LIVE UPDATES: Operation Protective Edge, Day 24

U.S. State Department says sides agree to 72-hour humanitarian truce; White House says 'little doubt' UNRWA school in Gaza was hit by IDF fire; Netanyahu says tunnels will be destroyed, either way; ministers order military to press on with Gaza op.

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Israeli armoured personnel carriers outside the central Gaza Strip. July 31, 2014.
Israeli armoured personnel carriers outside the central Gaza Strip. July 31, 2014.Credit: Reuters

As Israel's Operation Protective Edge entered its 24th day on Thursday, the security cabinet has ordered the military to press on with the offensive in the Gaza Strip, focusing on the destruction of Hamas' tunnel network.

An Israeli delegation traveled to Cairo on Wednesday for several hours of talks over Egypt’s efforts to broker a truce in Gaza. An official said Israel will continue to allow temporary humanitarian cease-fires in certain areas.

Three Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed and 12 wounded on Wednesday afternoon in the Khan Yunis area of south Gaza, bringing the death toll in the military to 56. Three Israeli civilians have been killed in the current round of fighting.

In Gaza, the death toll in the Israeli operation has topped 1,360 according to Palestinian health officials. More than 6,500 Palestinians have been wounded in the Israeli strikes.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has declared Gaza a "humanitarian disaster area" and urged the international community to protect and provide relief to the battered enclave. In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he accused Israel of committing war crimes.


For Wednesday's live updates, click here

Latest updates [Thursday]:

1:18 A.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Gaza ceasefire a 'lull of opportunity,' imperative that sides make best efforts to find common ground.

The UN representative in Jerusalem, Robert Serry, has "received assurances" that all parties have agreed to the pause, according to a joint statement released by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and United States Secretary of State John Kerry.(Reuters, DPA)

1:15 A.M. According to the Palestinian news agency Ma'an, 84 Palestinians were killed over the last 24 hours in the Gaza Strip, and 258 were wounded. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the Palestinian death toll since fighting began is now 1,442, and the number of wounded has risen to 8,295. According to the Ma'an report, the Strip's Housing Ministry estimated the damage caused by the IDF operation as totaling $4 billion, and that 5,238 buildings have been completely destroyed. (Haaretz)

12:55 A.M. Hamas says will abide by three-day Gaza truce to begin on Friday.

"Acknowledging a call by the United Nations and in consideration of the situation of our people, resistance factions agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian and mutual calm that begins at 8 a.m (0500 GMT) on Friday as long as the other side abides by it," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

"All the Palestinian factions are united behind the issue in this regard," Abu Zuhri said. (Reuters)

12:39 A.M. Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire in their conflict in the Gaza Strip starting on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.

The ceasefire will begin at 8 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) on Friday, Aug. 1, they said in a joint statement. The statement said "forces on the ground will remain in place" during the truce, implying that Israeli ground forces will not withdraw.

"We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire," Kerry and Ban said. "This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence."

Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately travel to Cairo for negotiations with the Egyptian government to reach a durable ceasefire, the statement said (Reuters)

11:42 P.M. Call for residents of towns in Zikim to stay indoors canceled. Announcement made due to fears, now refuted, of suspected security-related incident. (Shirly Seidler, Gili Cohen)

11:03 P.M. Israel will be required under international law to take responsibility for helping Palestinian civilians if there are any further large-scale displacements from the fighting in Gaza, UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl tells the United Nations Security Council.

Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the council debated a statement to condemn the deadly attacks on UN schools, the rockets hidden in vacant schools and the deaths of UN staff, but could not reach agreement. (Reuters)

10:56 P.M. Entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque will be limited to men over 50, due to concerns of violent clashes. Police forces are expected to be deployed in the area. (Yaniv Kubovich)

22:54 P.M. Hundreds of riot police in Paris deployed near the Israeli Embassy Thursday for the first major pro-Israel rally since the start of the latest Gaza war.
Several thousand people turned out for the rally, waving signs with slogans like "Gaza hostage of Hamas" and "We protest for peace."

