As the most recent round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas entered its third week, the death toll in Gaza has climbed to nearly 620, and neither side is showing any sign of letting up.
Following top-level mediation efforts in Cairo, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon headed to Israel Tuesday in what may very well be a fool’s errand — a mission to convince both sides to agree on a truce. “My message to Israelis and Palestinians is the same: Stop fighting, start talking, and take on the root causes of the conflict so that we are not at the same situation in the next six months or a year,” he said.
While the UN chief urges peace and compromise, the reality on the ground is decidedly headed in the other direction.
Israel continued to pound the Gaza strip overnight, reportedly hitting 100 targets in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood alone, where more than 70 Palestinians were killed on Sunday in what residents labeled a “massacre.” Palestinian medics reported that more than 50 people had been killed as of Tuesday afternoon, with the day's final tally likely to climb as night falls.
On Tuesday morning, municipality workers and rescue crews worked to clear debris from the Salam building in Gaza City, which was hit by a devastating Israeli airstrike Monday evening, killing Ibrahim Kilani, his wife Taghrid, and their five children, aged between 4 and 12. Several others were killed in the building along with them.
The family, which held German citizenship, had moved to the center of Gaza City from the suburbs in response to an Israeli evacuation request.
Half of the building’s top five floors collapsed, leaving more than 11 people dead. Rescue workers struggled on Tuesday to remove a corpse left dangling precariously off the wreckage near the fifth floor.
The Israeli military confirmed Tuesday morning that one of its soldiers went missing Sunday during clashes in Shujaiyeh, an area that has become the focal point of clashes since Israel’s ground operation began four days ago. Military officials said the soldier, Sergeant Oron Shaul, was riding with six other soldiers in an outdated armored personnel carrier when they were hit with a rocket-propelled grenade during a firefight. The six others have been confirmed dead.
Despite rising body counts on both sides, neither has shown any willingness to agree to a truce.
Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for Shaul’s, publishing the man’s name and ID number on social media, but Israel authorities had denied they were missing a soldier until early this morning. Shaul’s capture could be a game changer. He is the first Israeli soldier to be held captive since Gilad Shalit was taken in 2006. Shalit was released five years later in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
The Israeli military confirmed on Tuesday that two more of its soldiers had been killed in fighting a day earlier, bringing to total Israeli death toll to 29. Among the dead are 27 soldiers, killed over the last four days of fighting. On Sunday alone, Palestinian militants killed 13 Israeli soldiers, the largest number of soldiers killed in combat since the 2006 Lebanon war.
Despite the rising body count on both sides, neither has shown any willingness to agree to a truce. Israeli authorities waved off a rumored temporary humanitarian ceasefire on Tuesday, arguing that an armistice will not be reached until it finishes its goal of completely dismantling the complicated network of tunnels that run throughout the Gaza strip and often into Israel.
The list of demands put forward by Hamas includes a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza, the opening of its Rafah border crossing with Egypt, and the release of prisoners.
Meanwhile, civilian fatalities in Gaza rise. The latest figures from the United Nations estimate that between 70 percent and 80 percent of casualties have been civilians, including at least 120 children. The Israeli army says its troops have killed more than 180 Palestinian militants.
Early Tuesday morning, Al Jazeera reported the Israeli army had fired two warning rockets into its media offices in Gaza. The attack came just hours after Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman revealed plans to prevent Al Jazeera from operating in Israel. Leiberman labeled the network a “propaganda machine” that “constitutes the economic backbone of terrorist groups in the most extreme sense.” That same day, Leiberman urged Israelis to boycott Palestinian-owned businesses in Israel taking part in a strike against Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs mosque was hit by three successive air strikes at about 2:30am, residents told VICE News, tearing the walls off surrounding apartment buildings. More than 100 people, many of whom had already been displaced due to heavy bombing in other areas of Gaza over the past two weeks, now must seek refuge elsewhere.
“The building was full, now it is empty — everyone fled,” said Omar Sharawi, 24, a former resident of one of the buildings. “There were many displaced families staying with friends or relatives here. They escaped one tragedy only to be hit with another. There is no safe place in all of Gaza. “
All photos by Dylan Collins. Follow him on Twitter: @collinsdyl