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Israel vows to destroy Hamas tunnels


By PETER ENAV and IBRAHIM BARZAK
Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel will destroy the Hamas tunnel network in the Gaza Strip "with or without a cease-fire," as the military called up another 16,000 reservists to pursue its campaign in the densely-populated territory.

Netanyahu's vow came as international efforts to end the 23-day-old conflict seemed to sputter despite concern over the mounting death toll, with more than 1,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 50 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, killed since July 8.

"We have neutralized dozens of terror tunnels and we are committed to complete this mission, with or without a cease-fire," Netanyahu said. "Therefore I will not agree to any offer that does not allow the military to complete this important mission for the security of the people of Israel."

Raw: Smoke, Explosions Fill Gaza Skyline

An initial Israeli aerial campaign against Hamas was widened into a ground offensive on July 17. Since then the campaign has concentrated on destroying more than 30 cross-border tunnels that militants have constructed to carry out attacks on Israeli territory.

Israel says that most of the 32 tunnels it has uncovered have now been demolished and that getting rid of the remainder will take no more than a few days.

The new reserve call-up follows another day of heavy fighting, in which tank shells struck a U.N. school where Palestinians were sheltering and an airstrike tore through a crowded Gaza shopping area. At least 116 Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss the matter with the press, an Israeli defense official said the purpose of the latest call-up was to provide relief for troops currently on the Gaza firing line. However, Israeli officials have also said they do not rule out broadening operations in the coming days.

Fifty-six Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side have been killed since the offensive began, as Palestinians have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel -- some reaching major cities -- and carried out attacks through tunnels beneath the heavily guarded frontier.

Israel has called up a total of 86,000 reserves during the Gaza war, which it launched to try to end rocket fire from Hamas and other armed groups.

Israeli attacks in the strip continued Thursday, with witnesses saying that munitions struck the Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque next to a U.N. school in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. Israeli fire near another U.N. school in Gaza killed more than a dozen people the day before, drawing international condemnation.


The strike in Beit Lahiya early Thursday damaged water tanks on the roof of a building near the mosque, sending shrapnel flying into the adjacent school compound, where dozens of Palestinians displaced by the fighting had taken shelter.

"The shrapnel from the strike on the mosque hit people who were in the street and at the entrance of the school," said Sami Salebi, an area resident.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said at least 15 people were wounded, with three of them in critical condition.



Kifah Rafati, 40, was being treated for shrapnel injuries at the nearby Kamal Adwan Hospital. She said she and her six children had been sleeping in a classroom facing the mosque when the explosion went off. "There is no safety anywhere," she said.

On Wednesday Israeli tank shells struck a U.N. school in the Jebaliya refugee camp where some 3,300 Gazans had crammed in to seek refuge from the fighting, killing at least 17 people. The military said it was responding to mortar fire coming from the area of the school.

But Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the deadly school shelling "outrageous" and "unjustifiable," and demanded an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.

"Nothing is more shameful than attacking sleeping children," the U.N. chief said.

The White House also criticized the shelling of the U.N. school in Jebaliya.

"We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in U.N. designated shelters in Gaza," said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council.

Later on Wednesday, an Israeli airstrike hit a crowded shopping area in the Shijaiyah district in Gaza City, killing at least 16 people, including Palestinian video journalist Rami Rayan, who was wearing a press vest at the time, and wounding more than 200 people, al-Kidra said.

Thursday marked a third day of particularly heavy Israeli air and artillery attacks, at a time when Egyptian cease-fire efforts appeared to have stalled. Israeli media said late Wednesday that Israel's Security Cabinet decided to press forward with the operation.

Egyptian officials, meanwhile, met with an Israeli envoy about Israel's conditions for a cease-fire, including disarming Hamas, according to a high-ranking Egyptian security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the delicate diplomatic efforts.

Hamas has said it will only halt fire once it receives guarantees that a Gaza border blockade by Israel and Egypt -- tightened after the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza in 2007 -- will be lifted.

Israel says it wants to decimate Hamas' rocket-launching capability, diminish its weapons arsenal and demolish the tunnels. It has launched more than 4,000 strikes against Hamas-linked targets, including rocket launchers and mosques where it says weapons were being stored.

Israeli strikes have also hit dozens of homes. Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Palestinian human rights group Al Mezan said nearly half of the Palestinians killed so far died in their homes.

Israeli officials have said Hamas uses Gaza's civilians as human shields by firing rockets from crowded neighborhoods. Palestinian militants have fired more than 2,600 rockets at Israel over the past three weeks.

However, Pierre Kraehenbuehl, chief of the U.N. aid agency for Palestinian refugees, said Israel must try harder to ensure that civilians are not hurt, especially in Gaza, where 1.7 million people are squeezed into a small coastal territory. His agency has opened 80 of its schools to more than 200,000 Palestinians fleeing the violence.

"What maybe the world forgets ... is that the people of Gaza have nowhere to go," he said. "So when the fighting starts and they move, it is not as if they can cross a border to somewhere."


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jlm9 July 31 2014 at 6:14 AM

The UN and the world should be more concerned with the thousands of rockets being fired into Israel and the tunnels that were built with money that was meant to do good for the people of Gaza..If these two things stop, there is PEACE..simply, but since terrorists never want peace, they only want victory and control, and the UN is a useless anti semitic organization that serves as a podium for the Jew Hating countries..how can there ever be a fair and just verdict on Israel and it's right to defend itself.

