The death toll from Israel’s attack on the Gaza Strip has more than doubled in 24 hours as the besieged territory comes under relentless bombing. At least 44 Gaza residents have been killed in the past day, bringing the total this week to around 80. The Palestinian news agency Maan reports the dead include 18 children and 10 women. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says more than 600 people have been wounded. In the deadliest single attack since the offensive began, at least seven Palestinian civilians, including five children, were killed when Israeli warplanes bombed several homes in a densely populated area where the victims were sleeping. Bodies were pulled from the rubble of at least three homes and neighboring buildings.
A Palestinian journalist was killed in central Gaza after his car was bombed. Video footage shows it had been marked as a media vehicle. The Israeli military says it has dropped 800 tonnes of bombs on 750 targets throughout Gaza, more than during its eight-day assault in late 2012. Hospitals in Gaza have been overwhelmed with victims and are running low on basic supplies. Egypt has opened up the Rafah border crossing to evacuate some of the wounded.
Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into Israel, with more than 60 launched on Wednesday, bringing the total to more than 200 this week. Thousands of Israelis have taken refuge in shelters. No casualties or significant damage has been reported.
On Wednesday, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal offered a ceasefire based on four conditions: an end to the Israeli offensive, a return to the November 2012 ceasefire terms which included an easing of the Gaza seige, the release of prisoners initially freed under a prisoner swap but recently re-arrested in Israeli raids, and Israeli respect for the Palestinian unity government. Israeli officials have rejected Meshaal’s terms and vowed to continue the attack. Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz suggested a looming ground invasion, saying Israel "will have to take over Gaza temporarily, for a few weeks." Speaking in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for rocket attacks on Israel and for the civilian deaths resulting from Israeli strikes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Today we expanded our operations against Hamas and the other terrorist groups in Gaza. We’ll continue to protect our civilians against Hamas attacks on them. Now, Hamas, by contrast, is deliberately putting Palestinian civilians into harm’s way. It embeds its terrorists in hospitals and schools and mosques, apartment buildings throughout the Gaza Strip. Hamas is thus committing a double war crime: It targets Israeli civilians, while hiding behind Palestinian civilians."
The Israeli Cabinet has authorized the option of calling up some 40,000 reservists for a potential ground assault. In a show of protest against their government, a small group of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv to oppose the Gaza bombings.
Hilleli, Women of Peace: "We believe that this cycle of violence must be ended, and it’s definitely not going to be ended by more violence and by more bombs on Gaza, and it’s not going to help the people in the south and neither the people in Tel Aviv that have been subject to missiles in the past few days."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called Israel’s attack on Gaza an act of genocide, accusing the Netanyahu government of a "war against the Palestinian people as a whole … defending [its West Bank] settlements." In Washington, the PA’s chief envoy to the United States urged President Obama to use American leverage over Israel to stop the attack.
Maen Rashid Areikat, chief PLO envoy to Israel: "I would like to say to President Obama that there is no — you cannot equate between an occupied people and an occupier. And the rising death toll on the Palestinian side tells clearly who is the party that is suffering the most from this violence. ... I think the United States should rein in Israel. They are the only country that can rein in Israel, because they are the country that provides the political, military, economic and financial support for Israel, and without that support, Israel cannot escape being accountable for their actions."
As the Palestinian Authority pleaded for U.S. help, the Obama administration offered continued support for the Israeli strikes. At a news conference in Washington, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States wants "de-escalation," but added that it backs the offensive and blames Hamas for the violence.
Jen Psaki: "As you know, we’re encouraging all sides to de-escalate the situation on the ground. But again, Israel has every right to defend themselves and take steps to defend themselves. And as we know, the aggression is currently coming from Hamas in Gaza."
During the news conference, Psaki repeatedly refused to answer a question on "whether Palestinians have the right to defend themselves." The Obama administration appears to have decided on a position of backing the Israeli strikes, but cautioning against a ground invasion. In a phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly said the United States hopes to see Israel stop the rocket fire without sending troops into Gaza.
