Israel launches strike on Gaza, ending a lull in fighting during 12-hour truce
JERUSALEM (AP) - Israeli jets struck several sites in Gaza on Monday as rockets continued to fall on Israel, the Israeli military said, disrupting a relative lull in the Gaza war at the start of a major Muslim holiday.
The airstrikes followed an almost 12-hour pause in the fighting and came as international efforts intensified to end the three-week war between Israel and Hamas. Still, the level of fighting on both sides was down considerably from previous days.
It was not immediately clear whether that reflected the observance of a truce in honor of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, or whether it might be extended further.
The United Nations on Monday called for an "immediate" cease-fire in the fighting that has already killed over 1,040 Palestinians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side. On Sunday, President Barak Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push for an immediate end to the conflict.
Israel's military said it struck two rocket launchers and a rocket manufacturing facility in central and northern Gaza after a rocket hit southern Israel earlier in the day. The rocket caused no damage or injuries.
At least two more Palestinians were killed on Monday. A four-year-old boy died when tank shells hit his family's house in Jabaliya, in the northern Gaza Strip, Gaza health officials said. Another person was killed by tank shelling in a separate incident, also in Jabaliya.
Earlier, the military said troops on the ground were pressing on with efforts to destroy the cross-border tunnels constructed by Hamas for attacks inside Israel. Also, the military opened artillery fire on Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza in response to the rocket fired at Ashkelon, said the office of Israel's military spokesman.
The military said at least a dozen rockets had been fired from Gaza at Israel since midnight.
As Muslims began celebrating Eid al-Fitr, there was fear and mourning Monday instead of holiday cheer in large parts of Gaza.
Palestinian families huddled inside their homes, fearing more airstrikes, while those who came to a cemetery in Gaza City's Sheik Radwan neighborhood to pay traditional respects at their ancestors' graves gathered around a large crater from an airstrike a week ago that had broken up several graves.
Amid an eerie calm, the call to Eid prayer echoed in the southern town of Rafah Monday morning. Dozens of worshippers lined the rows of a severely destroyed mosque, with a collapsed roof and missing walls. Many of the faithful looked somber during the traditional holiday sermon.
In Gaza City, dozens of men prayed in the courtyard of a U.N. school surrounded by school desks. Children and women stood on a higher level overlooking the prayer.
"We are suffering and will suffer but we need our rights, our houses, our lands and our farms to return to us and we will not accept living a miserable life," said Abu Saber Jalees, who fled fighting to seek shelter at the school.
Amid a slowdown in the fighting, rescue teams uncovered five bodies in a village east of Khan Younis, said Saed al-Saoudi, the commander of the Civil Defense in Gaza. Earlier Monday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said it deployed 15 ambulances to the area to search for bodies amid the rubble.
The Israeli military also said it dropped leaflets over Gaza City on Monday afternoon, warning Palestinian residents in the coastal strip that Israel "will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians, and the consequences will be severe."
In New York, an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council called for "an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire." And while it was the council's strongest statement yet on the Gaza war, it was not a resolution and therefore not binding.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, according to a statement from his office, in which he voiced his dismay with the announcement. "It does not include a response to Israel's security needs and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip," he said.
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour also did not hide his disappointment.
He said the council should have adopted a strong and legally binding resolution a long time ago demanding an immediate halt to Israel's "aggression," providing the Palestinian people with protection and lifting the siege in the Gaza Strip so goods and people can move freely.
"You cannot keep 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip in this huge prison," Mansour told reporters. "That is a recipe for disaster. It is inhumane, and it has to be stopped and it has to be lifted."
Israeli U.N. ambassador Ron Prosor also criticized the statement - though from a very different perspective - saying it lacked balance because it didn't mention Hamas, the firing of rockets into Israel or Israel's right to defend itself.
Israel says it started its Gaza operation on July 8 to stop the rocket fire from the coastal territory and intensified it on July 17 to neutralize Hamas cross-border tunnels built to carry out attacks on Israeli territory.
The pressure for a cease-fire followed new attacks launched by Israel and Hamas on Sunday despite the back-and-forth over proposals for another temporary halt to the fighting. The Security Council urged Israel and Hamas "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire into the Eid period and beyond." It said this would allow for the delivery of urgently needed assistance.
The council's presidential statement also called on the parties "to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire, based on the Egyptian initiative."
Obama telephoned Netanyahu on Sunday to express his concern over the mounting Palestinian casualties.
The White House said Obama reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Hamas' rocket attacks. Obama said a lasting peace will ultimately require a demilitarized Gaza and dismantling of terror groups. The U.S. president also pushed for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire that would allow Israeli and Palestinian civilians to return to normalcy.
International diplomats have hoped that a temporary lull in the fighting could be expanded into a more sustainable truce to end the bloodshed.
As a result of the continued fighting, Birthright Israel said it had altered its itinerary for groups participating in its free trips to Israel. Visitors were no longer traveling to Tel Aviv, Israel's cultural and economic hub, nor within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the Gaza border, spokeswoman Noa Bauer said.
Tel Aviv has seen near-daily rockets fired at it from Gaza, most of which have been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense battery.