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PKK, ISIL are the same, says Erdo?an, Islamic State moves into south west of Syrian Kurdish town

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group is no different from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), President Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said on Saturday.

“For us, the PKK is the same as ISIL. It is wrong to consider them as different from each other,” Erdo?an told reporters in ?stanbul as he criticized pro-Kurdish politicians in Turkey who have slammed the government for not helping Syrian Kurds defend the Kurdish town of Kobani near the border with Turkey.

Kobani is under ISIL attack, and Syrian Kurds had called for help, warning of a massacre if the town were to be seized by ISIL. The crisis in Kobani has sparked a refugee inflow into Turkey and sporadic clashes on the border between Turkish security forces and Turkish Kurds who want to cross into Syria to hold Kobani’s defense.

Erdo?an criticized the pro-Kurdish politicians for linking the crisis in Kobani to Turkey’s efforts to resolve the Kurdish issue through talks with the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan, saying those who try to end the process “will pay the price.”

“Some visit Kobani and then say ‘Kobani is under attack. Turkey is not doing anything to help.’ Where do people who come from Kobani go? Where do they take refuge? They take refuge in Turkey and Turkey is hosting them. But despite this, those who are involved in PKK terrorism are making an effort to stake a claim in this [Kobani crisis],” Erdo?an said. “It is not possible for us to see this positively.”

ISIL forces shelled the Syrian border town of Kobani on Saturday and its Kurdish defenders said they were expecting a new assault to try to capture it.

US-led coalition warplanes had struck at ISIL targets overnight to halt the insurgents’ advance and Saturday’s barrages were less intense than the previous day.

“Clashes continue now; they are shelling on all three fronts. They tried to invade Kobani last night but they were repelled,” senior Kurdish official Asya Abdullah told Reuters from the town on Saturday.

“We think they are planning to launch another big attack but the YPG [People’s Protection Unit] is prepared to resist them,” she said, referring to the Kurdish armed group defending it.

Previous coalition air strikes have failed to stop the insurgent offensive and an estimated 180,000 people have fled across the border into Turkey to escape the fighting around Kobani — a conflict now overshadowing Syria’s wider civil war.

ISIL said they would take the town within days and boasted they would pray in its mosques for the Muslim religious festival of Eid al-Adha, which began on Saturday.

The militant group stepped up its offensive close to the Turkish border last month, seizing surrounding villages and advancing to within a few kilometers (miles) of Kobani, which is also known as Ayn al-Arab. Its capture would allow ISIL to consolidate its hold on swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Swift offensives by ISIL since June have sent shockwaves through the region and prompted the United States and its allies to carry out a series of bombing raids to halt the insurgents’ rapid advance.

Rami Abdelrahman, who runs the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said several hundred people had been killed on both sides since the assault on Kobani started two weeks ago.

The rumble of artillery could be heard on both the eastern and western flanks of the town on Saturday but the barrage was less intense than on the previous day, a Reuter’s witness said.

Coalition warplanes destroyed one insurgent vehicle and killed five fighters during raids in the countryside to the east and south of Kobani on Friday night, the observatory said. Ten Kurdish fighters were also killed in heavy fighting that carried on long into the night.

Turkey has so far taken a backseat in the fight against ISIL, who until last month held 46 Turks as hostages. But their release and a decision by Parliament to renew a mandate allowing Turkish troops to intervene in Syria and Iraq has raised the prospect of a more active role by Turkey.

Erdo?an also warned against any attack on Turkish soldiers stationed at Süleyman ?ah’s tomb, a Turkish exclave in Syria reportedly surrounded by ISIL fighters.

“If anything happens there we cannot hesitate, and everything will change,” he said.todayszaman

Islamic State fighters advanced into the south west of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani overnight, a monitoring group said on Tuesday, taking several buildings to gain attacking positions from two sides of the city.

The prospect that the town on the Turkish border could fall to militants who have besieged it for three weeks has increased pressure on Turkey, with the strongest army in the region, to join an international coalition to fight against Islamic State.

From across the nearby Turkish border two Islamic State flags could be seen flying over the eastern side of Kobani. Two air strikes hit the area and sporadic gunfire could be heard.

Islamic State fighters were using heavy weapons and shells to hit Kobani, senior Kurdish official Asya Abdullah told Reuters from inside the town.

“Yesterday there was a violent clash. We have fought hard to keep them out of the town,” she said by telephone. “The clashes are not in the whole of Kobani, but in specific areas, on the outskirts and towards the center.”

Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot, has ramped up its offensive in recent days against the mainly Kurdish border town, despite being targeted by U.S.-led coalition led air strikes aimed at halting its progress.

The group wants to take Kobani to consolidate a dramatic sweep across northern Iraq and Syria, in the name of an absolutist version of Sunni Islam, that has sent shockwaves through the Middle East.

“There were clashes overnight. Not heavy but ISIS is going forward from the southwest. They have crossed into Kobani and control some buildings in the city there,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the conflict with a network on the ground. ISIS is a former name for Islamic State.

“They are about 50 meters inside the southwest of the city,” Abdulrahman said.

An estimated 180,000 people have fled into Turkey from the Kobani region following the Islamic State advance. More than 2,000 Syrian Kurds including women and children were evacuated from the town after the latest fighting, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) said on Monday.

Before the offensive, Kobani, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, was home to refugees from the civil war which pits rebels against President Bashar al-Assad and has deteriorated into hundreds of localized battles between different factions.

The most powerful of the myriad militias fighting against Assad, Islamic State has boosted its forces with foreign fighters and defectors from other rebel groups. It gained additional heavy weaponry after its fighters swept through northern Iraq in June, seizing arms from the fleeing Iraqi army.

The group released a video showing dozens of men said to be from Ahrar al-Sham, a rival Islamist group which has clashed with it in the past, pledging allegiance to its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, SITE monitoring service said on Monday.


The United States has been bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq since August and extended the campaign to Syria in September. Arab states have joined both campaigns, while other Western countries are participating in Iraq but not Syria.

Two months in to the U.S. campaign, the U.S. military has added a new weapon to its arsenal in Iraq, using Apache helicopters for the first time, U.S. officials said on Monday.

Army Major Curtis Kellogg said Baghdad had asked for helicopter support near Fallujah to push back militants west of the capital Baghdad.

The low-flying helicopters give the U.S. military greater capacity to identify individual targets and provide close air support to Iraqi troops in combat, suggesting close cooperation with forces on the ground. But they also expose U.S. troops to far greater risk from ground fire.

Turkey, a NATO member which shares a 900 kilometer (500 mile) border with Syria and has the most powerful military in the area, has so far refrained from joining the campaign, but the plight of Kobani has increased pressure to act.

Turkey says the scope of the campaign in Syria should be broadened to seek to remove Assad from power. It has sought a no-fly zone in northern Syria, which would require the coalition to take on Assad’s air force as well as Islamic State, a move Washington has not agreed to.

“We are ready to do everything if there is a clear strategy and if we can be sure that our border can be protected after (Islamic State is gone),” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in an interview with CNN International.

“We don’t want the regime anymore on our border pushing people towards Turkey. We don’t want other terrorist organizations … If Assad stays in Damascus with this brutal policy, if (Islamic State) goes another radical organization may come.”

The brother of a British aid worker who was beheaded by Islamic State said Britain should put troops on the ground in the Middle East to fight against the militants.

“We need to send ground troops in or forces in to find out where these monsters are and bring them to justice,” said Reg Henning, whose 47-year-old brother Alan was killed last week. “The sooner we do it, the sooner the killing stops.” “Go and find them, bring them to justice, bring them over here, let us try them,” he was quoted as saying on the BBC website.

Alan Henning’s killing has been condemned by Western leaders and British Muslim groups alike. He was the fourth Western hostage executed by Islamic State fighters since the United States launched strikes on the group in Iraq in August.reuters

UN: ‘Islamic State’ enacts ‘staggering’ abuses in Iraq

The report released on Thursday accuses “Islamic State” (IS) fighters and other armed groups of a wide range of abuses.

“The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups is staggering, and many of their acts may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity,” the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in a statement posted on his office’s website.

Among the abuses cited in the report are “attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, executions and other targeted killings of civilians, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against women and children.”

According to the report, investigators also found credible evidence of the “forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance, wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms.”

In response to the report, Zeid said he had called on the new government in Baghdad to sign on to the International Criminal Court immediately in order to give it jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes.”

“This type of situation, where massive gross violations and abuses are taking place, including direct targeting of many thousands of civilians because of their religious or ethnic identity, is precisely why the International Criminal Court was created,” Zeid said.

Possible abuses by Iraqi forces

The report, compiled by the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), also found that the state security forces and allied fighters may have violated international humanitarian and human rights law. It cited potentially disproportionate or indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling of IS targets.

