UPDATE 2035 GMT: President Barack Obama, calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the second time in three days, has “raised serious concern about the growing number of casualties, including increasing Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza and the loss of Israeli soldiers”, according to the White House.
However, Obama maintained the fundamental American line that Israel has the right to defend itself and reiterated US condemnation of attacks by Hamas.
“The president also raised serious concern about the growing number of casualties, including increasing Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza and the loss of Israeli soldiers,” the White House said in a statement describing the conversation.
UPDATE 2025 GMT: Hamas’ military branch, the Al Qassam Brigades, says it has seized a member of the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking on a Hamas T station, spokesman Abu Ubaida said, “We have captured a Zionist soldier and the occupation has not admitted that.”
Celebratory gunfire ringing out and chants of "Allah Akbar" in Gaza after news of the capture of an Israeli soldier
— Sharif Kouddous (@sharifkouddous) July 20, 2014
However, the name given by the Al-Qassam Brigades for its captive, “Shaul Oron”, is that of one of the Israeli troops killed in Gaza on Sunday.
Shaul Oron's body is currently located at Tel HaShomer hospital. Soon to be transferred to Abu Kabir morgue, then to burial.
— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) July 20, 2014
IDF sources said the chances that the Brigades were holding an Israeli soldier were slim.
UPDATE 1755 GMT: Anne Barnard of The New York Times writes:
Girl, 9, we saw die in Gaza ER today had no relatives with her. Never learned her name. Still she was unforgettable: The Unknown Civilian.
— Anne Barnard (@ABarnardNYT) July 20, 2014
UPDATE 1755 GMT: At least 436 Gazans have been killed and 2,600 wounded since Israeli operations began July 8.
At least 100 of the deaths were on Sunday, including 60 in Shaja’ia.
More than 80,000 Gazans are now taking shelter in 60 United Nations facilities.
UPDATE 1745 GMT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on TV tonight that the operation will be “extended as necessary”. He claimed that Israel has international backing for its invasion after accepting three ceasefire offers.
Netanyahu said of the weekend’s casualties among Israeli forces:
The entire nation mourns with the families of the fallen. We lower our heads for our sons, who have fallen so that we could continue to live here, in our land. I wish to convey in the name of the Israeli government the deep pain we feel. We send our condolences to the parents, the children, the spouses, the families of IDF soldiers who have fallen in combat for the defense of the State of Israel.
There is no war more just than the one in which your sons, our sons, have bravely fallen. We’ll restore calm across the country.
Despite the casualties, the head of the Israel Defense Forces, Benny Gantz said, “Overall I’m very pleased with what I’ve been seeing. We’ll continue to act until we achieve the totality of our aims.”
Gantz said of the mass killing of Gazans in Shaja’ia, “Residents…should know that they are victims of Hamas setting up in their areas. I regret citizens being hurt. It hurts me to see wounded children and wounded women.”
UPDATE 1548 GMT: Israeli officials have announced that 13 soldiers from the Golani Brigade were killed on Saturday night and early Sunday in several incidents across Gaza.
Seven of the soldiers were killed when their M113 armored personnel carrier, built in the 1960s, hit by RPGs.
Senior IDF officers have criticized the use of the aging vehicle.
Others were killed setting up positions inside houses they had taken over.
Two of the troops slain today were US citizens.
Eighteen Israeli soldiers have now died since the launch of the ground invasion on Thursday.
UPDATE 1545 GMT: Video of residents fleeing the Israeli bombardment of Shaja’ia:
UPDATE 1245 GMT: Israel has announced a one-hour extension of the ceasefire in Shaja’ia.
The initial two-hour ceasefire, to retrieve bodies from this morning’s mass killing by Israeli forces, expired at 1230 GMT. The Israel Defense Force had said that it had resumed “combat operations” after its forces were fired upon, soon after the start of the truce.
Local rescue services removed 50 bodies from the neighborhood, east of Gaza City. The Gaza Health Ministry says that the dead included 17 children and 14 women, with hundreds of people wounded.
Israel claims Shaja’ia was a center of rocket fire upon it, but CNN’s Ben Wedeman reaffirms the likelihood that most of those killed were not Gazan fighters:
In Shaja'ia saw two men in civilian clothing with AK-47 assault rifles. Many more civilians, women, children, elderly. #Gaza
— benwedeman (@bencnn) July 20, 2014
However, Nick Schifrin of Al Jazeera America sees Gazan fighters still in the bombarded town:
Just back from Shujayea.Looks, feels like battleground. Debris everywhere. Other journalists saw Palestinian fighters running house to house
— Nick Schifrin (@nickschifrin) July 20, 2014
Meanwhile, the destruction is undeniable:
Shujaiah totally destroyed, bodies taken away, houses full of holes,hard to move up street,trees down,total war zone pic.twitter.com/R9KQ0d1WLR
— Stefanie Dekker (@StefanieDekker) July 20, 2014
— benwedeman (@bencnn) July 20, 2014
UPDATE 1045 GMT: Amid reports of journalists such as Ayman Moyheldin of NBC and Diana Magnay of CNN being withdrawn from Gaza because their networks fear their coverage may not be appropriate, Jon Snow of Britain’s Channel 4 is outspoken in his attribution of blame for the killing:
Were any other country on Earth doing what is being done in Gaza, there would be worldwide uproar
— Jon Snow (@jonsnowC4) July 20, 2014
If you strangle a people, deny them supply, for years, extreme reaction is inevitable. the one begets the other.
