Fri, Jul 25, 2014 - Page 7 News List

US lifts ban on Tel Aviv flights

TRUCE TALK:Egypt, Turkey and Qatar have been involved in efforts to establish a truce by the weekend, but an Israeli minister said more time is needed to raze Hamas tunnels

Reuters, GAZA and JERUSALEM

Israel won a partial reprieve from the economic pain of its Gaza war yesterday with the lifting of a US ban on commercial flights to Tel Aviv, as fighting pushed the Palestinian death toll over 700.

A truce between the Jewish state and Hamas Palestinian fighters remained elusive, despite intensive mediation bids.

Palestinians said residents of two southern villages were trapped by days of tank shelling, with medics unable to evacuate wounded, and UN agencies said more than 140,000 people had been displaced. Hamas fired rockets at Tel Aviv and said its gunmen carried out a lethal ambush on Israeli soldiers in north Gaza.

With Washington’s encouragement, Egypt has been trying to mediate a limited humanitarian ceasefire. Turkey and Hamas ally Qatar are also involved in diplomatic efforts.

One Cairo official said on Wednesday it could take effect by the weekend, in time for the Eid al-Fitr festival on Monday or Tuesday, Islam’s biggest annual celebration at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

However, a US official described any truce by the weekend as unlikely, as did an Israeli security Cabinet minister, who said the army would need one to two weeks to complete its main mission of razing tunnels used by Hamas for cross-border raids.

“If the talk is of a humanitarian hiatus for — this is not pleasant to say — removing bodies, all kinds of things that are connected to the civilian population in the short term, this might be weighed,” the minister, Gilad Erdan, told Israel Radio.

“But I will oppose any ceasefire until it is clear both that the tunnels will be destroyed and what will happen in the post-ceasefire period — how we will guarantee that quiet for the residents of Israel will really be preserved in the long term,” he said.

The death toll in Gaza reached 723 yesterday as Israeli tank fire and predawn assaults killed 31 people in the Hamas-dominated coastal enclave, including an 18-month-old baby and six members of the same family, Palestinian officials said.

In southern Khuzaa and Abassan villages, they said, Israeli shelling left dead and wounded under rubble, while medical crews could not risk approaching. Elsewhere in Gaza, a UN aid agency said three of its teachers were killed in Israeli air strikes.

Israel has lost at least 32 soldiers in clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas raiders who have slipped across the fortified frontier in tunnels. The military confirmed there had been a new clash yesterday, but did not immediately publish casualties.

Palestinian rockets and mortar bombs have killed three civilians in Israel.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday barred US airlines from flying to Ben Gurion Airport, but canceled the ban late on Wednesday after reviewing the security situation.

Germany’s Lufthansa and Air Berlin said their suspension of flights to Tel Aviv would continue until today.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his fighters had made gains against Israel and voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza’s 1.8 million people. Hamas wants next-door Egypt to open up its border with Gaza too.

“Let’s agree first on the demands and on implementing them, and then we can agree on the zero hour for a ceasefire,” Meshaal said on Wednesday in Qatar. “We will not accept any proposal that does not lift the blockade ... We do not desire war and we do not want it to continue, but we will not be broken by it.”

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