Stepping up its offensive in Gaza, Israel has mobilised another 16,000 reservists to widen its 24-day military campaign against Hamas militants that has claimed more than 1,360 Palestinian lives, mostly civilians.
The Israeli security cabinet on Wednesday night approved continuing with the offensive ‘Operation Protective Edge’ launched on July 8 despite world leaders appealing Israel for restraint.
The new call-up orders, which takes the total number of reserves in the conflict to 86,000, coincides with stalled diplomatic efforts to end the war that has already claimed lives of more than 1,360 Palestinians -- most of them civilians -- and reduced the entire Gaza neighborhoods to ruins. Some 58 Israelis have been killed, 56 soldiers and two civilians. A Thai worker in Israel has also died.
Israel began the offensive with a goal to stop rocket barrages coming out of Gaza but later broadened its mandate to destroy Hamas’ network of tunnels, some of which have been used by the militants to carry out cross-border attacks inside Israel.
Despite the decision to press ahead with the operation, Israel has also sent a delegation to Egypt, which along with the United States has failingly tried to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
On July 15, Israel had briefly halted its strikes in Gaza after accepting an Egyptian truce proposal, but resumed attacks the next day as militants in Gaza rejected the proposal. Ynet reported quoting a senior military source that the reservists will be called up “to give the army the time needed to complete the mission”. “We will decide today where to place them and in which commands,” the source told the website.
Casualties in the Israeli army has also been increasing with three Maglan unit soldiers killed on Wednesday when an explosive device went off in a booby-trapped house.
“The Maglan fighters went into the booby trapped structure east of Khan Younis in a search for a tunnel opening. The explosive was planted on the first floor. Three soldiers were killed and 14 wounded when the house collapsed on top of them,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Israel has pledged to investigate a strike on a United Nations-run school that killed at least 16 people. Israel has come under intense criticism for targeting civillian structures.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said, “We will investigate that. And if we find that it was errant fire from Israel I am sure we will apologise.”
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack at a UNRWA-run school calling it “unjustifiable”. “All available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause,” he said.
Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, said Israel was told 17 times that the school housed displaced people. Gunness termed the attack a “universal shame”.
Separately, militants in Gaza accused Israel of carrying out an attack at a market place during the four-hour humanitarian ceasefire announced by Jerusalem, killing 17 people.
With no end in sight, the so-far longest conflict between Israel and Gaza-based militants has resulted in the death of 1,360 Palestinians and injuring more than 6,000, a spokesman for the Gaza health ministry said.
More than 180,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Gaza, mostly taking shelter in UNRWA run schools, following warning from Israel of attacks in their neighbourhood.
Image: Palestinians gather near the minaret of a mosque that police said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Photograph: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters