U.S. fuming over Israeli criticism of Kerry

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israel's prime minister warned Monday that the country faced a prolonged campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as the military urged residents in parts of the embattled territory to evacuate ahead of what appeared to be a broadening of the three-week war.

"What is coming will be worse," the Israeli military said in phone messages targeting Gaza militants.

Israeli leaders have been mulling whether to expand the assault against Hamas in Gaza, or respond to international calls for a truce.

The international community so far has been unable to bring about a cease-fire that would end the fighting, which has already killed at least 1,050 Palestinians, 52 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side.

But with attacks mounting from both sides Monday, and Israel and Hamas far apart on terms for a truce, a cease-fire appeared elusive.

"We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, standing beside his defense minister and chief of staff. "We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri struck a defiant tone in response to Netanyahu's warnings.

"His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people and the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children," he said.

Israel said it sent text messages and phoned residents of northern Gaza -- including Shijaiyah, the site of one of the war's bloodiest battles last week -- urging them to flee their homes and move toward Gaza City.

The United Nations on Monday called for an "immediate" cease-fire in the fighting and on Sunday, President Barack Obama called Netanyahu to push for an immediate end to the conflict.

But Israel and Hamas' terms for ending the fighting remain far apart. Hamas has conditioned a halt to the fighting on an easing of a crippling blockade on the territory imposed by Egypt and Israel.

Israel meanwhile wants to see the Gaza Strip demilitarized and Hamas stripped of its rocket firing abilities.

Israel says it launched its war on July 8 to halt incessant rocket fire from Gaza. It later broadened the assault into a ground offensive meant to tackle Hamas' network of tunnels which Israel sees as a major threat.

Despite Israel's attempts to destroy the tunnels, the Israeli military said Monday that militants succeeded to enter Israel through a tunnel leading from Gaza, a sign that the threat of attacks from tunnels has not been eradicated. The military said troops killed one militant.

Also Monday, the Israeli military said that a mortar attack on southern Israel killing four soldiers. Another five soldiers were killed Monday, but the details behind their deaths were not immediately released.

Earlier, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people Monday, nine of them children, as Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack.

The Gaza park attack happened as children played on a swing in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, said Ayman Sahabani, head of the emergency room at nearby Shifa Hospital. Sahabani said nine of the 10 killed at the park were children under the age of 12 and 46 were wounded.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel’s prime minister warned Monday that the country faced a prolonged campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as the military urged residents in parts of the embattled territory to evacuate ahead of what appeared to be a broadening of the three-week war.

“What is coming will be worse,” the Israeli military said in phone messages targeting Gaza militants.

Israeli leaders have been mulling whether to expand the assault against Hamas in Gaza, or respond to international calls for a truce.

The international community so far has been unable to bring about a cease-fire that would end the fighting, which has already killed at least 1,050 Palestinians, 52 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side.

But with attacks mounting from both sides Monday, and Israel and Hamas far apart on terms for a truce, a cease-fire appeared elusive.

“We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, standing beside his defense minister and chief of staff. “We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri struck a defiant tone in response to Netanyahu’s warnings.

“His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people and the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children,” he said.

Israel said it sent text messages and phoned residents of northern Gaza — including Shijaiyah, the site of one of the war’s bloodiest battles last week — urging them to flee their homes and move toward Gaza City.

The United Nations on Monday called for an “immediate” cease-fire in the fighting and on Sunday, President Barack Obama called Netanyahu to push for an immediate end to the conflict.

But Israel and Hamas’ terms for ending the fighting remain far apart. Hamas has conditioned a halt to the fighting on an easing of a crippling blockade on the territory imposed by Egypt and Israel.

Israel meanwhile wants to see the Gaza Strip demilitarized and Hamas stripped of its rocket firing abilities.

Israel says it launched its war on July 8 to halt incessant rocket fire from Gaza. It later broadened the assault into a ground offensive meant to tackle Hamas’ network of tunnels which Israel sees as a major threat.

Despite Israel’s attempts to destroy the tunnels, the Israeli military said Monday that militants succeeded to enter Israel through a tunnel leading from Gaza, a sign that the threat of attacks from tunnels has not been eradicated. The military said troops killed one militant.

Also Monday, the Israeli military said that a mortar attack on southern Israel killing four soldiers. Another five soldiers were killed Monday, but the details behind their deaths were not immediately released.

Earlier, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people Monday, nine of them children, as Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack.

The Gaza park attack happened as children played on a swing in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City, said Ayman Sahabani, head of the emergency room at nearby Shifa Hospital. Sahabani said nine of the 10 killed at the park were children under the age of 12 and 46 were wounded.

WASHINGTON — he Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.

“It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Her comments were echoed by the White House, where officials said they were disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as more favorable to Hamas. Tony Blinken, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the criticism was based on “people leaking things that are either misinformed or attempting to misinform.”

Kerry himself, in a speech to the Center for American Progress, noted the criticism but did not give ground.

“Make no mistake, when the people of Israel are rushing to bomb shelters, when innocent Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are abducted and murdered, when hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives, I will and we will make no apologies for our engagement,” he said.

The coordinated pushback in Washington came amid growing U.S. frustration with the number of Palestinian civilian casualties as Israel wages an air and ground war in the Gaza Strip. Obama and Kerry have been pressing Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.

The U.S. has made little progress in achieving that objective. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised speech Monday that his country must be ready for “a prolonged campaign” against Hamas in Gaza.

As Kerry returned from the region over the weekend, Israeli media commentators leveled almost nonstop criticism of his attempts to bring Qatar and Turkey — two countries viewed by Israel as strong Hamas supporters — into the cease-fire negotiations. Kerry was also accused of abandoning some of Israel’s key demands during the negotiations, including demilitarizing Gaza.

In trying to implement the cease-fire over the weekend, “U.S. Secretary of State of State John Kerry ruined everything,” wrote columnist Ari Shavit in Monday’s Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper. “Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a ‘strategic terrorist attack.'”

U.S. officials disputed the notion that Kerry had formally presented a proposal and cast the document in question as a draft given to the Israelis as part of an effort to gain their input in seeking a weeklong cessation of hostilities. Officials said the draft was based on an earlier Egyptian cease-fire proposal that Israel had accepted but Hamas had rejected.

Psaki said the U.S. was “surprised and obviously disappointed” to see the draft proposal made public. She also argued that there was a difference between the characterization of Kerry’s handling of the negotiations by Israeli media and what government officials were telling the U.S. privately.

“No one is calling to complain about the secretary’s handling of the situation,” Psaki said.

Earlier, Kerry had sought to debunk the notion that the U.S. had backed away from its support for the demilitarization of Gaza, which has been a top priority for Israel.

“Any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorist groups,” Kerry said.

While the Obama administration maintains that it supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, officials have grown increasingly concerned about the civilian casualties in Gaza. The White House said Obama spoke with Netanyahu Sunday and expressed “serious and growing concern” about the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed over the past three weeks, Palestinian health officials say. According to the United Nations, about three-fourths of them were civilians. Israel has lost 43 soldiers and two civilians, as well as a Thai worker.

On Monday, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people, nine of them children. Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack as fighting in the Gaza war raged on despite a major Muslim holiday.