U.S. lifts ban on flights to Israel as Gaza toll tops 700
A truce remained elusive despise intensive mediation efforts. Israel says it needs more time to eradicate rocket stocks and cross-border tunnels in the Gaza Strip and Hamas Islamists demand the blockade on the enclave be lifted.
An Egyptian official said on Wednesday that a more limited humanitarian ceasefire may 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.
But the United States, whose Secretary of State John Kerry is spearheading the indirect negotiations, was more circumspect.
“It would not be accurate to say that we expect a ceasefire by the weekend,” said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We are continuing to work on it, but it is not set at this point.”
The death toll in Gaza rose above 700 on Thursday as Israeli tank fire before dawn killed 16 people in the Hamas-dominated coastal territory, including six members of the same family, Palestinian health officials said.
Israel has lost 32 soldiers to clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas raiders who have slipped across the fortified frontier in tunnels. Rocket and mortar shelling by Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas has killed three civilians in Israel.
Such shelling surged last month as Israel cracked down on Hamas in the occupied West Bank, triggering the July 8 air and sea barrage in Gaza that escalated into an invasion a week ago.
Though Israel’s Iron Dome rocket interceptor has shot down most of the rockets fired from Gaza, one that came close to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to bar American flights there.
The ensuing wave of cancellations by foreign airlines emptied Israel’s usually bustling international gateway and hurt its hi-tech economy at the height of summer tourist season. It was hailed as a “victory” by Hamas, and prompted an appeal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Kerry to intervene.