The demonstration happened amid persistent reports the Jewish Defense League faces a government ban. JDD militants stepped in to assure security at synagogues during pro-Gaza protests, but were blamed for provoking violence at pro-Palestinian rallies. (AP)

10:41 P.M. Officials in Ramallah are increasingly getting the impression that Israel is not interested in reaching a cease-fire agreement based on the Egyptian proposal, Haaretz has learned. Rather, they believe, Israel seeks to complete its military mission and withdraw unilaterally to the Gaza Strip border, as it did in the 2005 disengagement. (Jack Khoury)

10:07 P.M. Residents of Zikim, Yad Mordechai asked to lock themselves in homes until further notice, due to suspected security-related incident near Gaza border. (Gili Cohen)

9:36 P.M. The White House says there is little doubt it was Israeli artillery that hit a UNRWA school in Gaza, and is describing the shelling as "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest cited statements from the UN blaming Israel for the shelling, as well as the Israeli government's acknowledgement that it was firing in the area of the school. Earnest says that while the U.S. supports a full investigation into the matter, "it does not appear there's a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved." (AP)

9:31 P.M. Rocket sirens sound in Ashkelon, Gaza-bordering regions (Haaretz)

8:55 P.M. "The Hamas leadership must be taken out," says coalition chairman Yariv Levin, considered one of the more influential MKs in the Likud party. "We can't leave the Gaza Strip as it is today. We need to create a wide swath of land beyond the border, that will be a no-man's-land that the Palestinians will not be allowed to enter. The area needs to be flattened, in the sense that there will be no houses that tunnels can be dug under."

"We definitely should aim at hurting the Hamas leadership," added Levin. "It is important that Hamas know it will pay a personal price for the continuation of the fighting. Such people are dead men walking." (Jonathan Lis)

8:11 P.M. Two IDF solider wounded by sniper fire in Shujaiyeh (Gili Cohen)

8:10 P.M. Mortar shells hit house, barn in Eshkol Regional Council; rocket siren sounded, no injuries reported. (Shirley Seidler)

7:50 P.M. UNRWA spokesman in Gaza Chris Gunness says the IDF is responsible for yesterday's artillery strike on the UN-run school in Jabalia, where 15 Palestinians were killed. Speaking on Israel's Channel 2, Gunness said the conclusion was made after checking the shooting's trajectory. He also said the accusations that weapons found inside UNRWA schools were returned to Hamas are lies, and that the arms were in fact turned over to disarmament experts.(Haaretz)

7:42 P.M. Number of Israelis wounded from mortar fire attack near Gaza border rises to eight. (Shirley Seidler and Gili Cohen)

7:40 P.M. Rocket hits high-voltage electricity line, cuts power to nine communities near Gaza border. (Shirley Seidler)

7:37 P.M. Ministers Sa’ar, Shalom critizise handling of Gaza op, say goal of IDF operation should have been to topple Hamas’ reign. For full story, click here (Barak Ravid)

7:31 P.M. Call for residents of towns in Sdot Negev to stay indoors canceled. Announcement made due to fears, now refuted, of suspected security-related incident. (Haaretz)

7:13 P.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says there’s “no promise” of a negotiated cease-fire between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip.

Kerry told reporters Thursday in New Delhi that the U.S. remains hopeful that a cease-fire is achievable, and he said the sooner it happens, the better.

He urges both sides to begin, quote, “bona fide negotiations” to stop the bloodshed.

The violence is now in its fourth week and has killed over a thousand Palestinians living in Gaza and several dozen Israeli troops fighting there. (AP)

7:10 P.M. The French Interior Ministry is considering placing a ban on the radical Jewish group Ligue de Défense Juive. The ministry announced it is “analysing” its legal options against the group, which has been accused of provoking pro-Palestinain demonstrators in the Paris area in recent days, the Independant reports. (Haaretz)

6:52 Several mortar shells and rockets hit open areas in Eshkol Regional Council (Shirley Seidler)

6:40 P.M. Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar confronted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a cabinet meeting on Thursday over the goals of the Gaza operation. A source who took part in the meeting says Sa'ar told the prime minister that the goal of the operation should have been to topple Hamas' reign in Gaza.

“I wasn’t one of those (ministers) to go out in public, in front of the media, and say we need to topple the Hamas regime but today I am saying it here that that should have been the operation’s objective,” the source quoted Sa’ar as saying.

In response, Sa’ar told Haaretz, “I am legally obliged to avoid responding to things that were said in the cabinet meeting even if those quotes are incorrect.” (Barak Ravid)

6:02 P.M. Two people wounded by rocket-fire in Kiryat Gat; one, a 30-year-old man, was hospitalized in serious condition. The rocket, one of several shot at the southern city, struck the third floor of a residential building. Three other rockets were intercepted above Kiryat Gat, and another landed in an open area within the city limits. Seven people are being treated for shock.

