Israel called up an additional 16,000 reservists, a day after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the army was ready push further into the Gaza Strip.
The move came as rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel early today, adding to the more than 140 launched in the past 24 hours, the army said. Israel carried out 110 strikes in the same time. President Barack Obama and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon are among world leaders calling for an immediate end of hostilities.
The army says its operation is intended to destroy the rockets fired by Hamas militants at Israel, and the tunnels used for smuggling and raids. The third major showdown in Gaza in less than six years has become the bloodiest, and there’s little sign of agreement on terms of a cease-fire. Israel says that would require Gaza to be disarmed, while Hamas, the militant group that rules the territory, seeks an end to the Israeli blockade in force since 2006.
The UN Relief and Works Agency has accused Israel of violating international law with an attack on a school, which it said was sheltering 3,300 people who had sought refuge there from the fighting. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children,” citing a death toll of at least 16 and demanding “accountability and justice,” in an e-mailed statement. The Israeli army said troops were responding to fire launched at them from the vicinity.
The army also said it was looking into the report of an air strike on a market. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said 20 people died in that attack, lifting the toll to 119 yesterday and about 1,350 during the three-week offensive. The Israeli military said three soldiers were killed yesterday, bringing the total to 56. Three civilians have died in Israel.
The Israeli military is pushing deeper into Gaza, military spokesman Brigadier-General Moti Almoz told Army Radio. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said yesterday the army is ready to broaden its incursion further. The most recent call-up brings the number of reservists drafted to 86,000. The move will “preserve flexibility,” army spokesman Brig-Gen Moti Almoz told Army Radio today.
Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, labels Hamas a terrorist organization and says it uses civilians as human shields.
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Yesterday’s attack on the school was the second deadly strike on a UN refuge facility in a week. The Palestinians accuse Israel of shelling a UN refuge in Beit Hanoun last week; Israel has said it wasn’t responsible.
“The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army 17 times, to ensure its protection,” Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency, said in a statement. He called the attack “a serious violation of international law.”
While the UN allegation doesn’t have legal implications, “the moment Israel is accused of violating international law, it increases international pressure on Israel to end the war,” said Robbie Sabel, a professor of international law and political science at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The Israeli army said its preliminary investigation indicated that troops fired in the direction of the UN facility after mortar shells were launched at them from the vicinity. The incident is still being reviewed, the military said.
Israel “needs to do more to uphold its own standards to limit civilian casualties,” Eric Schultz, the deputy White House press secretary, told reporters aboard Air Force One.
As an inner cabinet met to discuss how the campaign will proceed, Ya’alon, the defense minister, said Israel isn’t “limiting ourselves by time or place,” according to an e-mailed statement from his office. “We will reach every place we know where tunnels or tunnel shafts are located, even if that requires us to push deeper.”
The U.S. agreed to provide additional ammunition to Israel in response to a request from the country’s Ministry of Defense, the Pentagon said in a statement yesterday. The U.S. didn’t provide details of the request.
Israel’s financial markets have shrugged off the violence, with the shekel little changed since it escalated on July 8 and the benchmark TA-25 (TA-25) index up 1.4 percent in the period.
Efforts to end the violence have come up short, defying appeals by Obama and UN chief Ban. A bid by the U.S., UN and Egypt to broker a truce last week failed to win agreement on anything deeper than an hours-long humanitarian halt.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah group rules the West Bank and recently reconciled with Hamas, has written to Ban asking for Gaza to be declared a humanitarian disaster area, making it eligible for more aid, Abbas’s office said in an e-mail.
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