Is Hamas using human shields in Gaza? UN finds TWO stashes of rockets hidden in empty school next to makeshift housing for 3,000 displaced Palestinians
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- Second such discovery at a vacant U.N. school in Gaza in a week, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said
- It has long been the Israeli case that the store weapons in residential areas using Palestinians as human shields
- Although the Arab League accuses Israel of war crimes by responding indiscriminately
- Some 630 Palestinians, many of them children and civilians have so far died in the conflagration
- Some 29 Israeli soldiers have been killed, including a tank officer who was shot by a Palestinian sniper overnight
- Israeli transport ministry spokesman says stopping flights to Israel is 'giving a prize to terrorism'
By Jill Reilly
Published: 04:29 EST, 23 July 2014 | Updated: 06:15 EST, 23 July 2014
Israel's claims that Hamas is using Palestinians as human shields is once again gaining momentum following the discovery of rockets in a vacant school between two other U.N. schools being used as shelters.
The second such discovery at a vacant U.N. school in Gaza in a week, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said the rockets were found in between two other UNRWA schools that are being used to host 1,500 displaced people.
'The agency immediately informed the relevant parties and is pursuing all possible measures for the removal of the objects in order to preserve the safety and security of the school,' the agency said in a statement.
'UNRWA will launch a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident.'
Two-year-old Palestinian girl Naama Abu al-Foul sleeps after undergoing treatment at Gaza City's Al-Shifa hospital following Israeli bombing next to her family's home in the battered city. Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that Israel was committing 'a crime against humanity' during its ongoing offensive against the Gaza Strip
A Palestinian man kisses his son hand, who medics said was wounded in an Israeli air strike. The second such discovery at a vacant U.N. school in Gaza in a week, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said the rockets were found in between two other UNRWA schools that are being used to host 1,500 displaced people
A Palestinian girl, who medics said was wounded in an Israeli air strike, lies on a bed at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City
A Palestinian child screams in pain at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip
A Palestinian man, in clothes stained with the blood of his father, killed by Israeli shelling, breaks down at a hospital in Khan Younis after learning of his death
As soon as the rockets were discovered, UNRWA staff withdrew from the area for the 'flagrant violation' of its status.
It has long been the Israeli case that the militants deliberately store weapons in residential areas and that is why they are forced to bomb such areas, although the Arab League accuses Israel of war crimes by responding indiscriminately.
Today the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its two-week-old offensive,
Pillay, opening an emergency debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel.
This graphic posted on the Israeli Defense Forces website, shows an artist's attempt to support Israeli government claims that Hamas is hiding behind their civilian population. Beyond the boom of Israeli airstrikes and the stream of rockets fired from Gaza, Israel and Hamas are also battling to control the message emanating from this latest Israeli-Palestinian conflagration
Citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting houses and hospitals in the coastal enclave, she said: "These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.
'Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated,' Pillay said in some of her strongest comments on the conflict.
The Geneva rights forum convened the special one-day session at the request of the Palestinians, Egypt and Pakistan.
Israel, which accuses the Council of bias, boycotted the Geneva forum for 20 months, resuming cooperation in October. Its main ally the United States, a member state, has also said Israel is unfairly singled out.
Israel's claims that Hamas uses civilians as human shields are difficult to prove.
'It would be impossible at this point to say how much truth there is to the human shield argument,' said Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told CNN.
'That's not going to be possible to do in the heat of the conflict.'
Overnight Israeli forces pounded multiple sites across the Gaza Strip, including the enclave's sole power plant, and said it was meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists, as diplomats sought to end the bloodshed.
In a blow to Israel's economy, U.S. and European air carriers halted flights in and out of Tel Aviv citing security worries after a militant rocket from Gaza hit a house near the airport. Israel urged a re-think, saying its airspace was safe.
Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in Al Shejaeiya neighbourhood during a military operation in eastern Gaza City
Some 630 Palestinians, many of them children and civilians have died in the conflagration, including a seven-year-old hit by a shell in southern Gaza early Wednesday, a medic said
Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt missile salvoes by Hamas Islamists, which was angered by a crackdown on its supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank and suffering economic hardship because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Egypt and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Israel, spearheading international efforts to secure a ceasefire. Hamas ally Qatar was also working in the background to seek a solution.
Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt missile salvoes by Hamas Islamists, which was angered by a crackdown on its supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank and suffering economic hardship because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
After failing to halt the militant barrage through days of aerial bombardment, Israel sent ground troops into Gaza last Thursday, looking to knock out Hamas's missile stores and destroy a vast, underground network of tunnels.
