Israeli warplanes launched airstrikes against targets in the Gaza Strip for the sixth day on Monday as rockets continued to fire from the Palestinian territory into Israel, in a renewed conflict that appears to be increasing tempo as time progresses. It was one year ago that Secretary of State John Kerry successfully pushed the two sides to the table, warning that a window for a two-state solution was closing. Mere months have passed since that attempt to bring the two sides together in a lasting solution for peace in the Levant collapsed. Instead, war has returned to the Gaza Strip, twenty months after the last Israeli major incursion to punish the leadership of Hamas — the group that controls the territory and the United States and others consider a terrorist group. Though both sides have intermittently broken the cease-fire that ended that last flare-up, with rockets flying into Israel and Israeli forces entering the Strip, here’s how the latest round of the seemingly endless conflict began, with the kidnapping of three Israeli youth and the end nowhere in sight:
Three Israeli teens — Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaer — attempt hitchhike back to their homes. All three go missing. The youth are studying in Jewish settlements in the territory, the oldest age 19, the other two only 16. Later reporting showed that one of the boys attempts to call police, but was ignored due to a rash of prank calls that same evening. The police finally respond after Shaer’s family informs them that Gilad never returned home. Their disappearance and the subsequent revelation about the police delay elicits a massive outcry from the Israeli population, despite a government gag order on the press that prevents them from reporting on the abduction.
The Israeli military launches what in English would be referred to as “Operation Brother’s Keeper” to locate the missing youth, though early evidence — including a torched Hyundai found with remnants of Jewish texts and DNA matching that of the victims’ parents — shows that the teens are likely already dead. The operation consists of a massive push into the West Bank, and results in the arrest of “top Hamas political leaders, former government ministers and members of Hamas’s militant wing.” As the sweep continues, it will eventually see the detention of nearly 300 Palestinians, including more than fifty who were freed from prison as part of the deal to release captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the press that the kidnapping was carried out by Hamas. “Israel warned the international community about the dangers of endorsing the Fatah-Hamas unity pact,” Netanyahu said, referring to the most recent unity government deal between secular Fatah — led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas — and Hamas. “The dangers of that pact should now be abundantly clear to all.” However, no evidence directly linking Hamas’ leadership to the kidnapping has as of yet emerged. In response, according to the New York Times, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee “condemned Israel’s ‘racist’ campaign, rejected Mr. Netanyahu’s ‘foul accusations” and referred to the kidnapping as ‘alleged.’”
With the boys still missing, the search continues throughout the West Bank. Netanyahu repeats to NPR that the Israeli government has proof that Hamas carried out the kidnapping, while still not offering evidence of the direct connection to Hamas’ leadership. “We’ve pretty much figured out who are the kidnappers,” he says. “The actual perpetrators, the supporters, the command structure and there’s no question — these are members of Hamas. We’ve passed some of that information to the U.S. government and others. We’ll make it public as soon as the investigation enables us to do that. Our — my number one goal right now is to bring back our three kidnapped boys.”
On the same day, Hamas’ political leader Khaled Meshal says, “I cannot confirm or deny the abduction,” but adds “blessed are the hands” who carried it out. This denial, though one marred by praise for the kidnapping, marks a different tone from other Hamas-planned operations. As one PLO member later pointed out, “Hamas has never been self-effacing. Whenever they carried out an operation, they always declared it and took responsibility.”
Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, releases the names of two suspects in the kidnapping: Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme. Both Kawasme and Aysha are operatives of Hamas, according to the Times of Israel, who had gone missing in the days after the kidnapping. Hamas’ leadership, however, continues to deny involvement in the kidnapping and one expert on the Palestinian resistance later explains to the New York Times “I’m sure they didn’t get any green light from the leadership of Hamas, they just thought it was the right time to act.” As retribution, the Israeli Defense Forces will later demolish the homes of both suspects’ families, a practice it had let lapse since 2005.
The First Salvos
Rockets launched from the Gaza Strip strike Israel “hitting a diesel fuel tank and causing a fire in a paint factory in the city of Sderot,” Haaretz reported. “Another rocket exploded in open terrain in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon tells the city’s Mayor that the defense establishment “will not tolerate Gaza terror groups’ attempts to disrupt the daily lives of the southern residents.”
