Palestinian daughter of Tawfiq al-Aga, who medics said was killed in Israeli shelling, mourns next to her father body during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip July 23, 2014. Israeli forces pounded Gaza on Wednesday, meeting stiff resistance from Hamas Islamists and sending thousands of residents fleeing, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on a visit to Israel ceasefire talks had made some progress. Israel launched its offensive on July 8 to halt missile salvoes by Hamas and its allies, struggling under the weight of an Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade and angered by a crackdown on their supporters in the nearby occupied West Bank. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is extending its ban on all flights to Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, while Air Canada announced it is again cancelling its daily scheduled flight to Tel Aviv from Toronto.
The airline says Flight AC84, scheduled to leave Wednesday afternoon and Thursday's return Flight AC85 have been cancelled. An Air Canada spokeswomen told CBC News it would continue to evaluate the situation.
Also on Wednesday, the the FAA issued a notice saying, "The agency is working closely with the government of Israel to review the significant new information they have provided and determine whether potential risks to U.S. civil aviation are mitigated so the agency can resolve concerns as quickly as possible."
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On Tuesday, U.S. and European airlines cancelled flights to Israel after a Hamas rocket hit near the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Germany's Lufthansa and Air Berlin extended their cancellations through Thursday, and Air France said it is suspending its flights "until further notice."
Air Canada also cancelled a flight to Tel Aviv on Tuesday over safety concerns.
Airlines that have suspended or cancelled flights to Israel include:
- Air Canada
- Delta (U.S.)
- LOT Polish Airlines
- Lufthansa (Germany)
- Alitalia (Italy)
- Air France
- Scandinavian Airlines
- Norwegian Air
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- Korean Air
Israeli officials have slammed the cancellations as an overreaction that rewards Hamas, and Israel's own El Al airline is still flying in and out of Ben Gurion.
Some progress made
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who met for the second time this week with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, flew into Tel Aviv on an air force jet, despite the FAA ban, reflecting his determination to broker a truce in a war that has killed at least 684 Palestinians and 31 Israelis
He held meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but U.S. officials have downplayed expectations for an immediate, lasting truce.
In Jerusalem, Kerry said negotiations toward a Gaza ceasefire agreement were making some progress.
"We certainly have made steps forward," Kerry said, adding, "There's still work to be done."
Kerry made no comments after meeting with Netanyahu for nearly two hours in Tel Aviv and immediately returned to Cairo.
An Egyptian official said he expected a humanitarian truce to go into effect by the weekend, in time for the Eid al-Fitr festival, Islam's biggest annual celebration that follows the fasting month of Ramadan.
However, a senior U.S. official played down the Egyptian official's confidence that there would be a truce during Eid, saying this was a U.S. hope but it was by no means locked in.
"It would not be accurate to say that we expect a ceasefire by the weekend," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, meanwhile, said Hamas must be denied the ability to "rain down rockets on Israeli civilians."
"One of the results, one would hope, of a ceasefire would be some form of demilitarization so that this doesn't continue, doesn't repeat itself," Blinken said in an interview with NPR. "That needs to be the end result."
The Hamas leader, however, rejected that idea.
"Some are talking under the table about disarming the resistance. No one can take away the resistance's arms," Khaled Mashaal said.
Residents flee Khan Younis
On the ground, meanwhile, Israeli troops backed by tanks and aerial drones clashed with Hamas fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on the outskirts of Khan Younis, killing at least eight militants, according to a Palestinian health official.
The Palestinian Red Crescent was trying to evacuate some 250 people from the area, which has been pummeled by airstrikes and tank shelling since early Wednesday.
Hundreds of residents of eastern Khan Younis were seen fleeing their homes as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry, many with children in tow. They said they were seeking shelter in nearby UN schools.
"The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us," said Aziza Msabah, a resident of Khan Younis. "They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us." Speaking from Gaza City, CBC correspondent Paul Hunter described the overnight airstrikes followed by the response from Israeli tanks. "It was a loud night. It was filled with ear-splitting rockets being fired."
Meanwhile, a foreign worker in Israel was killed when a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said. She did not immediately know the worker's nationality.
Israel also reported that two more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military's death toll to 29, without providing further details. Two Israeli civilians have been killed in 15 days of fighting.
The Israeli military did not respond to Associated Press inquiries as to why such heavy fighting was concentrated in Khan Younis, saying only it was conducting operations throughout the Gaza Strip. The fighting was centred on an agricultural area, which Israel has claimed is a site for Hamas tunnels going under the border.
Further north, in the Shijaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City, which saw intense fighting earlier this week, an airstrike demolished a home, killing 30-year-old journalist Abdul Rahman Abu Hean, his grandfather Hassan and his nephew Osama.
The Palestinians say Israel is randomly deploying a wide array of modern weaponry against Gaza's 1.7 million people, inflicting a heavy civilian death toll and levelling entire buildings. By mid-day Wednesday, the Palestinian death toll stood at 684, mostly civilians, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.
Israel says it began the Gaza operation to halt Hamas rocket fire into Israel — more than 2,100 have been fired since the conflict erupted — and to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels, some of which have been used to stage attacks inside Israel.
'War crimes' accusations at UN
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights meanwhile warned both sides against targeting civilians and said war crimes may have been committed.
Navi Pillay noted an Israeli drone strike that killed three children and wounded two others while they were playing on the roof of their home. She also referenced Israeli fire that struck seven children playing on Gaza beach, killing four from the same family.
"These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," Pillay told the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, saying such incidents should be investigated.
Elsewhere at the UN, a statement released by a spokesperson for the secretary general on Wednesday expressed "alarm" and "outrage" at yesterday's discovery of 20 rockets in a Gaza school operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The rockets subsequently went missing.
"Those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children, UN employees working in such facilities, and anyone using the UN schools as shelter," the statement reads.
It also notes that the UN Mine Action Service has been directed to send "personnel with expertise" to deal with the situation.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird had also called for an immediate UN investigation on Tuesday.
As the Gaza death toll mounted, a 34-year-old Palestinian man was killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers near the West Bank City of Bethlehem, doctors said, a potentially ominous development in an area that has so far been relatively quiet.
Even before the flight cancellations, the conflict was taking its toll on the Israeli economy. Military and finance ministry officials have said that the first 10 days of the operation had direct costs of about two billion shekels — about $628 million.
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