Israeli envoy in Egypt
UPDATED: Monday, November 19, 2012 - 10:39am
Another day of loud booms and deadly weaponry plummeting from the sky wracked Israel and Gaza on Sunday, with fresh casualties reported on both sides of a conflict that international leaders scrambled to end.
Rescuers pulled the bloodied bodies of children from the wreckage of a Gaza home Sunday after an Israeli airstrike, which Israel said killed a top Hamas militant. Earlier, a rocket lauched from Gaza struck a car in the Israeli town of Ofakim, injuring an unspecified number of people, the Israel Defense Forces reported. Another hit a woman's carport while she was inside her house in Ashkelon. It was the latest violence in what has become a daily nightmare for millions in the region.
The fighting puts Gaza's 1.7 million residents and millions of Israelis in harm's way and threatens to cause "huge" upheaval in the region, according to Tony Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet. Egypt and France were attempting to broker a cease-fire, and an Israeli special envoy was in Egypt for talks late Sunday, the Egyptian government said.
"War can be avoided. War must be avoided," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday.
But the two sides in the conflict showed no signs of slowing their attacks. Fresh sirens sounded Sunday in Tel Aviv, where Israel reported Sunday that its Iron Dome missile-defense system had knocked down a rocket attack from Gaza.
In Gaza, Hamas-run al Aqsa television showed images of children's bodies being carried away from their home. They were part of a family of 10 who were killed, according to a Palestinian ambulance service. On Twitter, the al Qassam Brigades -- Hamas' military wing -- called it a "massacre committed by Israeli occupation."
But Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, the IDF's chief spokeswoman, said Yehia Bia -- a "senior Hamas member" -- was killed in the strike. the IDF identified Bia as one of the leaders of the Hamas rocket-launching unit.
"When I say a senior Hamas member, I mean members that have Israeli blood on their hands -- members of Hamas that planned either the abduction of soldiers or are very much involved in targeting Israelis," Leibovitch told CNN.
She said the house was Bia's home and suspected command center, and that the Israeli military was examining video of the strike to look for signs of secondary explosions -- an indication that there were explosives inside.
Q&A: What is Hamas?
And the IDF, which has been touting the "pinpoint" precision of its airstrikes via Twitter, said it had hit a slew of what it called "terrorist" sites while sparing other damage.
"Terrorists put an underground launch site next to a mosque. We targeted the site. The mosque was unharmed," the IDF said in one post, which was accompanied by military video of the raid.
Israel launched its offensive on Wednesday in response to persistent rocket attacks from militants in Gaza. A spokesman for Gaza's health ministry said 65 Palestinians had been killed by Sunday evening, including 15 children, seven women, and five elderly people. More than 560 people were injured, he said, but officials did not say how many militants were killed.
In Israel, rocket attacks from Gaza in recent days have killed at least three people and wounded 68, including some soldiers, the Israel Defense Forces said. Over the last four days, militants in Gaza have fired 846 rockets at Israel -- 302 of which were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system, according to the IDF.
The al Qassam Brigades warned on Twitter, "Al Qassam to Zionists: 'Iron Dome would protect you no more.' " But Israel said nearly 100 rockets fired from Gaza in recent days have crashed back into the strip. "Hamas fires from civilian areas and hits its own people," the IDF said on Twitter.
The Israeli government has called up 75,000 reservists and massed 30,000 troops across the border of the Palestinian territory, the IDF said. In Jerusalem, Netanyahu told reporters that Israel is prepared to significantly escalate its operation against Palestinian militants in Gaza.
"We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the (other) terrorist organizations, and IDF is prepared for a significant expansion of its operations," Netanyahu said before his weekly Cabinet meeting.
Q&A: Gaza strikes could be beginning of ground attack
In Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy said discussions were under way about how to bring about a cease-fire. An Egyptian military official told CNN the nation's intelligence chief, Mohammed Shehata, was spearheading talks with Hamas and Israel, and Israel's special envoy arrived in Egypt for talks with Shehata late Sunday, the Egyptian government said.
And on Egypt's border with Gaza, about 500 Egyptian protesters crossed into the territory on Sunday in what their leader said was a show of solidarity with the Palestinians. They raised Palestinians flags and chanted, "We are the youth of January 25 revolution, Palestine will be free! Open the crossing, Israel is the enemy!"
"We have broken the siege," said Rami Shaath, the group's main organizer. "The Arab Spring has changed the region. We are happy to go in to support our Palestinian brothers, but it's sad to hear the explosions of the Israeli bombing of Gaza all the way on the Egyptian side. We brought in small amounts medical supplies, food, and water, but our main message is political support to the Gazans."
Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, in 2007. But Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that he was in "continuing contact" with exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and that the goal of the Israeli attacks was "to increase division between two parts of the homeland."
In a televised address Sunday, Abbas said the proper response should be "to end the Palestinian divisions and to restore our unification," and called on Arab League leaders to hold a summit meeting "as soon as possible."
An Arab League spokesman said Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby and 16 league foreign ministers will drive into Gaza on Tuesday for talks. And Saeb Erakat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and an Abbas ally, said the Palestinian leader would hold talks with Blair and with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the coming days.
Erakat told CNN that Netanyahu should learn "a lesson" that "there will be never be a security without peace." The Israeli leader is "waging a campaign of attacks and bombardment and military attacks against Gaza," and may launch a land invasion, Erakat said.
"He wants to kill 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 Palestinians. Where would this put us?" Erakat asked. He added, "We have one aim now: to ensure we stop the attacks against Gaza, to ensure to sustain the calm, mutual comprehensive calm. That's all what we want."
The United States and several European countries have put the brunt of the blame for the current crisis on Hamas, saying Israel has a right to protect itself. Arab and Muslim nations, meanwhile, have accused Israel of being the aggressor.
Rocket attacks into Israel were the "precipitating event" for the fighting under way now, U.S. President Barack Obama said during a stop in Thailand on Sunday. "We are actively working with all the parties in the region to see if we can end those missiles being fired without further escalation of violence in the region."
Obama said he has spoken with Netanyahu, Morsy, and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
He emphasized that "those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the likelihood" of peace talks resuming that could lead to a two-state solution "is going to pe pushed off way into the future," Obama said.
Six Palestinian journalists were injured when Israeli warplanes targeted two buildings that housed Palestinian and Hamas news organizations as well as a handful of international news outlets, according to Palestinian government and media reports. The IDF released a video along with a message saying it showed the "surgical" targeting of Hamas communication operations on the roof of a media building in Gaza, and that only the antenna atop the building was struck.
"If Hamas commanders in Gaza can communicate with each other, then they can attack us," the IDF said in one of its several Twitter posts on the issue. "This is the capability that we targeted ... We did not target any other floors." The IDF also urged reporters to "stay away from Hamas positions and operatives."
But Nour Odeh, a Palestinian government spokeswoman in the West Bank, said the attack on the two buildings "is an assault on the freedom of the press and an attempt to prohibit journalists from conveying to the outside world what is exactly happening in the Gaza strip and the extent to which Israel is violating international law and international humanitarian law in this besieged part of the occupied Palestinian territory."
A woman in the Israeli city of Ashkelon was in her home when a rocket hit her carport. As clean-up crews worked to remove debris from around the house, another air siren sounded.
While many Israelis who have lived under rocket attacks from Gaza for years developed a routine for running to take cover, the latest violence has been paralyzing.
A marina in Ashkelon, which is usually busy with people enjoying the outdoors, has largely emptied out as families keep their children indoors.