U.S. aviation authorities lift a two-day ban on flights to Tel Aviv

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U.S. aviation authorities lift a two-day ban on flights to Tel Aviv
FILE - In this file photo taken July 22, 2011 a Delta Air Lines jet takes off at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Mich. Delta Air Lines on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 canceled all flights to Israel until further notice, citing reports that a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
FILE - In this file photo made Jan. 21, 2010, a passenger walks past a Delta Airlines 747 aircraft in McNamara Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich. Delta Air Lines on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 canceled all flights to Israel until further notice, citing reports that a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JULY 22: The relatives of Hassan Khader, killed by a Israeli rocket at the Shati refugee camp, mourn during the funeral ceremony in Gaza City, Gaza on July 22, 2014. The Palestinian death toll from Israel's ongoing offensive against the Gaza Strip has risen to 609 according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. (Photo by Mohammed Asad/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Pakistani protesters torch Israeli and United Nations flags during a demonstration against Israeli military operations in Gaza in Multan on July 22, 2014. The UN chief and Washington's top diplomat were holding a flurry of meetings in Cairo to push for an end to violence in Gaza that has killed more than 590 Palestinians. As the conflict entered its third week, neither side showed any sign of willingness to pull back, with Israel pursuing a relentless campaign of shelling and air strikes, and militants hitting back with rocket fire and fierce attacks on troops operating on the ground. AFP PHOTO/SS MIRZA (Photo credit should read SS MIRZA/AFP/Getty Images)
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JULY 22: Funeral ceremony is held for Palestinian Hassan Khader Baker, killed by a Israeli rocket at the Shati refugee camp, in Gaza City, Gaza on July 22, 2014. The Palestinian death toll from Israel's ongoing offensive against the Gaza Strip has risen to 609 according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. (Photo by Mohammed Asad/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Israelis inspect the damage inside their house following a rocket fired by militants from the Gaza Strip, on July 22, 2014, in the Israeli city of Yahud, some 15 kms east of Tel-Aviv. The UN chief and Washington's top diplomat were holding a flurry of meetings in Cairo to push for an end to violence in Gaza that has killed more than 590 Palestinians. AFP PHOTO/GIL COHEN-MAGEN (Photo credit should read GIL COHEN MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images)
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JULY 22: The relatives of Hassan Khader, killed by a Israeli rocket at the Shati refugee camp, mourn during the funeral ceremony in Gaza City, Gaza on July 22, 2014. The Palestinian death toll from Israel's ongoing offensive against the Gaza Strip has risen to 609 according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. (Photo by Mohammed Asad/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
KHAN YUNIS, GAZA - JULY 22: Palestinians, wounded in an Israeli assault, are taken to the Nasir Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza on July 22, 2014. The Palestinian death toll from Israel's ongoing offensive against the Gaza Strip has risen to 609 according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. (Photo by Ramadan El-Agha/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Israeli soldiers attended the funeral of Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, at the military cemetery in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Monday, July 21, 2014. Sgt. Carmeli from Texas, was killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip on Sunday. The first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting exacted a steep price, killing scores of Palestinians and more than a dozen Israeli soldiers and forcing thousands of terrified Palestinian civilians to flee their devastated Shijaiyah neighborhood, which Israel says is a major source for rocket fire against its civilians. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israeli police officers remove debris after a rocket fired by Palestinians militants from Gaza destroyed a house, in Yahud, central Israel, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. Israel has said its campaign, launched July 8, is aimed at stopping Hamas rocket fire into Israel — some 2,000 rockets have been launched over the past two weeks, the military says — and destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Israelis try to comfort a woman overcome by emotion after a rocket was fired by Palestinians militants from Gaza, in Yahud, central Israel, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. Israel has said its campaign, launched July 8, is aimed at stopping Hamas rocket fire into Israel — some 2,000 rockets have been launched over the past two weeks, the military says — and destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Israeli police officers secure a destroyed house that was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinians militants from Gaza, in Yahud, central Israel, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. Israel has said its campaign, launched July 8, is aimed at stopping Hamas rocket fire into Israel — some 2,000 rockets have been launched over the past two weeks, the military says — and destroying tunnels the military says Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel for attacks against Israelis. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Israeli soldiers carry the coffin of Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, during his funeral at the military cemetery in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Monday, July 21, 2014. Sgt. Carmeli from Texas, was killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip on Sunday. Thousands of Israelis attended the funeral. On Sunday, the first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting exacted a steep price, killing scores of Palestinians and more than a dozen Israeli soldiers and forcing thousands of terrified Palestinian civilians to flee their devastated Shijaiyah neighborhood, which Israel says is a major source for rocket fire against its civilians. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a joint news conference regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) listens to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaking during a joint press conference following a meeting on July 22, 2014 at the Defense Ministry in the coastal Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Ban Ki-moon urged Israel and the Palestinians to stop the bloodshed in Gaza as he sought to broker an end to a fortnight of deadly violence. AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON (Photo credit should read GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images)
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GAZA/JERUSALEM, July 23 (Reuters) - Gaza fighting raged on Wednesday, displacing thousands more Palestinians in the battered territory as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said efforts to secure a truce between Israel and Hamas had made some progress.