Some 630 Palestinians, many of them children and civilians have died in the conflagration, including a seven-year-old hit by a shell in southern Gaza early Wednesday, a medic said.
Some 29 Israeli soldiers have been killed, including a tank officer who was shot by a Palestinian sniper overnight.
Two civilians have been slain by rocket fire.
A Palestinian man walks on the rubble of the building belonging to the Yazjhi family which was destroyed by an Israeli strike in Gaza City
Clouds of black smoke hung over the densely populated Mediterranean enclave, with the regular thud of artillery and tank shells filling the air
The military says one of its soldiers is also missing and believes he might be dead.
Hamas says it has seized him, but has not released his picture.
Clouds of black smoke hung over the densely populated Mediterranean enclave, with the regular thud of artillery and tank shells filling the air.
'We are meeting resistance around the tunnels ... they are constantly trying to attack us around and in the tunnels. That is the trend,' said Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner.
He said 30 militant gunman had been killed overnight, bringing the total to 210 since the offensive started.
Hamas's armed wing, the Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam, said its fighters had detonated an anti-personnel bomb as an Israeli army patrol passed, killing several troops.
There was no immediate confirmation from Israel.
There was also violence in the occupied West Bank, where a Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli troops near Bethlehem. The army said soldiers fired a rubber bullet at him during clashes with Palestinians hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails.
The Palestinian decision-making body led by U.S.-backed President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday endorsed demands by Hamas for halting Gaza hostilities with Israel, a closing of ranks that may help Egyptian-mediated truce efforts.
An Israel gunner on an APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier) on patrol at an unspecified area in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip border
Israel soldiers on a small all terrain vehicle with two stretchers moving in southern Israel
Hamas says it will keep fighting until its demands are met, including the release of several hundred supporters recently arrested in the West Bank and a freeing up of Gaza's borders
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 refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist, has baulked at Cairo's offer, saying it wanted assurances of relief from an Israeli-Egyptian blockade and other concessions.
The dispute was further complicated by distrust between Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamas.
In a move that could effectively turn Abbas into the main Palestinian point person for a Gaza truce, his umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Wednesday formally supported core conditions set by the Hamas-led fighters.
Egyptian sources, speaking on Tuesday as top U.S. diplomat Kerry visited Cairo to advance truce efforts, said a unified Palestinian position could help achieve a deal. Unlike Hamas, the PLO has pursued peacemaking for two decades.
Israel faced mounting international alarm at the civilian death toll, as well as increased economic pressure from lost tourism revenues after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took the rare step on Tuesday of banning flights to Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport for at least 24 hours.
The parents of Sergeant Max Steinberg grieve at his coffin during his funeral today in Jerusalem, Israel
Soldiers carry the coffin of Sergeant Max Steinberg during his funeral
European airlines also cancelled flights to Israel, whose own carriers continued to operate.
An Israeli official said Netanyahu had asked Kerry to help restore the U.S. flights. A U.S. official said the Obama administration would not 'overrule the FAA' on a security precaution but noted the ban would be reviewed after 24 hours.
Because Washington, like Israel and the European Union, deems Hamas a terrorist group, they have no direct contact and Washington must rely on proxies such as Egypt, Qatar and Turkey.
In a sign of the intensity of the U.S. diplomacy, Kerry spoke to Netanyahu and to Qatari and Turkish foreign ministers after meeting Sisi for two hours, a senior U.S. official said.
'The Egyptians have provided a framework and a forum for them to be able to come to the table to have a serious discussion together with other factions of the Palestinians,' Kerry said. 'Hamas has a fundamental choice to make and it is a choice that will have a profound impact for the people of Gaza.'
Hamas says it will keep fighting until its demands are met, including the release of several hundred supporters recently arrested in the West Bank and a freeing up of Gaza's borders.
Adding to the enclave's woes, residents said Israel shelled their power plant which provides electricity to half the people of Gaza. Electricity supplies from Israel were hit last week, with Israel saying militant rockets had damaged infrastructure.
The upcoming Eid al-Fitr festival - Islam's biggest annual celebration that follows the end of the fasting month of Ramadan this weekend - could provide all sides with a convenient moment to agree to a cease-fire.
Asked about Eid, a senior Obama administration official said: 'It's a potential opportunity. We want there to be a cease-fire as soon as possible basically, and insofar as that's a marker that can compel Hamas to the table that would be a good thing, but the bottom line is they're going to have to stop firing rockets.'
The Israeli army spokesman said that while militants continued to fire out of Gaza, there had been 'a substantial decline' in attacks over the previous 24 hours.