News / Middle East

Obama Urges End to Gaza Isolation

Palestinians sit amid the rubble of homes destroyed in the Shejaia neighborhood of Gaza City on Aug. 6, 2014.
Palestinians sit amid the rubble of homes destroyed in the Shejaia neighborhood of Gaza City on Aug. 6, 2014.
Robert BergerEdward Yeranian

U.S. President Barack Obama says the Palestinian territory of Gaza cannot remain permanently closed off from the world.

Obama told reporters in Washington Wednesday that Gaza cannot sustain itself and is not capable of providing jobs and economic growth. He said he has no sympathy for its Hamas rulers, but that there has to be a shift in opportunities for the people of the enclave.

Hamas is demanding that Israel and Egypt lift their blockades of Gaza as a condition for a long-term cease-fire with Israel. Those blockades are meant to keep weapons and terrorists from getting in and out of the region. But they have strangled the Gazan economy and stopped people from traveling.

The president said the United States supports the truce talks taking place in Cairo with Israeli and Palestinian delegations.

Israel says it wants to extend the 72-hour truce with Hamas militants in Gaza.

The truce is set to expire Friday morning local time. Israel did not say how long it is willing to extend it, but a Hamas official in Cairo said there is no agreement yet.

Egyptian officials are holding separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo on that long-term cease-fire proposal. They also are talking about the issues that led to a month of Israeli airstrikes in response to Hamas rocket fire from Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Israeli action was "justified." He called every civilian casualty a tragedy, but one of Hamas' own making, for using civilians as human shields.

Israel's air and ground campaigns into Gaza killed more than 1,800 Palestinians, mostly civilians including hundreds of children. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians died.

Once-thriving Gaza neighborhoods are now huge piles of rubble, stone and dust.  

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon repeated his anger Wednesday about Israeli shelling of U.N. schools and facilities that were supposed to shelter civilians. Israel accused Hamas of storing weapons and launching attacks from these buildings.

  • An Israeli man holds his son in the pool at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, near the border with northern Gaza, Aug. 6, 2014.
  • Displaced Palestinian Yasmine Omar Al Attar, 10, sits at a U.N. school where the family had sought refuge during the war in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014.
  • An Israeli soldier directs a tank onto a truck for transport near the border with Gaza, Aug. 6, 2014.
  • A member of the Shabat family inspects damage upon returning to the family house, destroyed by Israeli strikes in the town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 5, 2014.
  • An Israeli soldier rests near the border with Gaza, Aug. 6, 2014.
  • A Palestinian woman waits to receive food aid at a United Nations distribution center in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2014.
  • Masked militants of the Islamic Jihad group march during the funeral of their comrade Shaaban Al-Dahdouh, whose body was found under the rubble Tuesday in Gaza City, Aug. 6, 2014.
  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri (right) meets with International Mideast envoy and former British prime minister Tony Blair at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, in Cairo, Egypt, Aug. 6, 2014.
  • Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a news conference at his office in Jerusalem, Aug. 6, 2014.

 

Cease-fire negotiations

 

​Egyptian intelligence officials continue to shepherd the "indirect" talks between the Israeli and Palestinian delegations, shunning publicity in the media.

It remains unclear, however, if Egypt will be able to broker any agreement for a long-term cease-fire, given the seemingly irreconcilable nature of demands by both sides.

Top Hamas official Ezzet Rashq has rejected Israel's call for “demilitarization.” It was unlikely Israel would agree to Hamas demands for an unfettered lifting of its blockade.

Hamas insists that Israel allow it to open an airport and to access an international norm of 12 miles of territorial waters.

Joining the talks in Cairo are Robert Serry, the United Nations special representative for the Middle East peace process, and Tony Blair, Quartet representative. (The Quartet consists of the United Nations, the U.S., European Union and Russia. Its mandate is to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian development as it prepares for statehood.)

Blair and Serry are expected to meet with Israel and Hamas separately.

U.S. envoy Frank Lowenstein was expected in Cairo Wednesday to help with negotiations.

'They are shell-shocked'

Thousands of Palestinians who fled their homes in Gaza to seek refuge during Israeli airstrikes last month are now returning home, only to find no homes to return to. 

"I could not recognize my house," said one Palestinian man standing on a pile of rubble. "I cannot believe my eyes. I am shocked."
 
The United Nations said at least 60,000 Palestinians have lost their homes in Gaza.

Infrastructure such as electricity, running water and sewage treatment have been severely damaged and will take years to rebuild, at an estimated cost of at least $6 billion.

Jacques de Maio, who heads the International Red Cross' head of the delegation in Israel and the territories, spoke of the conditions in Gaza.

In an interview with Israel Radio, de Maio warned of a dire humanitarian crisis.

"One has to see that the people are traumatized. They are shell-shocked," de Maio said.

"What jumps to the eyes immediately is the infrastructural destruction. We have been in areas which have been simply flattened down, and it's a breakdown of hope," he said.

On the Israeli side of the border, residents may have homes to return to, but many are afraid to go back.

The biggest fear is that heavily armed Palestinian gunmen could tunnel into their communities and carry out a massacre or take hostages.
 
"The thought that there are people under my house or close to my house digging, and maybe they will just come out one day and kill me or kill my family, it's scary," said Noah Cuperstein, a 16-year-old Israeli from a farming community on the Gaza frontier.

The Israeli army said it has destroyed all the Hamas tunnels it knows about, about 30 in all. But it is the tunnels the army may not know about that have people worried and scared.

Heavy toll on children

Speaking from Jerusalem, a spokeswoman for the UN Children's Fund, Catherine Weibel, told VOA the conflict's effect on civilians in Gaza had reached crisis proportions.

"Right now we are facing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and there are huge needs. As of today, UNICEF has counted more than 400 children who have been killed, 419, and sadly we think that this number will rise, we have also nearly 3,000 who have been injured sometimes very badly in this conflict."

VOA's Margaret Besheer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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by: Randy Horton
August 07, 2014 10:57 PM
Why are Palestinians suffering? Hamas! How can their pain be alleviated? Eradicate Hamas. Using children as shields is barbaric. Hiding in Qatar during the fighting is cowardly. Turning Gaza into a staging base for terrorist attacks on Israel shows no compassion for the noncombatant children.

by: Simon from: Canada
August 07, 2014 8:57 AM
To meanbill. First, Arabs of Palestine were under the rule of Egypt or Jordan before 1967. Were they happy? Did they fight for their independence?
Second, in every conflict Israel is a winner, and radical Islam loses. Yes, they say we won, but they lost - they lost people lives, they lost any possibility to ease their existence by drop off stances about their hatred to Jews and Israel and negotiate directly. Hamas does not value man's life, it prefers death. In this case why should Hamas and Jihad cry about the killed?

by: Kay Salicornia from: San Jose, CA
August 07, 2014 5:39 AM
The b@$t@rd child gets special treatment so he gets spoiled. Then, he throws violent tantrums when he doesn’t get what he wants or when his side of story is questioned. And that has been pretty much Israel’s history since inception.

by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City
August 07, 2014 2:29 AM
Hey Godwin from Nigeria, They said Palestinians won the war,hahahaha that is a joke, we warn them about Israel, We told them Israel was going to turn Gaza into a foot ball field. We do sorry for the innocent victims that are caught up into Hamas mess, Now they know not to mess with Israel or second guess PM. Netenyahu. What these fools think a rebel group can do to Israel? Iran and Qatar are afraid of what will happen to them. least Hamas. Please

by: P.king from: USA
August 06, 2014 8:30 PM
Really? You throw rocks at my house I will eventually get tired and throw bigger rocks at your house. Did the Palistinians not elect Hamas?
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
August 06, 2014 11:25 PM
Hey P.king from USA;.... or do like the Israeli's did, (stay at a safe distance), and blow up my house and others, and kill my mother, wife and kids, (and other innocent), with guns and bombs, (instead of rocks), and say I was hiding behind them?...... Israeli's aren't brave people, (more like cowards), and Hamas is still there, unconquered and defiant, and Israel was to chicken to fight them in hand to hand combat, weren't they?