The 29-page report, which covers the period between July 6 and September 10, was released a day after UNAMI announced that at least 9,347 civilians had been killed and more than 17,000 others wounded in Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi forces backed by airstrikes from the US and a small number of its allies have been fighting to take back large swaths of territory in the north of the country that IS fighters have overrun over the past few months.

The US and a small number of Arab allies have also bombed IS targets in neighboring Syria.

Thpugh the country has ruled out a combat role, Germany is providing arms and training to Kurdish fighters battling IS in northern Iraq.dw

China warns Hong Kong against ‘illegal protests’

China has issued a powerful warning to Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters against continuing what it called “illegal” demonstrations.
“There will be unimaginable consequences” according to a newspaper editorial in Beijing.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi who is visiting Washington also warned that what was going on in Hong Kong was an internal affair for China.

“Secretary Kerry mentioned Hong Kong. The Chinese government has very firmly and clearly stated its position. Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs. All countries should respect China’s sovereignty,” said China’s foreign minister.

His US counterpart US Secretary John Kerry had earlier urged restraint in dealing with the protesters:

“We believe an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity . And we have high hopes that the Hong Kong authorities will exercise restraint and respect the protesters’ right to express their views peacefully.”

Wednesday’s National Day holiday in the Asian financial hub attracted huge numbers of demonstrators. They are angry that Beijing is to vet candidates for the territory’s 2017 leadership elections. They’ve vowed to step up their action and begin occupying government buildings unless Hong Kong’s chief executive steps down.euronews

Freed Turkish hostages reunited with families in Ankara

Dozens of Turkish hostages, held by Islamic State militants for three months after being seized in Iraq, have returned to home soil.

The captives – seized at the Turkish consulate in Mosul in June – included Consul General Ozturk Yilma and other diplomats, soldiers and two young children.

The Turkish government said the hostages were all Turkish consulate employees: 46 Turks and three Iraqis.

Turkish media reported that all 46 Turks had arrived in Turkey.

Ankara said a ransom was not paid, but did not provide details about the circumstances about the release.

The freed hostages were transported through Syria to the southern Turkish city of Sanliurfa, where they were met by prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“Today is a festive day not only for you (freed hostages) and your families, but for the whole nation,” Davutoglu said in Sanliurfa.

Davutoglu then travelled on with the freed hostages to the Turkish capital Ankara, where they were reunited with relatives at the airport.euronews

Join the “Salt Bucket Challenge” to save world’s second largest Salty Lake, Lake Urmu in South Azerbaijan

Bringing awardee to the public about hidden realities of illnesses, diseases and dangers is a good way of educating people and asking them to help tackle the issues related to those problems. It makes it easy to fund research, prepare defence and also to prevent future damage to human life. “Ice Bucket Challenge” started to catch attention of the public about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The reason for choosing the pouring of icy water over one’s head was to simulate the painfulness of frozen muscles.

What is ALS?

As printed by ALSA.ORG, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their death. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

What is “Salt Bucket Challenge”?

Lake Urmu is dying due intentional policies employed by Iranian government to destroy South Azerbaijan and force people to migrate to other parts of Iran. By doing this, the population of South Azerbaijan will decrease due forced migration, and will make the unity of the people of Azerbaijan difficult if not impossible.

If the Lake Urmu dies, millions of tones of salt will be spread over Azerbaijani lands, turning them into dead soil! Breathing in the salty air will bring the end to people’s life. How it feels to be under and breathe in salty air? The “Salt Bucket Challenge” started to raise awareness about the dangerous state which the Lake Urmu is being put in.

Iranian government, specially its president Mr Hasan Rouhani are just promising and talking about the issue, but no work is done to stop the policy which still being followed to kill the lake!

To join the “Salt Bucket Challenge”, please visit its Facebook page. Because the Iranian regime is forcing to change Azerbaijani people’s language, most of the new generation are not able to write in Azeri Turkish, so, their Facebook page is in Farsi. Farsi is the language of the Fars minority but is forcibly in use officially in the whole country ignoring the language of Azerbaijanis who are the majority in the country.

Issuing a birth certificate to a new born child is denied just for having chosen a Turkish name for him!

Firuz Yusefi is a South Azerbaijani who is struglling to get a birth certificate for his new born son. He and his wife has chosen a Turkish name “Alporhan” for their baby, because South Azerbaijan is an Azeri Turkish land which Iranian government does not want to accept the fact.

According to Mr Yusefi, he has written to several office and organisations regarding the issue, he also have been in attendance to the registar office for days but untill now there is no success.

