July 28, 2014


[In an emergency midnight meeting, the U.N. Security Council urged Israel and Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, to “accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire into the Eid period and beyond,” allowing for the delivery of urgently needed assistance to Palestinians, who cannot leave the territory.]


GAZA International efforts to end the devastating three-week-old Gaza war intensified Monday with the U.N. Security Council calling for an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” in the conflict that has already claimed the lives of more than 1,035 Palestinians and 43 Israeli soldiers.

The ravaged coastal enclave was relatively quiet Monday as Palestinians started celebrating the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday that caps the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Israel mostly held its fire overnight, shelling only a site in the northern Gaza Strip in response to rocket fired from there. The Israeli military said, however, that it would continue to destroy underground tunnels that militants had dug to try and infiltrate Israeli territory.

In an emergency midnight meeting, the U.N. Security Council urged Israel and Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, to “accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire into the Eid period and beyond,” allowing for the delivery of urgently needed assistance to Palestinians, who cannot leave the territory.
The statement also called on Israel and Hamas to “engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire, based on the Egyptian initiative.” Earlier Sunday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued his own personal appeal for a week-long cease-fire.
The conflict raged on Sunday, even as both Hamas and Israel offered brief truces and President Obama pressed Israel for a cease-fire as the death toll continued to rise.
In a phone conversation Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself and condemned Hamas attacks, the White House said in a statement.
But as the administration continued trying to balance its support for Israel with criticism of civilian casualties in Gaza, Obama also urged an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, expressing Washington’s “serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.”
Israel denied Sunday it was responsible for one of the most shocking attacks in the 21-day conflict, saying its soldiers were not behind the deaths of 16 Palestinians killed by shelling three days earlier as they sought refuge in a U.N.-run school near an area of intense
Israel’s military, however, offered no details about what it called a “comprehensive inquiry” into the incident. It released a grainy, 26-second aerial video showing what the military called an “errant” mortar shell landing in an empty courtyard of the school as proof that its forces did not kill anyone there.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which used the school as a shelter for Palestinians fleeing the violence, did not accept Israel’s conclusion. Spokesman Christopher Gunness called for an investigation that would be “fair and objective.”
The current conflict has killed more than 1,035 Palestinians, more than 70 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations. Israel has lost 43 soldiers, the largest toll since its 2006 war with Lebanon. Hamas mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza have killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker within Israel.
 Netanyahu, in appearances on American Sunday morning talk shows, signaled that he planned to keep targeting Palestinian militants and destroying Hamas tunnel networks, through which the fighters have sought to infiltrate Israel.
Israel is not obliged and is not going to let a terrorist organization determine when it’s convenient for them to fire at our cities, at our people, and when it’s not,” Netanyahu said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ll take the necessary action to protect our people, including, by the way, continuing to dismantle tunnels. That’s our policy.”
Israel resumed airstrikes on the Gaza Strip at midmorning Sunday, after offering Saturday night to extend a humanitarian cease-fire that had halted fighting in the enclave for 12 hours. But Hamas rejected the Israeli offer to extend the truce for 24 hours. Rockets flew from Gaza into Israel throughout the morning, with six reaching Tel Aviv. Israeli artillery and airstrikes pounded parts of Gaza.
By the afternoon, Hamas had announced its own 24-hour humanitarian truce, beginning at 2 p.m. local time, to allow Palestinians to prepare for the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday. But Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli army, said the military had not received any official order to stop its operations in Gaza and that Palestinian militant rockets continued to soar into Israel past 2 p.m.
Shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday, an Israeli airstrike hit a large, empty house in Gaza City’s eastern neighborhood of Shijaiyah, the site of fierce clashes a week ago. Three people were killed and at least two were injured, according to witnesses.
Neighbors said the Mortaja family, who owned the house, are not militants but merchants who sell fishing supplies. The people who were killed, residents said, were walking past the house when it was struck and collapsed into a mass of concrete and tangled metal.
“If we had any suspicions about the house or the family, we would have left the area,” said a 66-year-old neighbor who gave his name as Abu Ahmed.
Just after 6 p.m., an artillery shell crashed into another part of the neighborhood, sailing in from the direction of the border with Israel, where Israeli forces are positioned. Within 15 minutes, two more shells followed.
“Can you hear? Can you hear? They are shelling now,” declared Muhammad Sawah, 20. “We can’t trust the Israelis.”
Sunday night, Israel said it had attacked 40 militant targets, including rocket launchers and a tunnel, since resuming firing on Gaza in the morning. The military reported that 72 rockets were launched at Israel from Gaza on Sunday, with 51 hitting Israeli territory and nine intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. The others were duds or fell short.
In the city’s center Sunday, thousands of Palestinians emerged out of their houses to purchase salted fish, meat, and gifts to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. Others waited in long lines at the local Western Union office, which was closed during the clashes, to receive money from relatives around the world.
Maher Abu Sido, 52, received $700 from his brother in Dubai, funds he had been awaiting for more than a month. He said he would use the money to buy food for his 10-member family. He expects the money to last a month, he said.
 “It’s Eid, so Palestinians from everywhere are sending money to help their relatives,” said Rami al-Arouki, the deputy manager of the Western Union office.
Still, many Gazans said that Eid will be bittersweet this year because of the numerous Palestinian casualties. Celebrations are expected to be muted, and Gazans said that instead of buying gifts they would help displaced families who can’t celebrate Eid in their own houses.
“The martyrs are our Eid,” said Ahmed al-Rifi, 38, as he waited in a line to use an ATM.
In central Gaza City, a shoe store owner who gave his name only as Haitham was feeling the economic impact of the war. It was the second day he had opened since the conflict began — and he had a large consignment of shoes, worth $300,000 he said, from China to sell. In a normal year, he would sell 1,500 pairs in the days before Eid al-Fitr, as people bought new shoes and clothes to celebrate. Over the past two days, he has sold five pairs.
He understands, he said, that Hamas is just as responsible as Israel for his economic woes. But he still supports the Palestinian resistance — and he doesn’t want a cease-fire unless it addresses Palestinian demands, he said.
“After what we have lost, we are not ready to bargain,” said Haitham, who withheld his last name out of concern for his safety. “We cannot accept a cease-fire without progress on our demands.”
Eglash reported from Jerusalem. Deane reported from Rome.

Sudarsan Raghavan has been The Post's bureau chief in Africa since 2010. He began his career as a foreign correspondent in Africa, and covered the Iraq war as Baghdad bureau chief.