Friday, 25 July 2014


Death toll soars above 500 in Gaza violence: Palestinian officials

Hayden Cooper reported this story on Monday, July 21, 2014 18:22:00

MARK COLVIN: The UN Security Council's called for a ceasefire in Gaza, but there seems little prospect that anyone's listening.

Palestinian officials say the death toll is now more than 500.

Yesterday there was a major escalation in violence.

The ABC's Middle East correspondent is Hayden Cooper.

He joined me from the Gaza border, or near the Gaza border, a short time ago. 

HAYDEN COOPER: I'm just sitting down towards the Gaza border now, Mark, and a lot of the roads down there have actually been closed off this morning because there's been another incident in which Palestinian militants have tried to tunnel through into Israel. 

There's not a lot of information, but it looks as though they have succeeded, and there was a fight with Israeli forces in the past hour or so. 

The Israeli defence force says that about 10 militants were killed after they emerged from a tunnel on the Israeli side of the border. 

And they also called in an air strike to kill some more militants. 

So this is the sort of thing that, it's happening every couple of days, and it's putting the people in southern Israel on edge. 

MARK COLVIN: Obviously the civilian death toll, the rising civilian death toll, is causing a great deal of angst in the international community. 

The UN Security Council has called for an immediate ceasefire. 

Do you see any prospect of that?

HAYDEN COOPER: Look, personally I don't, and with the death toll at 500, the numbers are truly shocking now.

And even overnight, there's been more attacks and more air strikes on parts of Gaza. 

The US secretary of state John Kerry is flying to Cairo in the next day or so, to try and, I guess, revise efforts for a ceasefire. 

But this Egyptian ceasefire initiative is one in which Hamas would have to agree to stop sending rockets out, before they have any conditions met. 

They actually want something before they stop firing the rockets. 

Israel said last week it's willing to agree to that ceasefire. 

Hamas wants something more from it before they end this conflict. 

MARK COLVIN: Is Hamas able to talk to anyone?

The Egyptians, we've discussed this before, but the Egyptians are against Hamas because of Hamas' connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian military government is crushing. 

Who is there to talk to?

HAYDEN COOPER: Well there are some senior Hamas representatives in Cairo, even though, you're right, Hamas is not very popular with the new government there. 

At the moment it's almost as if international representatives are kind of shuttling back and forth between Qatar, where the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is, and Cairo, where Egypt is trying to broker a ceasefire. 

And at the moment, the UN secretary of state Ban Ki-moon has been in Qatar holding various meetings, including with the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. 

And Ban Ki-moon is due to go to Cairo now. So it's almost like he's the go-between, trying to arrange some sort of ceasefire. 

But, yeah, still I don't see any prospect of a deal in the next day or two. 

MARK COLVIN: As well as the many civilians and others killed in Gaza, there have been, I think, a dozen or so Israelis killed. 

Is that the result of hand-to-hand fighting, because of these tunnels? 

Or is it the result of the rocketry?

HAYDEN COOPER: Some of it is hand-to-hand fighting, a couple of soldiers were killed after some militants emerged on the Israeli side a few days ago. 

We're hearing that there were more causalities in this incident this morning. 

The largest number of casualties, though, came in a roadside bomb attack on an Israeli vehicle inside Gaza. 

Seven soldiers were killed in that incident alone, and there was a fire fight related to that as well, which killed some more. 

So it's a mixture of ways that these soldiers are being confronted inside Gaza. 

But it has been the most deadly conflict, for Israeli soldiers, for many years. 

MARK COLVIN: From what I'm reading, the Israeli forces have concentrated very hard on a neighbourhood called Shejia in Gaza City. 

Do we know why they're concentrating so hard there?

HAYDEN COOPER: They say that that is one of the epicentres of where the tunnels are coming from. The Israelis claim that a lot of the tunnels emanate from that part of Gaza. And that's why they're going in so hard in that region. 

But what happened yesterday, Sunday here, has been called a massacre by the Palestinians. Reports of up to 80 Palestinians killed in that intense tank shelling in Shejia, and that's where some Israeli soldiers were killed as well. 

But the Israelis certainly believe that that is a part of Gaza where Hamas has been concentrating its efforts, one, to built tunnels through to the Israeli side, and two, to store rockets and have command and control centres there as well. 

MARK COLVIN: And there have been reports, in fact the UN has complained about Hamas storing military equipment inside its schools. 

Is there evidence that Hamas is essentially using women and children as human shields in the way that's been accused?

HAYDEN COOPER: It is the claim that's repeated over and over by the Israeli prime minister. 

I guess that is one of the most concrete examples in

 which 20 rockets were found in a school, which is

 now being used as a UN refugee centre. 

And the UN itself seems quite shocked by this. They 

didn't know it was happening until they went and

 found them. And that caused a lot of controversy

 over here. 

Prime minister Netanyahu is going to repeat that

 claim. That's his defence to the number of civilians

which have been killed so far. 

One the one hand, he says that he regrets the number of civilian casualties. But he will continue to say that this is Hamas' fault, because they tell civilians to remain in their homes. 

MARK COLVIN: Meanwhile, finally, without any prospect of an immediate ceasefire, where is there left for Gazans to go to?

HAYDEN COOPER: Well, the UN centres are absolutely overwhelmed. There's more than 100,000 Palestinians who have been displaced within Gaza now. 

And these people were already refugees from 1948 

and 1967. 

So now they've been told to leave their homes again. But this time, they really don't have anywhere to go. 

There is a desperate humanitarian situation inside Gaza because there's no more room at these UN centres for them. 

MARK COLVIN: The ABC's Middle East Correspondent Hayden Cooper.

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