Israel denies allegations by Hamas it carried out attacks in Gaza during Kandil’s visit

Israeli official are expressing strong indignation over Hamas’ deliberate and egregious open violation to a temporary cease fire during today’s visit to Gaza by Egyptian prime minister, Hesham Kandil. Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets into southern Israel during the prime minister’s visit provoking Israel to continue the violence.

Believing they had been bamboozled, Israel responded with a bomb attack on northern Gaza that Palestinian officials said killed another Palestinian. The fatality brings the combined death toll from attacks on both sides this week is now at least 16.

Nevertheless, Hamas alleges that Israel carried out attacks in Gaza during Kandil’s visit.

Earlier, Israel had stated they would halt its military offensive against the Gaza Strip while Egyptian Prime Minister remained in the region as long as Hamas militants also held their fire.

The Egyptian prime minister arrived in Gaza early Friday and was expected to visit for about three hours.

The Palestinian Authority has repeated its call for the U.N. Security Council to take action to end Israeli air raids on Gaza.

A day after the Security Council held an inconclusive emergency meeting on the escalating violence, Palestinian U.N. observer Riyad Mansour called on the group to protect Palestinian civilians from the “brutal” attacks that are “bringing life to a standstill” in Gaza.

Israeli tanks and ground forces continue to gather along the border as their air force launched strikes because rockets continued to hit Israeli cities.

According to the Israeli army, Palestinian militants fired 11 rockets from Gaza overnight. Two of them landed near Tel Aviv. This was the first such attack on Israel’s commercial capital since the Gulf War in 1991.

Fighting has intensified since an Israeli strike killed Ahmed Jabari, the head of the military wing of Hamas. His car was hit by an Israeli missile on Wednesday.

The strike followed a wave of rocket attacks against Israel from Gaza. Since then, more than 350 rockets have been fired into Israel.

Israel reported three people were killed, and Palestinians reported 19 deaths, including at least three killed late Thursday. Hamas gave conflicting information as to how many of them were Hamas militants.

At least 422 rockets from Gaza have been fired into Israel since “Operation Pillar of Defense” began Wednesday, the Israeli military said. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system has intercepted 130, the Israel Defense Forces said. The al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas’ military arm, said on its Twitter feed that it had shot 527 projectiles at Israel in that time.

The escalating violence triggered the Israeli army to move nearly a division’s worth of troops — perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 — to the border, the official said.

While multiple militant groups are behind the rocket attacks, Israel holds Hamas responsible ever since it took control of Gaza, Barak said.

Hamas’ military wing has claimed responsibility for numerous operations in the past. The U.S. government and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Netanyahu issued a statement Thursday saying, “In recent days and weeks, Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza have made normal life impossible for over 1 million Israelis. No government would tolerate a situation where nearly a fifth of its people live under a constant barrage of rockets and missile fire.”

He added, “The terrorists are committing a double war crime. They fire at Israeli civilians, and they hide behind Palestinian civilians. And by contrast, Israel takes every measure to avoid civilian casualties.”

Reportedly, Hamas’ deputy foreign minister told CNN that Hamas was sending rockets toward Israel’s population because Israel thinks “that it is easy to kill people in Gaza,” enter the area and “do everything” it wants in Gaza. “We send a message to them that Gaza is not an easy bone. … You can’t eat Gaza in one minute. If you do something, we will react.”

Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti said the Israeli government has “proven that it is a government of war and not peace.” Israel is “the oppressor,” not the victim, he said.

Neither side seems to want to give an inch; therefore the offensive made a turn for the worst in the last 24 hours.

Early Friday, Israeli aircraft pummeled rocket launching operations of Gaza militants, the Associated Press reported.

“The situation has all the elements and dynamics that could lead us down the road to a place we haven’t been before,” said Steve Cook, a Mideast specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s a very dangerous situation, and it’s difficult to say what the Israelis should do.”

Many expert observers believe that Egypt may hold the key to a cease fire; however, the prospect doesn’t look too promising at the moment.

U.S. efforts to calm the situation depends largely on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, analysts said. Before becoming president earlier this year, he was a top leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, which has close ideological links to Hamas. With his election, he inherited oversight of billions of dollars in annual U.S. military support and a U.S.-brokered Israeli-Egyptian peace deal that has defined regional security for three decades.

In much of southern Israel and in Gaza, schools remained closed and most residents hunkered down indoors, sheltering from airstrikes and rockets.

Earlier Thursday, Gen. Mordechai said military commanders had approved dozens of new targets in Gaza. Leaflets fluttered from the skies over Gaza around midday, warning residents to stay clear of Hamas personnel and installations ahead of continuing Israeli attacks. Army tanks fired shells at targets inside the coastal territory.

For many Palestinians, a more supportive government in Egypt would be their first sense of change from an Arab Spring that until now has largely passed them by.

“This time we know that this is a new Egypt—a new Arab world,” said Haidar Eid, an associate professor of political science at Al Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip. “We are expecting the Arab World to do something.”

Many Israelis and Palestinians argue that it was the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt that helped emboldened Palestinian factions, including some elements of Hamas, to take a more defiant and confrontational approach to Israel that helped trigger this current flare-up.

After nearly four years of calm along the Gaza border, Palestinian militants have slowly stepped up their mortar and rocket attacks on Israel in recent months. Hamas, which in recent years had acted to prevent rival militants from firing at Israel, began to join in the firing itself, in what some observers believed was a response to rival factions’ mounting criticism of the group for refusing to confront Israel.

The days leading up to the Israeli attack saw a series of tit-for-tat skirmishes between Israel and Palestinian militants.

In other recent conflicts—Israel’s 2006 Lebanon War, and 2009’s operation against Hamas in Gaza—Israel intensely shelled suspected militant positions to soften resistance ahead of ground invasions. Israel’s latest shelling has been more limited.

Both previous operations were followed by several years of calm. Both also were far bigger in scope, taking a massive toll on the civilian populations, killing hundreds of civilians and scorching Israel’s image internationally.

The relatively lower casualty numbers in this assault would seem to indicate that Israel, for its hawkish talk, is mounting a significantly more restrained and pinpoint approach so far to operations than it has at times in the past.

That may help explain why international support for the Israeli offensive has remained strong.

The U.K. on Thursday issued a statements of support for Israel. That followed similarly robust backing from Washington a day earlier.

“Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

With both sides taking non-compromising positions an all-out war might be inevitable.

At least 12 trucks were seen transporting tanks and armored personnel carriers toward Gaza late Thursday, and buses carrying soldiers headed toward the border area, according to The Associated Press.

This week’s fighting has widened the instability gripping the region, further straining Israel-Egypt relations.

Israel’s military denied allegations by Hamas that it had carried out attacks during Kandil’s visit. Hamas alleged Israel’s attacks on Friday killed two people.

“Hamas does not respect the Egyptian PM’s visit to Gaza and violates the temporary cease fire that Israel agreed to during the visit,” Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Netanyahu, wrote on Twitter.

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