Thursday, July 24, 2014

Israel/Gaza: Update: US Restores Flights to Tel Aviv, Cease-Fire at Least 1-2 Weeks Off

According to Reuters, Israel won a partial reprieve from the economic pain of its Gaza war on Thursday (July 24) with the lifting of a US ban on commercial flights to Tel Aviv, as fighting pushed the Palestinian death toll over 700.

A truce between the Jewish state and Hamas-led Islamist guerrillas remained elusive despite intensive mediation efforts. 

Palestinians said residents of two southern villages were trapped by days of tank shelling, with medics unable to evacuate wounded. UN agencies said more than 140,000 people had been displaced. Hamas fired rockets at Tel Aviv and said its gunmen carried out a lethal ambushes on Israeli soldiers in north Gaza.

With Washington's encouragement, and the involvement of Turkey and Hamas ally, Qatar, Egypt has been trying to broker a limited humanitarian cease-fire for the battered enclave.

Israeli Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel Radio: "I will oppose any ceasefire until it is clear both that the tunnels will be destroyed and what will happen in the post-ceasefire period; how we will guarantee quiet for the residents of Israel that will be preserved in the long-term."

The death toll in Gaza reached 729 on Thursday as Israeli tank fire and pre-dawn assaults killed 35 people in the Hamas-dominated coastal enclave.

Israel has lost at least 32 soldiers in clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas raiders who have slipped across the fortified frontier in tunnels. 

COMMENT: The FAA cancelled the ban late on Wednesday (July 23) after reviewing the security situation. The European Air Safety Agency (EASA) said on Thursday it was about to follow suit and lift its own recommendation to avoid flying to Tel Aviv. 

US Airways, a unit of American Airlines Group Inc., said it was resuming its non-stop Tel Aviv to Philadelphia service. Germany's Lufthansa said its suspension of flights to Tel Aviv would continue until Friday (July 25).

"The Europeans did not really deliberate over this, but acted more as a follow-up to the FAA decision," said Gadi Regev, chief of staff for Israel's Civil Aviation Authority.

Some European flights had been diverted to Cyprus's Larnaca Airport (LCA), where passengers took Israeli carriers to Ben Gurion.

In what appeared to be an attempt to trigger a fresh FAA ban, Hamas said it launched at least two rockets at Ben Gurion on Thursday (July 24). Yet, no sirens were heard at the airport as the rockets flew wide and were shot down by Iron Dome over Tel Aviv, to the west, and Petah Tikva, to the north. 

"Let's agree first on the demands and on implementing them, and then we can agree on the zero hour for a ceasefire," Meshaal said on Wednesday (July 23) in Qatar. "We will not accept any proposal that does not lift the blockade ... We do not desire war and we do not want it to continue, but we will not be broken by it."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (HRC) Navi Pillay said there was "a strong possibility" that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza, where medical officials say most of those killed were civilians. Pillay also condemned indiscriminate Islamist rocket fire out of Gaza, and the UN Human Rights Council said it would launch an international inquiry into alleged violations. A furious Netanyahu denounced the inquiry as a "travesty."
 
"Pillay should be launching an investigation into Hamas's decision to turn hospitals into military command centers, using schools as weapons depots and placing missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques,"  the Israeli PM curtly retorted.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has also been on a truce-seeking mission, lashed out at Gaza militants, expressing "outrage and regret" that rockets had been found inside a UN school for refugees for the second time during the conflict.

Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist and is shunned in the West, balked at Egypt's proposal for an unconditional truce, saying its terms had to be met in full for any end to the conflict. Israel briefly held fire last week at Cairo's request.