U.S. aviation authorities lifted a ban on flights to Tel Aviv which had been in force for two days, prompted by rocket salvoes out of the Gaza Strip, but many other global airlines were avoiding the Jewish state.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, speaking in Qatar, praised the group's fighters, whom he said had made gains against Israel and said he supported a humanitarian truce but a ceasefire would only be acceptable in exchange for easing Gazans' plight.

"Let's agree first on the demands and on implementing them and then we can agree on the zero hour for a ceasefire... 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," he said.

Adding to the 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 703 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting, according to Palestinian health officials.

Pillay also condemned indiscriminate Islamist rocket fire out of Gaza and the United Nations Human Rights Council said it would launch an international inquiry into alleged violations.

Israel denied any wrongdoing. "Get lost," Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on her Facebook page in response to the investigation.

Kerry met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a grim-faced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. He later returned to Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza and has mediated with Islamist Hamas.

"We have certainly made some steps forward. There is still work to be done," said Kerry, on one of his most intensive regional visits since the peace negotiations he had brokered between Netanyahu and Abbas broke down in April.

An Egyptian official said he expected a humanitarian truce to go into effect by the weekend, in time for the Eid al-Fitr festival, Islam's biggest annual celebration that follows the fasting month of Ramadan.

However, a senior U.S. official played down the Egyptian official's confidence that there would be a truce during Eid, saying this was a U.S. hope but it was by no means locked in.

"It would not be accurate to say that we expect a ceasefire by the weekend," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We are continuing to work on it, but it is not set at this point."

Kerry, who plans to stay in Cairo until Friday, has been working through Abbas, Egypt and other regional proxies because the United States, like Israel, shuns Hamas as a terrorist group. Hamas brushed off the U.S. diplomat's appeal, saying it would not hold fire without making gains.

"Our interest and that of our people is that no agreement should be made before the conditions of factions of resistance are met," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

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 been angered by a crackdown on their supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank.

After an 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.


MILITARY LOSSES RISE

Israel announced that three of its soldiers were killed by explosive devices on Wednesday, lifting the army death toll to 32. Three civilians have also been killed in rocket attacks out of Gaza, including a Thai 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.

Already hurt by mass tourist cancellations, Israel faced increased economic pressure after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took the rare step on Tuesday of banning flights to Tel Aviv, renewing the order on Wednesday and then canceling it.

"Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation," the FAA said in a press release. (http://1.usa.gov/1pdxowF)

U.S. carriers Delta Air Lines, American Airlines Group and United Airlines did not immediately respond to requests for comments outside regular U.S. business hours.

Many other foreign carriers, on heightened alert after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over a combat zone in Ukraine last week, banned flights. Israeli carriers continued to operate.

"Hamas's success in closing the Israeli air space is a great victory for the resistance, a terrible failure for Israel that wrecks the image of Israeli deterrence," said Hamas's Abu Zuhri.

The Tel Aviv stock exchange and shekel currency were flat, with traders showing little concern about the flight stoppages.

Clouds of black smoke hung over Gaza with the regular thud of artillery and tank shells filling the air, sending thousands of civilians fleeing from the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip.

"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."

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.

A Palestinian protester died after a confrontation with Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Israel named four commanders of Hamas ally Islamic Jihad that it said it had killed in recent days.


HAMAS DEMANDS

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 rejects Israel's right to exist, has balked at Cairo's original proposal, wanting its conditions to be met in full before any end to the conflict.

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.

The war is extracting a heavy toll on impoverished Gaza, with Palestinian officials saying that at least 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 (HRC) in Geneva.

Netanyahu reacted furiously to news of the planned U.N. investigation, aware of the damning report into Israel's 2008/09 Gaza operation, which killed more than 1,000 Palestinians.

"The decision today by the HRC is a travesty," he said in a statement. "The HRC should be launching an investigation into Hamas's decision to turn hospitals into military command centers, use schools as weapons depots and place missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques."

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Maayan Lubell and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, Noah Browning and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Yasmine Saleh in Cairo, Amena Bakr in Doha and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Anna Willard, Giles Elgood, Louise Ireland and Nick Macfie)

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