July 2014 – JERUSALEM —The civilian death toll in the Gaza Strip continued to climb Thursday as Israel pressed its aerial campaign there against Islamist militants, targeting the homes of suspected operatives in intensifying bombardments across the coastal territory. The Gaza Health Ministry said 89 people had been killed, many of them civilians, and more than 600 had been injured since the start Tuesday of the Israeli offensive against the Islamist militant group Hamas and allied factions. At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Thursday that it was more urgent than ever to avoid another Israeli-Palestinian war that could engulf the entire region and he called on both sides to agree to a ceasefire, The Associated Press reports. “It is unacceptable for citizens on both sides to permanently live in fear of the next aerial attack,” Ban said. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States was willing to negotiate a ceasefire, according to the AP. In a conversation with Netanyahu on Thursday, Obama condemned the rocket attacks and said Israel had the right to self-defense. But he also urged both sides not to escalate the crisis and to restore calm. The Israeli army said it had hit more than 900 targets from the air, sea and land, and dropped more than 360 tons of explosives. An airstrike on a car killed three Islamic Jihad militants who were involved in the manufacture of rockets, and a Hamas militant involved in firing rockets was killed in a separate strike, the army said. But reports of civilian casualties mounted. Seven members of a single family, including children, were reported killed in a bombardment of their house in the city of Khan Younis. An Israeli missile hit a coffee shop on the Khan Younis beach late Wednesday, killing nine people watching a World Cup game, and a 5-year-old boy was killed in another strike Thursday in Beit Lahiya, according to local reports. An Israeli army spokesperson said she had no information on the reported incidents.
“When houses are used for military purposes, they may become legitimate military targets under international law,” the army said in a statement Thursday, adding it “makes great efforts to minimize potential harm to the surrounding civilian population.” That assertion was disputed by human rights advocates. These houses are not legitimate military targets, and attacking them is a grave violation of international humanitarian law,” said the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. “The gravity of the violation is compounded when uninvolved civilians are injured.” According to army figures, Gaza militants have launched more than 500 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel since the start of the offensive, which followed a flare-up of hostilities after the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month. Longer-range rockets have reached Tel Aviv, near Jerusalem and south of the northern port city of Haifa, setting off air-raid sirens in major population centers. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has picked off more than 80 incoming rockets, and residents have taken shelter in safe rooms, preventing casualties. But in Gaza there are no shelters or early warning systems, and the Israeli bombing campaign, which has struck dozens of homes of suspected militant leaders, also has claimed the lives of their relatives and neighbors. Netanyahu has put the blame for the casualties squarely on Hamas, which he accused of “maliciously hiding behind Palestinian civilians.” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesperson, said that five weapons manufacturing facilities targeted during the offensive were hidden in mosques. “Hamas’s modus operandi of operating within the civilian population and employing civilians as human shields may bear tragic consequences,” he said. –The Star