Flag Reply +99 rate up
21 replies
dkgoride July 31 2014 at 6:15 AM

I STAND FOR iSRAEL PROTECTING ITS PEOPLE! The Palestine USE it's citizens bodies to protect its rockets.

Flag Reply +99 rate up
7 replies
lawrencefishberg July 31 2014 at 6:19 AM

hamas is a filthy, rat cabal of cowardly murderers....you cannot deal with dirt like this....destroy them and deal with responsible people later......

Flag Reply +99 rate up
9 replies
frankiegallo33 July 31 2014 at 6:23 AM

Israel,
The majority of real Americans support you.
Just be sure to end the misery by ending Hamas and don't listen to Obama, Kerry or Hillary. They don't care about what you've had to endure for decades.

Flag Reply +99 rate up
13 replies
rjen164497 July 31 2014 at 6:45 AM

Notice Israeli leaders are not out playing golf and making speeches.

Flag Reply +98 rate up
27 replies
Mark July 31 2014 at 6:48 AM

IF OUR PUPPET IN CHIEF WAS NOT A MUSLIM BROTHER THEN WE WOULD NOT BE GIVING THE PALESTINIANS 47 MILLION DOLLARS TO BUY WEAPONS WITH.... HAMAS WILL NOT ALLOW THE MONEY TO BE USED FOR FOOD, SHELTER, OR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ATTACKING ISRAEL AND HER PEOPLE !! IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE THAT OUR TRAITOR IN COMMAND OF THE THREE RING CIRCUS IN D.C. IS A MUSLIM, THEN WHY DID HE SAY, AND I QUOTE HIM: "The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam".. HE SAID THIS AT THE UNITED NATIONS AND YOU CAN FIND IT ON THE WEB FOR YOURSELF !!! HE IS A LIAR, TRAITOR AND HATER OF OUR OWN ALLIES OR HE WOULD BE HELPING ISRAEL TO DESTROY THOSE TUNNELS AND TO FIND HAMAS, KILL THEM AND DESTROY THEIR ROCKETS !!!
ALSO ANY PEACE TREATY SHOULD INCLUDE THE PALESTINIANS LEAVING ISRAEL AND GOING BACK TO WHERE THEY CAME FROM !! TURKEY AND IRAN !! THEY ONLY LAY CLAIM TO ISRAEL IN ORDER TO ATTACK THEM AND TO KILL THEM !! THERE IS PLENTY OF PROOF THAT THEIR CLAIM IS FALSE !

Flag Reply +78 rate up
16 replies
mark9mm July 31 2014 at 6:20 AM

Go Israel, don't stop until EVERY DAMN TUNNEL is blown up. Let Gaza stay the cess-pool of the world

Flag Reply +78 rate up
5 replies
cigary43 July 31 2014 at 6:26 AM

Hamas does it's best to keep tensions high and they won't stop killing because they have sworn themselves to eradicate Israel...they do not give them the right to exist nor will they let up on this agenda. Israel should continue the battle and destroy every tunnel as this is what guerrilla tactics are all about..protracted war where tunnels are built to shield them from bomb attacks....think Viet Nam.

Flag Reply +62 rate up
3 replies
Mark July 31 2014 at 6:28 AM

IF HAMAS WAS SO WORRIED ABOUT INNOCENT PEOPLE BEING KILLED, THEN THEY WOULD NOT HIDE IN THE PLACES WHERE THE PEOPLE WOULD BE KILLED, BUT THEY WOULD BE IN A PLACE WHERE THE INNOCENT WOULD NOT BE HARMED, NOT HINDING AMONGST THE PEOPLE THEY CLAIM THEY ARE PROTECTING !! HAMAS SHOULD BE WIPED OUT COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY FOREVER !! THEY ARE THE TERRORIST AND THE PALESTINIANS SHOULD ALL GO BACK TO TURKEY AND IRAN WHERE THEY ARE FROM AND THEN THERE WOULD BE PEACE !!
PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST IS A DREAM THAT WILL NEVER COME TRUE UNTIL THOSE WHO WANT TO DESTROY ISRAEL ARE GONE, AND THE TRUTH IS KNOWN... THE PALESTINIANS DO NOT OWN ANY OF ISRAEL AND NEVER HAVE !! THE HEBREWS HAVE BEEN IN THAT LAND FOR OVER 4000 YEARS, AND THE PALESTINIANS HAVE ONLY JUST ARRIVED IN HISTORICAL TERMS.. THEIR NAME WAS GIVEN TO THEM BY THE ROMANS WHO RULED OVER JERUSELAM AT THE TIME, THEY EVEN LEFT THE KING IN POWER.. THE PALESTINES, OR NOMADS AS THEY WERE CALLED THEN ARE ONLY TRYING TO KILL THE JEWS OUT OF HATE.

Flag Reply +59 rate up
7 replies
Don July 31 2014 at 6:24 AM

War is never pretty and innocent people always bear the blunt of it. The Hammas leadership uses their own people to hide behind. Cowards come out and fight, Israel wants you and will find you irregardless of what tactics you use. I stand with Israel

Flag Reply +8 rate up
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