News / Middle East

    Gaza Fighting Deepens, Flight Ban Holds

    Palestinians take cover during an Israeli air strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, July 23, 2014.
    Palestinians take cover during an Israeli air strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, July 23, 2014.
    Reuters

    Gaza fighting raged on Wednesday, displacing thousands more Palestinians in the battered territory as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said indirect truce talks between Israel and Hamas had made some progress.

    While pressing a 15-day-old offensive, Israel scrambled to contain economic damage from a halt of flights to Tel Aviv's main airport by U.S. and European airlines spooked by the long-range rocket salvoes of Hamas and other Gaza Strip guerrillas.

    Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
    x
    Click to enlarge
    Click to enlarge

    Adding to pressure on Israel, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said there was "a strong possibility'' that it was committing war crimes in Gaza, where 668 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.

    Israel denied the suggestion, stepping up the war of words and accusing Hamas of using fellow Gazans as human shields.

    Palestinian fatalities by date, July 8 - 22, 2014Palestinian fatalities by date, July 8 - 22, 2014
    x
    Palestinian fatalities by date, July 8 - 22, 2014
    Palestinian fatalities by date, July 8 - 22, 2014

    Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt rocket salvoes by Hamas and its allies, which have struggled under an Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade on Gaza and angered by a crackdown on their supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank.

    After aerial and naval bombardment failed to quell the outgunned guerrillas, Israel poured ground forces into the Gaza Strip last Thursday, looking to knock out Hamas's rocket stores and destroy a vast, underground network of tunnels.

    "We are meeting resistance around the tunnels ... they are constantly trying to attack us around and in the tunnels. That is the trend,'' Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said on Wednesday.

    • Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City, July 23, 2014.
    • A Palestinian man, in clothes stained with the blood of his father who medics said was killed by Israeli shelling, mourns at a hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, July 23, 2014.
    • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Jerusalem, July 23, 2014.
    • Israeli airport workers pass a sign pointing to a shelter for refuge in case a warning siren indicates the possibility of an incoming rocket, at Ben Gurion International airport, Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.
    • An arrivals board displays canceled and delayed flights in Ben Gurion International airport a day after the U.S. FAA imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights after a Hamas rocket landed close to the airport, Tel Aviv, July 23, 2014.
    • An Israeli military helicopter evacuates soldiers, wounded during an offensive in Gaza, near the border with the central Gaza Strip, July 23, 2014.
    • A Palestinian firefighter walks amidst the rubble of a house that witnesses said was hit by an Israeli air strike, Gaza City, July 23, 2014.
    • Palestinian rescue workers inspect the remains of a house that witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City July 23, 2014.
    • A video journalist makes his way through rubble of a building destroyed by an Israeli strike in Gaza City, July 23, 2014.
    • A relative of Israeli soldier Jordan Ben-Simon, who also held French citizenship and was killed in fighting in Gaza, mourns over his coffin during his funeral in Ashkelon, Israel, July 22, 2014.
    • Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rise over Gaza City, July 22, 2014.

    Military losses rise

    Hamas and a smaller Gaza faction, Islamic Jihad, said they killed several Israeli soldiers in two separate ambushes on Wednesday. Israel had no immediate comment on those claims.

    Some 29 troops have been confirmed killed so far in the conflagration. Three civilians have died in rocket attacks out of Gaza, including a foreign laborer hit on Wednesday.

    The military says one of its soldiers is also missing and believes he might be dead. Hamas says it has captured him, but has not released a picture of him in their hands.

    Flight ban

    Airlines from the United States and Europe canceled more flights to Israel on Wednesday after rocket fire from Gaza hit near the county's main international airport earlier this week.

    Citing a "potentially hazardous situation" as Israel and Hamas continue to exchange fire, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration renewed a 24-hour ban on U.S. carriers like Delta, American, and United from flying to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv.

    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf acknowledged Wednesday that Hamas has rockets that could reach Ben Gurion airport, but the accuracy of those weapons is limited.

    "During current fighting Hamas rockets have landed north of the airport although the accuracy of their rockets does remain limited," she said

    The FAA action represented a public relations coup for Hamas, which is anxious to dent Israel's global image. However, the Tel Aviv stock exchange and Shekel were flat, with traders showing little immediate concern about the flight stoppages.

    An Israeli official said Netanyahu had asked Kerry to help restore the U.S. flights. A U.S. official said the Obama administration would not "overrule the FAA'' on a security precaution but noted the ban would be reviewed after 24 hours.

    However, U.S. carrier Delta Air Lines said it would extend its suspension of flights on Wednesday, as did Germany's Lufthansa and Air Berlin as Polish airline LOT.

    Gaza StripGaza Strip
    x
    Gaza Strip
    Gaza Strip

    Clouds of black smoke hung over Gaza, some 65-km (40 miles) south of Ben Gurion, with the regular thud of artillery and tank shells filling the air.

    Mosque attack

    Palestinian medics said two worshippers were killed and 30 wounded in an attack on a mosque in the heart of the densely populated Zeitoun neighborhood in eastern Gaza City.

     In southern Abassan and Khuzaa villages, residents said they were besieged by Israeli snipers who wounded two Palestinians as they tried to emerge from hiding with white flags in hand. Israeli tanks fired shells near ambulances, discouraging their approach to recover casualties, witnesses said.

    PLO

    In a move that could effectively turn Abbas into the main Palestinian point person for any Gaza truce, his umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Wednesday formally supported core conditions set by the Hamas-led fighters.

    These demands include the release of hundreds of Hamas supporters recently arrested in the nearby West Bank and an end to the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has stymied the economy and made it near impossible for anyone to travel abroad.

    Egypt has tried to get both sides to hold fire and then negotiate terms for protracted calm in Gaza, which has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005.

    Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, balked at Cairo's original, barebones offer. The dispute was further complicated by distrust between Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamas.

    Egyptian sources said a unified Palestinian position could help achieve a deal. Unlike Hamas, Abbas and his Western-backed PLO have pursued peacemaking with Israel for two decades.

    Death, destruction

    Gaza's Health Ministry said 49 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday, many of them in the southern town of Khan Younis -- one of the focal points of Israel's recent assault.

    In the far north, residents continued to flee Beit Hanoun as  Israeli tanks thrust deeper into the border town and destroyed nearby orchards in their search for hidden Hamas tunnels.

    "Columns of people are heading west of Beit Hanoun, looking for a safe shelter. This is not war, this is annihilation,'' said 17-year-old Hamed Ayman. "I once dreamt of becoming a doctor. Today I am homeless. They should watch out for what I could become next.''

    Gaza officials said that so far in the 16-day conflict, 475 houses had been totally destroyed by Israeli fire and 2,644 partially damaged. Some 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals had also suffered varying degrees of destruction.

    "There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,'' the U.N.'s Pillay told an emergency session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

    She also condemned indiscriminate, militant rocket and mortar attacks out of Gaza.

     Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said the U.N. rights council was an "anti-Israel'' body.

    "Israel is acting according to international law. It is acting against terrorism. It is regrettable civilians are killed, but when we call on them to vacate and Hamas calls on them to stay, then that is what happens,'' she told Israel Radio. 

    You May Like

    How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Probe Targeting China's Statistic Head Sparks Concern

    Economists now asking what prompted government to launch an investigation only months after Wang Baoan had been vetted for crucial job

    HRW: Both Sides in Ukraine Conflict Targeted, Used Schools

    Rights group documents how both sides in Ukraine conflict carried out attacks on schools and used them for military purposes

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.