— Jon Snow (@jonsnowC4) July 20, 2014
UPDATE 1035 GMT: Israel has agreed to a two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, effective from 1030 GMT; however, it is only in the area of Shaja’ia, where scores of people have been killed by Israeli bombardment.
— Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) July 20, 2014
UPDATE 1005 GMT: Asked about the mass killing in Shaja’ia by Israel’s bombardment, an Israeli military spokeswoman says, “Two days ago, residents of Shejaia received recorded messages to evacuate the area in order to protect their lives.”
Days ago, we warned civilians in Shuja'iya to evacuate. Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 20, 2014
The Jerusalem Post notes, “As the tank shells began to land, Shaja’ia residents called radio stations pleading for evacuation.”
The Israeli military claims more than 140 rockets have been fired from Shaja’ia since July 8.
UPDATE 1000 GMT: Chris Gunness of the UN’s refugee agency reports another spike in displaced Gazans fleeing Israel’s bombardment:
BREAKING NEWS: 63,173 people have now sought sanctuary @ 55 shelters across #Gaza. UNRWA's 60 million USD appeal must be funded RT
— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) July 20, 2014
UPDATE 0945 GMT: Al Jazeera English has posted graphic video of the mass killing by Israeli bombardment of Shaja’ia, east of Gaza City.
An earlier report from Al Jazeera:
Ben Wedeman’s report for CNN, “People tell me the situation inside Shaja’ia is unbearable”:
UPDATE 0930 GMT: Journalists, including CNN’s Ben Wedeman and Jon Jensen, are reporting mass casualties from 12 hours of Israeli attacks on Shaja’ia, east of Gaza City:
— Jon Jensen (@jonjensenCNN) July 20, 2014
— benwedeman (@bencnn) July 20, 2014
Two paramedics are among the dead. Many residents of Shaja’ia have fled to Gaza City.
— Elijah J Magnier (@EjmAlrai) July 20, 2014
A resident says:
It is a massacre taking place in Shaja’ia. It is a massacre with the full sense of the word, committed by Israel against innocent civilians, there are no armed men among us, all the streets of Shaja’ia are packed with dead bodies; the dead bodies and remains of our women and children are lying on the streets of Shaja’ia. We are searching for our brothers and cousins, who were killed, but could not find them.
UPDATE 0915 GMT: Hamas has agreed to a Red Cross request for a three-hour humanitarian cease-fire.
Israeli officials say they have not yet responded.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri claimed that Israel refused the request.
Israel expanded its ground invasion and airstrikes on Gaza on Saturday, as the Palestinian death toll passed 350 and the Israelis suffered their first military casualties inside their own territory.
Parts of Gaza were hit every few seconds by tank and artillery fire, as Israel moved beyond its stated goal of destroying tunnels used by Gazans to move under the border.
More than 30 bodies were brought to Gazan hospitals on Sunday morning, and the number was expected to rise as ambulances finally reached neighborhoods east of Gaza City.
Hundreds of people trapped by overnight bombardment were entering Gaza City on foot this morning amid continued shelling.
At least 360 Gazans have been killed since Israel began airstrikes on July 8.
Two Israeli soldiers were slain on Saturday, including two who were killed inside Israel by Gazan fighters who crossed the border into the western Negev desert and fired an anti-tank missile.
Four Israeli troops were wounded in the Negev incident, while one fighter died and several others made it back into Gaza.
Officially, five Israeli soldiers have died in the conflict and 17 have been wounded, while two Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
However, journalist Sheera Frenkel says casualties among Israeli forces are higher than announced by West Jerusalem:
IDF is keeping their fatalities under gag order and it's impossible to get an accurate count. We know at least 60 soldiers injured.
— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) July 20, 2014
On the diplomatic front, each side restated ceasefire proposals with little prospect of acceptance by the other, as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon arrives in the region on Sunday.
The Egyptian Government restated its initiative for a pause in attacks, followed by a longer ceasefire, which has been accepted by Israel but turned down by the Gazan leadership of Hamas.
The Arab League and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who visited Egypt and Israel, promoted the Egyptian measures on Saturday.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad continued to stand on their own proposal, which includes specific steps such as the end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza, recognition of Gazan fishing rights to 12 miles off the coast, and release of detainees, including scores seized by Israel in the West Bank just before the start of the conflict.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister has tabled a proposal which includes most of Hamas’ conditions, and the Qatari Emir will host a meeting between Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Ban Ki-moon on Sunday.
A “senior source” said, “Qatar has presented Hamas’s requests to the international community, the list has been presented to France and to the UN, the talks tomorrow will be to further negotiate these conditions.”
(Featured Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)