South Azerbaijan is the larger part of the Great Azerbaijan including North (republic of) Azerbaijan and nearby territories. Great Azerbaijan is partitioned by UK, USA and Russia making life and future uncertain for Azeri Turks.

Two Hazara men shot dead in Quetta

Imran Qureshi, the superintendent of police told media that unidentified gunmen opened fire on Spini Road killing two persons. The slain persons were identified as members of the Hazara community who were killed en route to main city from Hazara Town area of Quetta.

“The attackers escaped unhurt from the spot,” Qureshi stated. Police and Frontier Corps personnel reached the spot as a probe into the incident went underway.

The bodies were shifted to hospital for postmortem. “This seems to be a sectarian targeted killing,” another police official who requested anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the matter said.

There was no claim of responsibility for the attack. Spini Road is one of the sensitive areas of Quetta. Frequent incidents of targeted killings take place in the area despite presence of security personnel and their checkposts.hazarapeople

Ukraine crisis: Putin hopes for peace deal by Friday

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is hoping for a peace agreement to be reached between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels by Friday.

Mr Putin urged both sides to stop military action in eastern Ukraine, adding that his views and those of his Ukrainian counterpart were very close.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko said they had agreed a “ceasefire process”.

Meanwhile US President Barack Obama said Nato guaranteed the independence of its members the Baltic states.

“You’ve lost your independence once before, with Nato you’ll never lose it again,” Mr Obama said in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

He told his audience of US and Estonian military that their countries were stronger because they were democracies, but that their vision was threatened by “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine”.

“Nations have a right to determine their own future. This is why we stand with the people of Ukraine today,” he said.

He added that Nato had to send an “unmistakeable message in support of Ukraine this week”, as well as strengthening the defences of two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova.

A Nato summit opens in Wales on Thursday. It is expected to back plans for a rapid response force and bolster the alliance’s presence in eastern Europe.

In other developments

Russia confirmed the death of photojournalist Andrei Stenin in Ukraine on 6 August, saying he had been killed in a Ukrainian government ambush on a convoy of rebels and refugees near Donetsk
Russia is to hold military exercises in the south Siberian region of Altai this month involving more than 4,000 troops and air power, a defence ministry official told a Russian news agency
‘Mutual understanding’

Speaking to journalists in the Mongolia capital Ulan Bator, Mr Putin said the two sides should reach agreement when they resumed talks in Minsk on Friday.

“Our views on the way to resolve the conflict, as it seemed to me, are very close,” he said, referring to a phone conversation with Mr Poroshenko.

He said he was proposing a seven-point peace plan:

The Ukrainian army and eastern rebels should stop “active offensive operations”
Ukrainian troops must pull back to a distance where they would be unable to shell population centres
International monitoring of the ceasefire
No use of military jets against civilians
“All-for-all” prisoner exchange without preconditions
Humanitarian corridor for refugees and to deliver aid
Restoration of destroyed infrastructure.
Mr Poroshenko’s office initially reported that a “permanent ceasefire” had been agreed but later revised its statement.

The earlier version of the statement on the Ukrainian presidential website read: “Their conversation resulted in agreement on a permanent ceasefire in the Donbass region [the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk].”

This has now been changed to: “Their conversation resulted in agreement on a process for ceasing fire in the Donbass region.”

The statement adds that the two presidents “reached a mutual understanding on steps leading to peace”.

In its statement (in Russian), the Kremlin said a phone conversation had taken place on Wednesday between the two presidents in which their points of view had “coincided significantly” on possible ways to end the crisis.

Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, clarified for Russian news agency Ria-Novosti: “Putin and Poroshenko did not agree a ceasefire in Ukraine because Russia is not party to the conflict, they only discussed how to settle the conflict.”

War in eastern Ukraine: The human cost
At least 2,593 people killed since mid-April (not including 298 passengers and crew of Malaysian Airlines MH17, shot down in the area) – UN report on 29 August
951 civilians killed in Donetsk region alone, official regional authorities said on 20 August
In some particularly dangerous places, such as Luhansk region, victims are said to have been buried informally, making accurate counts difficult
Rebels (and some military sources) accuse the government of concealing true numbers
260,000 people have fled elsewhere in Ukraine while at least 814,000 have gone to Russia.

An aide to the deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Andrei Purgin, told the same agency that President Poroshenko had not consulted the rebels about any ceasefire and its announcement had come as a “complete surprise”.

