesters and wounded about 100 on Thursday in confrontations with several thousand people demonstrating in the occupied West Bank against a 17-day-old Israeli offensive in Gaza, Palestinian medical officials said.
The Israeli military confirmed troops had used “riot dispersal means” against protesters who threw rocks and firebombs at them and blocked a road with burning tires.
The protest erupted after allies of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement marched from the West Bank city of Ramallah to the edges of Jerusalem in protest against Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza where the Palestinian death toll has topped 760.
A doctor at Ramallah hospital said three people died of bullet injuries, including a man in his 20s who was injured in the head, while at least 100 other people were treated for various injuries after the protest.
Israel Radio said the protest appeared to be the largest since a 2000-2005 Palestinian uprising.
Israeli troops have killed two other Palestinians this week in smaller confrontations in the West Bank, territory Israel captured along with Gaza in a 1967 war.
Protests were also reported in Jerusalem, where police confronted Palestinian protesters in and near the old walled city, including outside a flashpoint holy site revered by Muslims and Jews.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said several officers were injured by rocks thrown at them in Jerusalem and that about 20 protesters were arrested.
UN chief’s plea
Amid the spiralling violence highlighted by the shelling of a UN-run school in the Gaza Strip that killed 15 Palestinians on Thursday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made an impassioned plea for Israel and Hamas to end their conflict.
“I was shocked and appalled by what has happened in Beit Hanoun,” Ban told reporters.
“It is totally unacceptable,” he said in Cairo, before sitting down for talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said the incident underscored the need to reach a cease-fire to end a conflict in which more than 760 Palestinians have died.
“I am telling to the parties both Israelis and Hamas, Palestinians, that it’s morally wrong to kill your own people,” Ban added. “You must stop fighting and enter into a dialogue. Whatever differences you may have, this is wrong.”
“Why are you continuing to kill people? There are many other ways to resolve this issue without killing each other. I am angry about … what they are doing,” he added. “Now is the time to sit down together instead of killing each other.”
Neither Kerry nor Ban addressed who might be responsible for the school shelling.
Gazan authorities blamed the Israeli forces for the incident. The Israeli military said its troops were fighting gunmen from Hamas, which runs Gaza, in the area and that it was investigating.
Kerry spent his fourth day in the region talking to world leaders to try to end the 17-day conflict, in which Israel has lost at least 32 soldiers in clashes as well as three civilians killed inside Israel by Palestinian rockets and mortar fire.
More than 140,000 Palestinians have fled 17 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza militants, many of them seeking shelter in buildings run by the UNRWA. Israeli forces are trying to stop militants from Hamas and their allies from firing rockets into its territory.
“It’s clear that civilians are paying an unimaginable price caught between both sides,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. “We were attempting to arrange a window for evacuation for the civilians with the Israeli army that never came. The consequences were deeply tragic.”
Britain called on Gaza’s rulers to accept a truce unconditionally. “Hamas must agree to a humanitarian cease-fire without pre-conditions,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told a news conference in Cairo.
“Then … the Palestine Authority (and) Israel would come together for discussions to ensure a lasting and sustainable peace in Gaza so that we do not repeat this cycle of violence.”
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said on Wednesday his fighters had made gains against Israel and voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza’s 1.8 million people. Hamas wants Egypt to open up its border with Gaza too.
The Palestinian death toll in Gaza reached 762 on Thursday, officials said. At least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas raiders who have slipped under the fortified frontier in tunnels.
Palestinian rockets and mortar bombs have also killed three civilians in Israel. Such attacks surged last month as Israel cracked down on Hamas in the occupied West Bank, triggering the July 8 air and sea barrage on the Gaza Strip that escalated into an invasion last week.
With Washington’s encouragement, and the involvement of Turkey and Hamas ally Qatar, Egypt has been trying to broker a limited humanitarian cease-fire for the battered enclave.
One Cairo official said on Wednesday it could take effect by the weekend, in time for the Eid Al-Fitr festival next Monday or Tuesday, Islam’s biggest annual celebration following the fasting month of Ramadan.
But a US official described any truce by the weekend as unlikely, as did an Israeli security cabinet minister who said the army would need one to two weeks to complete its main mission of razing tunnels used by Hamas for cross-border raids.
“If the talk is of a humanitarian hiatus for — this is not pleasant to say — removing bodies, all kinds of things that are connected to the civilian population in the short term, this might be weighed,” the minister, Gilad Erdan, told Israel Radio.
“But I will oppose any cease-fire until it is clear both that the tunnels will be destroyed and what will happen in the post-cease-fire period — how we will guarantee that quiet for the residents of Israel will really be preserved in the long term.”
Israel won a partial reprieve from the economic damage of the war with the lifting of a US ban on commercial flights to Tel Aviv.
Though Israel’s Iron Dome defense system has shot down most of the rockets fired from Gaza, one that came close to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday prompted the US Federal Aviation Administration to bar American flights there.
An ensuing wave of cancelations by foreign airlines sharply reduced traffic at Israel’s usually bustling international gateway at the height of the summer tourist season, and was hailed as a victory by Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appeal to the Obama administration to intervene, and the FAA canceled the ban late on Wednesday after reviewing the security situation. The European Air Safety Agency said it would follow suit and lift its own recommendation to avoid flying to Tel Aviv.
US Airways, a unit of American Airlines Group Inc, said it was resuming its non-stop Tel Aviv to Philadelphia service. Germany’s Lufthansa said its suspension of flights to Tel Aviv would continue to Friday.
Gaza militants continued to fire rockets at Israel on Thursday, sending thousands in the country’s south racing to shelters or safe rooms. There were no reported casualties.