Palestinian solidarity rallies have been held around the world in recent days. In New York City, thousands of people protested in front of the Israeli Mission to the United Nations before marching through the streets.
Protester: "We hope to change public opinion so that they understand that Palestinians are not terrorists, that they are defending themselves. It’s an unfair situation that they’re going through. They’re living under occupation. They have no human rights. They have no rights to anything that we enjoy here as Americans."
Muhammed Chaudhry: "At least we’ve got to take the first step, though, a ceasefire, no more violence, no more killing of the innocent, from both parties."
President Obama is urging Republicans to back his funding request for the migrant crisis on the Mexico border. Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to speed up deportations and improve care for tens of thousands of detained children. On Wednesday, Obama met with Republican Gov. Rick Perry during a fundraising trip to Texas. Obama repeated his plea that Central American parents not send their children to the border, and called on Republicans to approve the funding.
President Obama: "While we intend to do the right thing by these children, their parents need to know that this is an incredibly dangerous situation and it is unlikely that their children will be able to stay. And I’ve asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm’s way in this fashion. Congress has the capacity to work with all parties concerned to directly address this situation. They’ve said they want to see a solution. The supplemental offers them the capacity to vote immediately to get it done."
More than 52,000 unaccompanied children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America have been seized since October. The United Nations has called on the United States to consider treating them as refugees following a report finding close to 60 percent of those detained could be entitled to refugee protections under international law.
U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan have killed at least six people. The attack hit a compound and a vehicle in a village in the North Waziristan tribal region. It is the fourth U.S. drone strike in Pakistan since the Obama administration ended a six-month pause last month.
The White House has ordered a review of all intelligence training documents after leaks from Edward Snowden uncovered racial bias. The news website The Intercept has revealed the National Security Agency spied on five innocent Americans apparently due to their Muslim background and ties to Muslim causes or individuals. The report also reveals language in an NSA training manual that lists the generic name for a potential target as "Mohammed Raghead." That’s in place of the common term used for generic names, "John Doe." In a letter to the White House, several dozen rights groups voiced concern about a pattern of "discriminatory and abusive surveillance," and urged "strengthened protections against the infringement of civil liberties and human rights." We’ll have more on this story later in the broadcast.
Germany is investigating a new suspect on allegations of spying for the U.S. just days after the arrest of an intelligence official on similar charges. The German government says it is probing claims an official in the Defense Ministry spied for the United States. The first suspect, detained last week, reportedly admitted to passing on documents to a U.S. contact. The alleged espionage is said to entail a U.S. effort to monitor a German parliamentary probe of the initial revelations of National Security Agency spying in Germany exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Reports based on Snowden’s leaks revealed vast NSA operations in Germany, including the bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
At least six people have been killed in a shooting near Houston, Texas. Four of the dead were children, along with two adults. Another adult was left critically wounded. The suspect was detained after a standoff with police. The killings reportedly resulted from a domestic dispute. Meanwhile in Chicago, the death toll from shootings over the July 4 holiday weekend has reached 14. Two of the victims were killed by police.
A district court judge has struck down Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying it violates due process and equal protection guarantees under the Constitution. It is the 16th time a U.S. court has ruled against a state gay marriage ban since last year’s Supreme Court decision ordering federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The ruling has been stayed pending an appeal. Utah, meanwhile, has appealed a decision striking down the state’s gay marriage ban to the Supreme Court. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a lower court ruling that the ban is unconstitutional. Utah is skipping an appeal to the 10th Circuit in favor of going directly to the Supreme Court. More than 1,000 LGBT couples tied the knot in December during a brief window when a district court struck down Utah’s ban.
Dozens of independent truck drivers have gone on strike this week at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The workers are protesting three large firms for classifying them as independent contractors instead of as employees. Workers say this has allowed the companies to impose long hours for low pay, dock paychecks for expenses, and avoid offering workplace protections. The two ports handle nearly half of all U.S. cargo. The workers have vowed to stay off the job for as long as it takes, making it one of the few open-ended U.S. strikes in recent years. On Wednesday, the guitarist Tom Morello of the group Rage Against the Machine joined the striking workers on the picket line to perform a few songs.