We are ready to expand this operation, if necessary.”
Israel and militants trade airstrikes and rocket fire over the course of the weekend. “Over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces attacked multiple targets in response to firing at Israel from the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet in public remarks. “We are ready to expand this operation, if necessary.” By this point, Israeli officials say, at least 62 rockets have been fired from the Strip since June began, while Palestinian officials say more than 80 Israeli air strikes in June had killed three militants and wounded more than a dozen other people.
The bodies of all three teenagers are found buried under rocks in an open field, just ten miles from the burned-out car. “Hamas is responsible and Hamas will pay,” Netanyahu says soon after the discovery. The search, it turns out, had been a recovery mission for bodies rather than a search mission for kidnapped teens for some time. “We have been operating, for some time now, with evidence that these boys were killed,” a police officer in Hebron told Buzzfeed. “It is with a heavy heart that we realized we were looking for bodies.”
Israel launches 34 airstrikes on Gaza in the aftermath of the boy’s bodies’ discovery. Israeli officials say that the assault is in response to 18 rockets that had been fired from the Hamas-controlled territory. At the teen’s funeral, Netanyahu vows that Israel will avenge their deaths. “Whoever was involved in the kidnapping and the murder will bear the consequences,” the prime minister says. “We will neither rest nor slacken until we reach the last of them. And It does not matter where they will try to hide.” Later, after a Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu says to the press: “May God avenge their blood.”
Hamas, meanwhile, continues to deny that they ordered the teens’ kidnapping. “Israel is attempting to make way for aggression against us, against the Hamas,” spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri says. “We reject all Israeli allegations and threats against us. We are already used to it and will know how to defend ourselves.”
Following the announcement of the teenagers’ deaths, after weeks of being told there was a chance of their recovery, groups of Israelis target Palestinians and Arab-Israelis to release their ire. Early in the morning of July 2, Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir is forced into a car in Jerusalem. Hours later, his body is found, charred and showing clear signs of violence. A later autopsy would show that he was burned alive. The murder is immediately attributed to Jewish extremists, leading to the condemnation of the killing from both the prime minister and the families of the slain Irsraeli teenagers.
Protests over the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir spread throughout Jerusalem, at times turning violent. Video of one such protest emerges, allegedly showing Israeli police beating a young Palestinian attending one of the protests. That youth, it turns out, is 15 year-old Palestinian-American Tarek Abdul Khdeir, cousin to the teen who was killed. Tarek is released from prison on bail as the photos of his badly swollen face begin to circulate, sentenced to house arrest until he returns to Florida. That same day, families of the murdered teens — Israeli and Palestinian — console each other over their losses. Yishai Fraenkel, uncle of Niftali Fraenkel, told Mohammed Khdeir’s family that “there is no difference between those who murdered Muhammed, and those who murdered our children. Those are murderers, and these are murderers. And both must be dealt with to the full extent of the law, and we told him that.”
Jerusalem police arrest six suspects in the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, still operating under the assumption that the killing was motivated by nationalism. Reports emerge later that day that three of the suspects confessed to the murder, reenacting the killing to the police.
Operation: Protective Edge
“#IDF has commenced Operation Protective Edge in #Gaza against #Hamas, in order to stop the terror #Israel’s citizens face on a daily basis,” the Israeli Defense Force (IFD) tweet out at 1:30 AM local time, announing the latest part of Israel’s “mowing the grass” strategy to keep Hamas in check. It is the first major offensive into Gaza since Egypt negotiated a November 2012 ceasefire between the two sides. At this point, the incursion is limited to airstrikes, though Israel calls up thousands of reservists in preparation for any potential ground assault. Israel also announces that all of its public bomb shelters are opening to provide cover from continuing rocket attacks.
Jerusalem police place an officer on leave over the beating of Tarek Abu Khdeir; the officer will also face criminal charges. The United Nations Security Council meanwhile meets for the first time about the most recent violence in Gaza. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon warns that the parties “face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable — and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing.” While the meeting is initially open, the United States makes no public comments during the debate before the deliberations are taken behind closed doors.