Vladislav Brig, a rebel official, told The Associated Press: “As long as Ukrainian forces are on the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic there can be no ceasefire.”

A spokeswoman for EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton said that work on new sanctions against Russia was continuing because the ceasefire had not been confirmed.

More than 2,600 civilians and combatants have been killed and more than a million people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in eastern Ukraine in April, when pro-Russian separatists there declared independence.

Russia has denied accusations by the West and the Ukrainian government that it is sending troops and military equipment over the border to support the separatists, who recently gained the upper hand against government forces.bbc

Iranian regime would not allow burial of Dr Cavad Heyet (Javad Heyat) in Tebriz

Dr Heyet was one of the leading academics in the region who had achieved many goals during his professional life. He was an Azerbaijani academic whose actions and thought had been given hopes to youngsters and his followers. Dr Javad not only was a popular doctor who was treating patients without having economical expectation, but he also was good at cultural and historical researches.

Maral Heyet, Dr Heyet’s daughter has revealed a fact that her father’s last wish was ignored by the racist government of Iran. Dr Heyet was born in Tebriz, Capital of the South Azerbaijan where it is now inside Iran. Dr Heyet had left a will, asking his family to bury him in Tebriz city next to Shehriyar the famous poet and author. However, Iranian embassy in North Azerbaijan (Republic of Azerbaijan) had denied any transfer of Dr Heyts body to Tebriz. Those having denied the burial in Tebriz, Dr Heyet’s family had no choice but having him buried in Fexri (Fakhri) street graveyard in Baku.

UN resolution imposes sanctions on militants in Iraq and Syria

With reports that Islamist insurgents have massacred 80 Yazidis, the UN Security Council has responded to the crisis in Iraq.

They unanimously adopted a resolution imposing sanctions on six men for recruiting and financing jihadist fighters in northern Iraq and Syria.

“Today’s resolution, which the United States is proud to co-sponsor, represents the Council’s strong unified position that all member states must disrupt the terrorist financing and foreign fighter recruitment networks that are fuelling the violence perpetrated by ISIL, the al-Nusra Front and other associates of al-Qaida in the region,” said Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN shortly after the vote.

In Brussels, Foreign Ministers agreed to allow individual countries to arm Kurdish forces fighting the insurgents. So far France and Britain have offered to send weapons.

The humanitarian crisis has prompted the UN to issue its highest level of emergency.

The advance of Islamic State in Iraq has left around 1.5 million people displaced. Many from the Yazidi minority have reached the border with Turkey. Without any ID they face an uncertain future as they are unable to obtain new ones, dashing their hopes of finding refuge in Europe.euronews

8 Azerbaijani killed by Armeniaians near occupied Azerbaijani territory of Karabakh

Eight soldiers from the Azerbaijani army have reportedly been killed in a clash on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border on Friday.

The Azerbaijani Ministry of Defense said Armenian reconnaissance troops were spotted while attempting to reach Azerbaijani positions in the towns of Aghdam and Terter.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been at war for more than 20 years over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which lies in Azerbaijan

Armenian soldiers withdrew when they experienced losses; although the ministry did not give information about the number of casualties, Azerbaijani news agency APA claimed that eight soldiers had died.

In another statement from the Ministry of Defense one Azerbaijani casualty was identified as 36-year-old Isa Almazov.

Gaza truce collapses as 40 Palestinians killed in Israel attack, say medics

Israeli shelling has killed at least 40 Palestinians near the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Friday, according to hospital sources there, as the latest Middle East ceasefire collapsed just hours after it began.

Israel accused Hamas and other militant groups of violating the 72-hour truce. The claims came amid Israeli media reports that gunmen had fired at Israeli soldiers in the Rafah area.

The US- and UN-mediated truce had been seen as the most ambitious move yet to end more than three weeks of fighting.euronews

Israel Rejects Gaza Cease-Fire Proposal, deth toll reaches 850

Israel has rejected a proposal presented by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for a cease-fire between Israel’s military and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Israeli medi reported..

Israeli public television and a government source say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet have voted against the proposal as it stands and are seeking modifications before any agreement to end hostilities.

U.S. and U.N. diplomats continued to work into the night on a possible cease-fire plan in the Gaza Strip, where more than two weeks of intense fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas militants has sent the death toll soaring among Palestinian civilians.

The New York Times and Washington Post reported that Kerry has proposed a plan that would begin with a week-long truce starting Sunday. That day marks the start of Eid, the holiday concluding the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Kerry’s proposal, shared with the newspapers by unnamed sources, calls for prompt negotiations among Palestinian and Israeli officials on major economic, political and security issues. Representatives of other nations would attend the talks.

