Israel’s advance into Gaza continued Friday evening. Reuters quoted Palestinian health officials saying 35 Palestinians, including three children and a 70-year-old woman, have been killed since Israel sent ground forces into Gaza late Thursday. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF ) say they destroyed 21 Hamas rocket launchers and at least four tunnels used by Hamas to enter Israel from Gaza, and warn they may “significantly widen” their operations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the escalation of its Operation Protective Edge on Thursday.
Shortly afterwards, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon expressed regret that an “already dangerous conflict” had escalated further and against appeals for restraint from the world body and many international leaders.
“I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties. There can be no military solution to this conflict,” Ban said.
U.S. President Barack Obama Friday said he supports Israel’s right to defend itself, but expressed concern about an escalation of violence.
Earlier, the U.S. condemned Hamas for indiscriminate rocket attacks and called on Israel to “take every possible step” to protect Palestinian civilians.
“I think the Secretary [of State]’s view is very much that the absence of a two-state solution leaves a vacuum that is often filled by violence,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporter at a briefing Thursday. “Of course, our focus in the immediate terms is achieving a successful ceasefire that will bring an end to the violence, bring an end to the civilian casualties. And any two-state solution will require the parties to be willing to make the tough choices they haven’t been willing to make to date.”
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius traveled to Cairo Friday as part of a diplomatic effort to promote a ceasefire in Gaza. On the eve of his visit, he said France is “extremely concerned” by Israel’s offensive and called on the latter to show the “utmost restraint.” Fabius met with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas at the Cairo airport, where Abbas urged Fabius to engage Turkey and Qatar in pressuring Hamas to accept a truce with Israel.
However, Hamas says it won’t accept any cease-fire that doesn’t end Israel’s blockade on Gaza.
Fabius will travel to Israel Saturday evening, in the wake of similar visits by diplomats from Germany, Italy and Norway.
At the close of an EU summit in Brussels Wednesday, EU leaders issued a statement condemning Hamas for firing of rockets into Israel and urging Israel to “act proportionately and ensure the protection of civilians at all times.” The Council also called on Hamas to accept an Egypt-brokered cease-fire.
In an editorial in Thursday’s New York Times, International Crisis Group senior analyst Nathan Thrall blamed the current crisis on Israel’s failure to support reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
“Israel immediately sought to undermine the reconciliation agreement by preventing Hamas leaders and Gaza residents from obtaining the two most essential benefits of the deal: the payment of salaries to 43,000 civil servants who worked for the Hamas government and continue to administer Gaza under the new one, and the easing of the suffocating border closures imposed by Israel and Egypt that bar most Gazans’ passage to the outside world.”
The Los Angeles Times reiterated both Israel and Hamas political narratives, concluding, “Both sides' arguments have some merit, but they don't move the situation toward a solution.” The Times also urged the United States to remain engaged in the Middle East.
Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer places blame squarely on Palestinian militants: “Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows the proudly self-declared raison d’etre of Hamas: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.”