Five hours largely free of attacks ended right on schedule today when mortar rounds were lobbed from Gaza into Israel the moment the ceasefire was scheduled to end, and Israel resumed its bombing campaign a short time later, Israeli officials said today.
The break in hostilities allowed the people of Gaza to rush to markets and stock up on supplies. The respite from bombings also gave hope to the negotiations in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, for a more permanent halt to the ferocious duel that has entered its tenth day.
Israel, which has twice halted its attacks on Gaza, revealed today that it had intercepted fighters who infiltrated Israel through tunnels from Gaza. The incident occurred shortly before the temporary ceasefire was to take effect and one attacker was killed, a statement by the Israel Defense Forces said. The rest of the infiltrators are believed to have retreated back into Gaza, the IDF said.
More than 230 Palestinians in Gaza and one Israeli have died in the attacks.
Among the dead were four Palestinian boys killed while playing on a Gaza beach Wednesday. Israel said it would investigate the circumstances of the boys' deaths.
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What Is Gaza and Who Controls It?
The Gaza Strip is a Detroit-sized area on the border with Egypt up against the Mediterranean Sea that is one of the most densely packed places on Earth. Technically part of the Palestinian Authority, it has been governed since 2007 by the militant group Hamas. With 1.8 million people living in just 139 square miles, Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth.
Hamas, which rejects the existence of Israel, recently agreed to form a unity government with the other main Palestinian political faction, Fatah. The new Palestinian Unity Government recognizes the State of Israel. But the outbreak of current hostilities pitting Hamas against Israel has left the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority on the sidelines.
What Sparked This Violence?
Tensions were ignited in June when three Israeli teenagers, one with American citizenship and all seminary students, were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank and killed. They were kidnapped on June 12 and their bodies were discovered June 30. Israel accused Hamas of kidnapping the three teens, which the militant group denied. Within days, Israel arrested more than 300 Palestinians, many of them members of Hamas. At least 10 Palestinians were killed and more than a thousand private homes were raided.
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On the night the boys' bodies were found, a barrage of rockets were launched from Gaza at Israel and Israeli warplanes carried out numerous air strikes in Gaza.
On July 2, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and burned to death in apparent retaliation. The death triggered riots in East Jerusalem, a largely Palestinian area. Three Israelis have been arrested and charged with his death.
The attacks quickly escalated. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have fired rockets with a reach that Israel had not previously seen, with air raid sirens going off as far away as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Many of the missiles have landed in desert areas or been intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system. One Israeli civilian was killed by a mortar shell Tuesday near the Erez border crossing. There have been reports of several Israeli injuries, including one teenage boy who was seriously wounded from a shrapnel blast.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces, Israel has hit more than 1,872 sites in Gaza with either air strikes or naval bombardment as part of Operation Protective Edge. The IDF claims more than 1,350 rockets have been launched at Israel in the last week, at least 1,027 of which have hit Israel and more than 265 were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.
The Palestinian Health Ministry says 231 people have been killed in Gaza and about 1,600 have been injured since the operation began. The United Nations estimates at least 80 percent of the dead are civilians, 20 percent of whom are children. The United Nations said 1,660 homes have been severely damaged or destroyed. The U.N. also estimated that 22,600 have been displaced in Gaza and 100,000 are now without water.
There are no bomb shelters for the people of Gaza to seek refuge. According to Human Rights Watch, years of punitive Israeli restrictions in addition to Egypt's refusal to open its borders have left Gaza's medical facilities and personnel ill-equipped to cope with the large number of casualties.
According to Human Rights Watch, Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel appear to be indiscriminate or targeted at civilian populaiton centers, which are war crimes, while Israeli attacks targeting homes may amount to prohibited collective punishment. The United Nations adds that Israel may be violating international human rights law by bombing Palestinian homes.
Israel has called up 48,000 more reservists and many have been deployed along with tanks on the border with Gaza, poised to carry out a ground offensive into Gaza if the order comes.
Who Are the Key Players?
Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the U.S. But while there is no Israeli military presence inside Gaza anymore, the effective control of Gaza's sea, air and borders is under Israeli control.
The Israeli Defense Forces are the military arm of Israel and are well armed and exceptionally large given Israel's population. Most Israeli residents must go through compulsory military service and are automatically enrolled in the IDF's reserve forces.
Benjamin Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel. After the Israeli teens were found dead, he said they were victims of "terrorists" and "human animals." When the Palestinian teen was found murdered, he telephoned the boy's father and said the murder was "abhorrent." Three Israelis have been indicted for the murder.
What Is Notable About This Outbreak of Violence?
The current fight comes after almost two years of relative calm between Israel and the Palestinians and just months after the latest round of peace talks collapsed.
The technology being used by both sides is more advanced than in earlier periods of violence. Hamas has publicly claimed responsibility for the drone, and went on to say that they actually have two types of drones: one to gather intelligence and another to fire munitions. Hamas has been able to reach cities that are much further north in Israel than they ever have before, instilling a new fear for Israeli residents. Israel claims some 5 million people now live within striking distance of Hamas' newest rockets.
Hamas has also launched home-made, unmanned drones to fly over Israel, and the militant group claimed to have drones that are armed. Israel has shot down an unarmed drone off the coast.
What Is Going to Happen Next?
The end of the five hour humanitarian pause was marked by a prompted mortar fire at Israel, the IDF reported, but talks being brokered by Egypt in Cairo continue between Israel and Hamas for a permanent halt to the fighting. The Egyptian foreign minister said the talks were gaining momentum.
Before the humanitarian pause, both Hamas and Israel indicated a willingness to keep fighting if they felt it was necessary.
The European Union and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are pressing for a ceasefire, but so far neither Israel nor Hamas has indicated that they are willing to stop the fighting.
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