As Kerry heads to Cairo, renewed urgency for Gaza cease-fire

Israel's insistence that its military offensive in Gaza is justified by the threat from Hamas may be undercut by the weekend's spike in civilian deaths and graphic scenes of suffering. 

Charles Dharapak/AP
Secretary of State John Kerry boards his plane at Andrews Air Force Base as he begins his trip to the Middle East, early Monday. Kerry is heading back to the Middle East as the Obama administration attempts to bolster regional efforts to reach a cease-fire and sharpens its criticism of Hamas in its conflict with Israel.

Regional and global leaders are stepping up pressure for a cease-fire in Gaza after a devastating weekend of fighting. Though neither Israel nor Hamas looks prepared to give up on their goals just yet, the spike in casualties on both sides have instilled a new sense of urgency in mediation efforts.

The Israeli military killed more than 100 Palestinians between Saturday night and Sunday nightGraphic images of civilian casualties, particularly of dead children, may undermine Israel's narrative that Hamas ultimately is responsible for the bloodshed. Israel accuses Hamas of deliberately operating from within civilian areas and ignoring calls to evacuate civilians ahead of the fighting.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has lost 18 soldiers since it began a ground operation late Thursday night, focused mainly on destroying Hamas tunnels dug under its border for kidnappings and assaults. Its original mission, when it launched airstrikes earlier this month, was to put an end to rockets fired from Gaza, which have so far killed only two Israelis thanks to Israel's advanced interceptor system. 

The IDF death toll is already triple that of the three-week Gaza war back in 2009, underscoring the severity of the fighting and Hamas’s heightened resolve to “live with dignity or die trying.”

So far Israel has showed no signs of faltering due to the casualties. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today said that the operation so far has exceeded his expectations and "will be expanded until the goal is achieved – restoring quiet to the citizens of Israel for a long period."

In search of a cease-fire

US Secretary of State John Kerry, caught on a live mic yesterday calling Israel’s campaign “a hell of a pinpoint operation,” left early this morning for Cairo, where he has said he will press for Hamas to agree to an immediate cease-fire. Last week Hamas rejected an Egyptian proposal that was accepted by Israel. The trip is Sec. Kerry's first visit to the region since Israel began bombing Gaza two weeks ago. 

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is also in the region, heading to Egypt and Israel after meeting with Qatari leaders and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha yesterday. 

In an emergency session, the UN Security Council last night expressed "serious concern" about the civilian deaths in Gaza and called for a cessation of hostilities. 

Qatar and Turkey have sought to create an alternative cease-fire proposal that would be more appealing to Hamas, which rejected the Egyptian proposal because it failed to meet any of its demands. 

Hamas is seeking to reopen the Rafah border crossing with Egypt; an easing of Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods and people; the release of dozens of former prisoners rearrested by Israel since the kidnapping and death of three Israeli teens last month; and salaries for Gaza employees who have not been paid since before the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation in early June.

Palestinians to the world: Do something

The stepped-up diplomatic activity comes amid an increasingly loud refrain from Gaza: Why is the international community standing by while more than 500 Palestinians have been killed?

“The silence of the world is giving Israel motivation to keep on killing,” says Mohammed Fayyed, an employee at hospital in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, where at least 24 members of an extended family were killed in an Israeli strike overnight. “No one is saying anything, it’s like giving permission to kill.”

Correspondent Kristen Chick contributed reporting from Khan Younis, Gaza Strip.

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