President Barack Obama at this point inserts himself into the conflict, calling Netanyahu, and offering to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Earlier that day, however, both Netanyahu and Hamas’ leadership had publicly ruled out the chances of a ceasefire. At this point in the conflict, the IDF says, rockets are entering Israel at a rate of around six every hour. Most are intercepted using the Iron Dome defense system, leading to no casualties so far on the Israeli side of the border.
Palestinian authorities estimate that at least 100 Palestinians have been killed in the course of the bombing in Gaza. At least half of those, the Gazan health ministry says, were women and children. The Israeli Defense Force defends their targeting, saying the homes destroyed were being used by militants for “weapons storage, command and control centers, or communications.” Netanyahu meanwhile insists that “no international pressure wll prevent us from operating against terrorists in Gaza,” as Israel says it has hit 1,000 targets so far within Gaza.
The prime minister also makes waves when he links the Gaza crisis to why Israel will not support releasing control of the West Bank. “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” he says. “At present we have a problem with the territory called Gaza,” Netanyahu continues, noting that the West Bank is 20 times the size of Gaza, and vowing not “to create another 20 Gazas” in the West Bank. While making the comparison, he specifically calls out Secretary Kerry by name, dismissing the American position during the last round of peace talks.
Israel reportedly launches its first ground incursion into Gaza during the current crisis. Though not a full push into the Strip, the insertion of Israeli commandos marks an escalation from the previous airstrikes-only phase. Thousands of people fled northern Gaza in the face of further attacks, foreshadowed in leaflets dropped warning civilians to evacuate. “Those who fail to comply with the instructions will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware,” read one document in the town of Beit Lahiya, where 70,000 Palestinians live.
The Times of Israel meanwhile reports that Hamas turned down a possible cease-fire deal that Egypt had put on the table. Under the terms of the temporary ceasefire, both sides would halt firing for forty hours, at which time a longer lasting ceasefire would be negotiated. According to the Times, while Israel was supportive of the measure, Hamas’ leadership outright rejected it.
Israel shoots done a drone flown from Gaza, launching a U.S.-made Patriot missile to down the rudimentary unmanned craft. The Palestinian Health Ministry meanwhile ups the number killed during the latest flare-up at least 175; the death toll among Israelis remains at zero. An Israeli official also admits to the Associated Press, however, that there the odds of a decisive victory in the operation are slim. “There is no knockout, it is more complicated,” a senior military official involved in the fighting said, adding “if there is a map of pain that the enemy sees, it will have to think about things.”
Ceasefires and Escalations
An Egyptian ceasefire proposal gains support from Israel and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. “The cabinet has decided to accept the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire starting 9am today,” Ofir Gendelman, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says on Twitter. Hamas, however, insists that it had never been consulted in the framing of the deal, a claim that later reporting would prove to be true. Without Hamas’ buy-in, the two sides return to trading fire a mere six hours after the ceasefire began.
In one of the most shocking developments to come out of the crisis, four Palestinian children playing on a beach in Gaza are killed before the eyes of several foreign journalists. The four boys, all related, are being watched from a nearby hotel when a nearby blast instantly kills one. A second blast kills the other three and wounds several more. The Israeli military takes responsibility for the attack, saying they mistook the children for members of Hamas.
The United Nations convinces both Israel and Hamas to agree to a five-hour ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. At 3 PM sharp, just as the ceasefire was due to end, a rocket launches into Israel. Within the hour, Israel launches a new airstrike. Meanwhile, Israel’s Defense Ministry rules that the Khdeir was “a victim of hostile action,” the term used in Israel for victims of terrorism.
Near 10 PM local time, reporters on the ground in Gaza begin indicating that Israeli forces had begun launching shells and missiles from tanks on the Gaza border and from ships off the Gazan coast. Netanyahu’s office soon confirms that a new ground operation had been launched into Gaza, with the goal of collapsing the tunnels that run both food and medicine for civilians as well as weapons for Hamas from across the border in Egypt. The Israeli army claims that the operation is meant to be a “significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”