by: Ryan from: Canada
August 06, 2014 8:30 PM
Why doesn't someone try to give some kind of other option that they had? It is because no one knows another way. If any of the super powers out there had another country attacking them without a target. Do you think they would just let it happen? No one has said what another option could be, should have they sent ground forces in right away? I think the UN maybe should have asked all the super powers to sent troops in and demilitarized Gaza. Then get started on opening borders securely. As long as missiles and other distance weapons don't get back in the attacks should stop and peace can begin. We need a lot of forgiveness on both side.

Just my thought, I feel bad for all the innocent people that die everywhere. We just need to find a better way to peace.
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
August 06, 2014 11:51 PM
The Palestinians have been living under a brutal immoral apartheid occupation since 1967, and they are forbidden to visit the other occupied Palestinian territories, and those under 50 years of age, are forbidden from praying at the third holiest place in all Islam, (the Dome on the Rock), in Jerusalem..... (now what would you do?).... thank the Israeli's for treating you like that, kiss their __?

by: skiimaan from: usa
August 06, 2014 8:13 PM
I think the underlying motive for the attacks was to enforce "no country to Palestinians". And they will continued to be denied a country violently even though all grounds, air, water belong to God.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 07, 2014 12:08 PM
why don't the defenseless idiots get the hell out of a war zone?
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
August 06, 2014 11:39 PM
IT belongs to Israel as long as the US taxpayers keep buying their weapons, bullets, missiles, rockets and bombs to kill those defenseless Palestinian civilians, and the US taxpayers need to resupply the Israeli's when they need more ammunitions, to keep killing the defenseless innocent men, women, children and babies..... Yea, those Israeli's are really brave killing babies, aren't they?...... Hamas?

by: brubar
August 06, 2014 8:09 PM
No doubt that this war was a human tragedy on both sides. However, if not for the Iron Dome (and obviously the hand of G-d), thousands of Israeli citizens could have been killed or seriously wounded. Israel is being villified for defending itself. The pictures above show the terrrible situation in Gaza, but do not show any of the extreme distress in Israel. It doesn't show people who were randomly and without much notice scrambing to bomb shelters and the stress and trauma that more than a thousand rockets caused to the Israeli side. It showed pictures of people in a pool. Ask the people of Sederot what they endured over the past several years with intermittent rocket fire directed at them.

Hamas took hundreds of millions dollars that could have been used to better its people and instead, bet it all on a war; rockets, tunnels, and other assorted weapons. How was Israel supposed to get Hamas to stop? Negotiations? Their stated goal is to wipe Israel off the face of the map. Aside from that, they used their own people as human shields. They hid weapons and rockets in civilian centers and didn't allow their people to leave when the Israelis warned them.

As said before, this was a tragedy of major proportions. However, Hamas started with rocket fire and didn't stop shooting until a ceasefire was finally declared. This was a war against Hamas, not the Palestinian people.

by: Simon from: Canada
August 06, 2014 8:05 PM
Goodhearted Mr. Obama. He feels compassion towards Hamas. He understands that Gaza people need their way out of Gaza, jobs, economy. But has Mr. Obama mentioned that this is possible only if disarmament of Hamas and Jihad takes place, if the hatred words are deleted from Hamas charter in regards to Jews and Israel, if all money that are donated to this land go for its residents, businesses and infrastructure and not to rearm militants and build tunnels. My advise - UN should send its troops and commission with experts, including Egyptian and Israeli representatives, to watch Hamas and Jihad disarmament.

by: David Housholder from: Huntington Beach, CA
August 06, 2014 8:03 PM
We should be telling people in the Middle East what to do? Because we understand the region so well? Please. Can we just, for once, mind our own business?
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