Kerry has been meeting in Cairo with Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, and the United Nations’ chief, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban has decried the conflict’s impact on civilians. On Friday, five Palestinians were killed in the West Bank as the conflict in Gaza spread. The death toll rose to more than 800 Palestinians – mostly civilians – 35 Israelis and one foreign worker in Israel.

Egypt has mediated previous conflicts between Israel and Hamas, including a 2012 cease-fire. The United States, Israel’s closest ally, does not negotiate directly with the militant Palestinian group, which it has branded a terrorist organization..

Israeli security cabinet meeting

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Friday and Israeli media said the cabinet continued to meet into the night.

An Israeli official said the Netanyahu government envisaged an initial halt to the fighting lasting seven days, during which the army would keep digging up tunnels on Gaza’s eastern frontier.

According to Western and Palestinian officials, once a humanitarian lull takes hold, delegations from Israel and Hamas would arrive in Cairo for indirect talks that could lead to a lasting truce.

“First Israel wants to hear Hamas’s response to the [Kerry] proposals,” the official said, adding that some members of the security cabinet also sought assurances that Gaza would be stripped of its remaining rockets under any extended cease-fire.

Hamas had no immediate comment. On Wednesday, its leader Khaled Meshaal voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza’s 1.8 million people.

Hamas wants Egypt to open up its border with Gaza, too, and has demanded that Israel release hundreds of prisoners rounded up by Israel in a sweep of the West Bank last month following the kidnap and killing of three Jewish teenagers.

Calls for calm increase

Calls for a cease-fire have escalated, especially since Thursday, the 18-day-old conflict’s deadliest day, when more than 100 Palestinians were killed.

The U.N. secretary-general said he was “appalled” by Thursday’s shelling of a United Nations-run school being used as a shelter from the violence. The victims included “women and children, as well as U.N. staff,” Ban said.

The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply concerned,” though it did not explicitly blame Israel for the shelling.

Israel’s military, which has hit two other U.N. shelters in recent days, did not say it was behind the attack, but acknowledged fighting in the area Thursday.

The military said it warned civilians to vacate the area, but blamed Hamas for not allowing them to leave before the deadline.

Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli troops in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinian medics say five Palestinians died in the West Bank during protests Friday. Demonstrators in the Palestinian territory marched in solidarity with Gaza in the northern village of Hawara. Thousands also demonstrated overnight, in what many observers are calling the West Bank’s biggest protest in a decade.

In East Jerusalem, dozens of Palestinian protesters hurled rocks and threw Molotov cocktails at an Israeli army checkpoint.

In Iran, government-run broadcasts said “millions” of people joined rallies nationwide to mark solidarity with Palestinians on Friday for its annual al-Quds Day event. Quds is the Arabic word for Jerusalem, one of the most important cities in the Muslim faith. The yearly show of support occurs on the last Friday of Ramadan.

Clashes continue

On Friday, dozens of Palestinian youths clashed with Israeli police near Jerusalem’s Old City and clashes erupted in other parts of the West Bank near Hebron and Nablus.

Police in Jerusalem barred entrance to the al-Aqsa mosque to men younger than 50 years. But many gathered on streets outside the barricades to hold prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan.

The Palestinians were staging what they called a day of rage against the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.

In addition to killing hundreds, the conflict has wounded thousands and destroyed thousands of homes and a dozen hospitals and clinics.

Hebrew University Professor Moshe Ma’oz said the outbreak of violence was inevitable due to rising tensions after the collapse of a nine-month effort to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

“It’s a vicious cycle of struggles and conflict,” Ma’oz said. There are no saints in the Middle East and certainly not on this issue. Everybody contributed to it.”

The collapse led to a reconciliation agreement between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Fatah which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

The accord angered the Israeli government, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization. Some Israeli officials have called for the operation in Gaza to continue until Hamas is destroyed.

Hamas invincible?

The head of East Jerusalem’s International Peace and Cooperation Center, Rami Nasrallah, it isn’t possible to destroy Hamas.

“I mean, we’re not talking about a gang of 10 or 200 people,” Nasrallah said. “We’re talking about a major social, political power within the Palestinian society, whether in Gaza or in the West Bank.”

He said the Israeli strikes in Gaza rather have strengthened support for Hamas among Palestinians and obliged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to express public support for the demands of Hamas.voa