6:00 P.M. Rocket alerts sound across Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and Gaza border-regions. Iron Dome intercepts rocket over Tel Aviv. (Gili Cohen, Shirley Seidler)

5:55 P.M. Rocket alerts sound in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza-bordering regions (Haaretz)

5:50 P.M. UNRWA's Gaza Spokesman Chris Gunness says eight of the UN's refugee agency killed in Gaza. (Haaretz)

BREAKING NEWS: 8 UNRWA staff members killed in #Gaza war says @PKraehenbuehl to Security Council RT

5:31 P.M. Rocket alerts sound across western Negev, Ashkelon region (Haaretz)

4:57 P.M. Rocket alerts sound in Gaza-bordering regions (Haaretz)

4:25 P.M. Hamas heads publish several statements simultaneously, in which they declare imminent victory. "The Palestinian people will be marking their victory in the very near future," Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said. Khalil al-Haya, a member of Hamas' diplomatic bureau, said Netanyahu was "searching for a way out" after suffering 'blows from the resistance forces,' and added that "the only way out was an acceptance of the resistance's terms." Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, meanwhile, said "Netanyahu is leading his army into the unknown. His allies have pulled him into a failing operation, the results of which he fails to understand." (Jack Khoury)

3:53 P.M. IDF strikes car in eastern Gaza, killing two and wounding one (Jack Khoury)

3:33 P.M. Rocket sirens sound in Ashkelon, Gaza-border region (Haaretz)

2:50 P.M. Three mortar shells hit near towns in Eshkol Regional Council. Rocket alerts were sounded. Security forces are conducting sweeps near the Gaza border fence in Hof Ashkelon Regional Council, after a rocket struck in the vicinity. (Shirley Seidler)

2:38 P.M. The UN's top human rights official is accusing Israel and Hamas militants of committing war crimes in the latest Gaza war.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says that by placing and firing rockets within heavily populated areas both sides are committing "a violation of international humanitarian law, therefore a war crime."

Pillay also told reporters Thursday in Geneva that she sees "a recurrence of the very acts" from the 2009 Gaza war in which the UN concluded Israel deliberately targeted civilians and might have committed war crimes, along with Hamas. (News Agencies) Read full article

2:36 P.M. Mortar shell explodes in Eshkol Regional Council (Shirley Seidler)

2:04 P.M. An IDF soldier was lightly wounded by sniper fire shot from inside a mosque in Shujaiyeh. IDF responded with tank fire. (Gili Cohen)

1:21 P.M. Rocket explodes in an open area in Sdot Negev Regional Council. (Shirly Seidler)

1:18 P.M. Malaysia denied Thursday that it is providing training for Hamas fighters in Gaza.

Deputy Home Affairs Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar said the government has never allowed the country to be used as a training ground for Hamas fighters, even if Malaysia supports the Palestinians.

"It does not matter what kind of freedom fighting group they belong to, even those against Israel, we have never given permission to have such trainings here," he told the Astro Awani television station. "The report is incorrect."

A Hamas commander told Shin Bet commanders he and 10 other militants were sent to Malaysia to practice flying paragliders four years ago.

Malaysian leaders both from the opposition and the government have criticized the Israeli government for its continued Gaza operation. (DPA)

1:02 P.M. Nearly one quarter of the population of Gaza has been displaced over the three weeks of Israel's operation: Some 225,178 people have sought refuge in 86 UNWRA schools across the Strip. The head of UNWRA told Haaretz that the organization has demanded a number of times in recent days that Israel, as an occupying force, deliver the necessary humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. (Amira Hass)

12:01 P.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel was determined, regardless of ceasefire efforts, to complete the destruction of tunnels that Palestinian militants have built under the Gaza-Israel border.

"We are determined to complete this mission with or without a cease-fire," Netanyahu said in public remarks at the start of a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv. "I wont agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to complete this important task for the sake of Israel's security." Read full article

11:59 A.M. Barrage of rockets fired at Sderot and nearby towns on Gaza border as Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses public in live address from Cabinet meeting.

11:55 A.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv.

