One minute, nine Palestinian children were playing on a swing set at the Shati refugee camp in Gaza. The next, an explosion covered the ground in smoke and blood. “Some lost their heads, others their legs and hands,” said witness Nidal Aljerbi.
Monday’s bloodshed led to a bitter exchange of blame between Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The terror group said an Israeli airstrike killed their young. Israel has increased shelling in Gaza during the past few days, knocking out the region’s main power station and aiming at other centers of Hamas power. But IDF Lt. Col. Peter Lerner insisted Hamas struck its own territory with a misfired rocket aimed at Israel, the latest of about 200 projectile attacks gone wrong, he said. A post on the IDF blog showed aerial photographs of the errant rocket that struck the park, along with a second that hit a nearby hospital.
Today, an Israeli airstrike killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 150 at a busy Gaza market. Hours earlier, Israeli tank shells hit a UN school sheltering displaced Palestinians, killing another 15 people. In an unusual move for Israel's strongest ally, the White House issued a formal condemnation of the attack.
As violence between Israel and Gaza escalates, international leaders are in an uproar, some calling for an immediate cease-fire while others demand the battle continue. Hamas has fired more than 2,600 rockets at Israel in three weeks. Terrorists killed 10 Israeli soldiers between Monday and Tuesday, raising the military death toll to 53. Three civilians in Israel have also died. But the fighting also has killed more than 1,300 Palestinians in Gaza, many of them innocent bystanders like the children at Shati.
Today the IDF reported detonating three new tunnels into Israel beneath the Gaza blockade. Six stories underground, Hamas insurgents have burrowed dozens of these entrances into Israel, creating a threat far more covert than the crude rockets Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system continues to shoot down. For the first time since 2009, IDF troops and heavy weapons have invaded Gaza with plans to bury each tunnel.
Until then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday, Israel cannot accept a permanent cease-fire: “We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign.” After a United Nations Security Council meeting the same day, Israeli envoy Ron Posor said the nation must be wary of enemy deceit: “Israel agreed to five cease-fire proposals; Hamas rejected or broke all of them, even the ones that they requested by themselves.” He added a peg against one Arab nation funding extremism in Gaza: “Every terror tunnel could have a sign that reads ‘made possible through a kind donation of the emir of Qatar.’”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attended a conference with Qatar, Turkey, and several European nations in Paris this weekend to hash out a plan for a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan drew attention recently for claiming Israel “surpassed Hitler in barbarism.” Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority received an invitation to the Paris summit.
Kerry, U.S. President Barack Obama, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon all urged Israel and Hamas in the past week to end the violence immediately. Kerry’s proposal angered Israeli security chiefs for suggesting they open the Gaza border but never acknowledging the threat of Hamas tunnels and rockets. For now, the cease-fire talks are deadlocked. Israeli leaders have declared they won’t stop until they strips terrorists of their weapons. Hamas intends to fight on until Israel lifts the Gaza blockade. That’s a non-starter for Israel, given Hamas leader Khaled Mashal’s refusal to recognize the nation or coexist with it.
And other Muslim nations are anxious to join the fray. At a Tuesday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, “the Muslim World has a duty to arm the Palestinian nation by all means.”
Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress pledged support Tuesday for a $225 million aid package to boost Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, a donation Obama supports. But the president’s demands for a quick end to violence between Israel and Hamas still have some advocates of Israel worried, including American author and political strategist Joel C. Rosenberg, who tweeted Monday: “We’re rapidly approaching a train wreck in US-Israel relations. Obama admin trying to pressure an ally into premature ceasefire w/ terrorists.”