11:44 A.M. Rocket aimed at Ashkelon lands in Gaza territory. Seventeen rockets and mortars fired at south Israel since midnight. (Shirley Seidler)

11:24 A.M. Five mortar shells explode in open areas in Eshkol Regional Council. Two rockets explode in open areas in Ashkelon. (Shirley Seidler)

11:16 A.M. Rocket alarm sirens sound in Ashkelon.

11:01 A.M. Rocket alarm sirens sound in Gaza border town.

10:31 A.M. Rocket alarm siren sounds in Gaza border town.

10:27 A.M. Five Palestinians killed overnight and early morning on Thursday: Three in Khan Yunis, one in Rafah, and another who succumbed to wounds in hospital. The Gaza Health Ministry places the death toll from three weeks of the operation at 1,364 - of that number 315 children and 166 women. The number of wounded has risen to 6,785, of them 2,307 children and 1,529 women. (Jack Khoury)

9:25 A.M. Rocket alarm sirens sound in Eshkol Regional Council.

9:23 A.M. Mortar shell explodes in open area in Eshkol Regional Council. No damages reported. (Shirley Seidler)

8:37 A.M. Rocket explodes in open area near Be'er Sheva. No injuries. (Shirly Seidler)

8:30 A.M. Rocket alarm sirens sound in Be'er Sheva.

8:00 A.M. IDF attacked 19 targets in Gaza overnight, including five houses which were reportedly used as command centers. (Gili Cohen)

6:45 A.M. The IDF decided on Wednesday to call up 16,000 additional reserve troops in order to allow the military "room to breathe," a senior officer says. Their deployment will begin on Thursday, raising the number of reserve soldiers called up so far to 86,000. (Gili Cohen)

4:30 A.M. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and reiterates "the United States' support for Israel's security and its right to defend itself," according to a statement released by the Department of Defense.

"Secretary Hagel also expressed the United States' continued concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza," the statement said.

"Secretary Hagel stressed the need for a humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement, and reaffirmed the U.S. view that any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups."

According to the statement, Ya'alon thanked Hagel for his support for the defense of Israel, particularly the Iron Dome missile interception system.

3:20 A.M. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Hamas is solely responsible for the death and destruction in Gaza, The Canadian Press reports.

"Obviously no one likes to see the suffering and loss of life that has occurred," Harper was quoted as saying. "That said, we hold the terrorist organization Hamas responsible for this. They have initiated and continue this conflict and continue to seek the destruction of the state of Israel."

2:00 A.M. A delegation comprised of Hamas and PLO representatives is prepared to depart for cease-fire talks in Cairo "at any moment," the Palestinian Safa news agency reports, citing a senior Hamas official. The official reportedly said that the truce proposal that is to be discussed is different from the one previously brought forth by Egypt. An itinerary for the trip has yet to be set.

12:10 A.M. CNN reports that the United States has agreed to an Israeli request for several types of ammunition as the ground battle in Gaza is entering its third week.

According to CNN, the items being bought are 120mm mortar rounds and 40mm ammunition for grenade launchers. Those will come from a stockpile the United States keeps in Israel, which is worth more than $1 billion, officials said.

It’s not an emergency sale, a U.S. defense official told CNN. (Jacob Kornbluh)

12:01 A.M. J Street issues statement on Gaza conflict, calling for "the fighting to end through a sustainable ceasefire agreement."

"J Street strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself proportionately against the threat of relentless rockets and to destroy tunnels leading into Israel. At the same time, we see no military victory over an ideology and no military solution to a fundamentally political conflict. We adamantly oppose calls for Israel to “reoccupy Gaza.”

"We support efforts by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry as well as the engagement of other countries such as Egypt to bring about an immediate ceasefire. Any such ceasefire must account for Israel’s security concerns, specifically from rockets and tunnels, as well as Palestinian humanitarian needs, and should be structured to lead to negotiations to establish arrangements related to security, political issues and humanitarian assistance. We support the inclusion of the Palestinian Authority in the ceasefire and in the negotiations around security, political arrangements and humanitarian assistance.

"We are deeply offended by attacks on and mischaracterizations of the Secretary’s efforts to resolve this crisis and his relationship to the state of Israel. We believe his pursuit of not only a cease-fire, but a two-state solution represents the highest possible form of friendship to Israel and all the people of the region, and we salute and support the Secretary for his efforts."

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