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By Batsheva Sobelman, Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM — A short humanitarian cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that began Thursday morning as both sides accepted a United Nations request to hold their fire for a five-hour window has ended.

The cessation in firing ended after less than three hours when Hamas fired three mortars into Israel, hitting the town of Eshkol, Israel Defense Forces said via Twitter. Israel also responded with mortar fire to an explosion that injured a soldier near the southern Gaza strip.

As the originally scheduled five-hour cease-fire elapsed at 3 p.m. local time, air sirens sounded in the southern Israel town of Ashkalon to warn residents of incoming rockets or mortars from Gaza.

The initial pause in fighting that began at 10 a.m., aimed at allowing Gazans to stock up on provisions and reach hospitals for treatment, offered a brief break in the military offensive that has killed at least 220 Palestinians and one Israeli in 10 days.

In Gaza, massive lines formed at banks and ATMs, which opened for the first time in two weeks, and crowds swarmed markets to buy food. Authorities also scrambled to perform repairs on water and other infrastructure devastated by Israeli bombing.

The agreement was reached following the deaths of four children killed while playing on a Gaza beach Wednesday in an airstrike Israel’s military said was intended for a Hamas target.

Efforts to reach an extended ceasefire were underway in Egypt, where mediators were set to shuttle positions back and forth between delegations from Israel and Hamas in separate sections of a Cairo hotel, local media reported.

Hamas, which controls the isolated coastal enclave, was said to consider a lasting cease-fire if Egypt opens the Rafah border crossing permanently and Israel opens access to Gaza by sea, among other conditions.

Highlighting the fragility of the temporary cease-fire, Israel’s military said it thwarted what would have been a major attack inside Israel early Thursday. According to army officials, 13 militants were intercepted coming out of a tunnel about 275 yards into Israeli territory and just over a mile away from a kibbutz, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and an arsenal of others weapons.

Israel attacked the group from the air, killing several militants and apparently sending others on retreat back into Gaza through the extensive tunnel. Residents of three Israeli communities nearby were called to stay indoors while the army combed the area for possible infiltrators.

Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam brigades, claimed responsibility for the attempted infiltration and said “special forces penetrated past enemy lines.” The group claimed, however, that the “mission was completed” and their forces retreated unharmed.

The attack could have had “devastating and deadly consequences for Israel,” said Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, who added that the incident would not immediately impact the humanitarian cease-fire.

Rocket fire continued right up to the planned break in fire, with several volleys launched at Israel sounding air-raid sirens throughout a wide range of cities. Israel’s military cautioned late Wednesday that it would respond “firmly and decisively” to fire from Gaza during the cease-fire window.

Israels claim to have prevented a ground attack by militants underscores Israel’s concern about the multiple tunnels believed to reach into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip.

In a similar cross-border attack in 2006, militants emerged from a tunnel near an Israeli military post at Kerem Shalom, killed one soldier and abducted another one, Gilad Shalit, who was held captive in Gaza for five years before being released in exchange for more than 1,000 Hamas prisoners freed from Israeli prisons.

Among Hamas reported demands for a permanent end to the current fighting, is the release of more than 50 of those prisoners, arrested again by Israel in the West Bank during a crackdown on Hamas following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers last month. Israeli authorities say the suspects violated the terms of their release by returning to hostile activity.

The exchange of Israeli airstrikes and rockets from Gaza is the third round of sustained fighting between Israel and Hamas in five years.

In related news, indictments were served Thursday against three Israelis for the killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian teenager from Jerusalem, that was part of the catalyst for the current round of fighting between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip. A 29-year-old and two minors, whose names were not made public, were charged in a Jerusalem court with abduction, murder and attempted kidnapping.

Abu Khdeir was abducted, beaten, and burned to death in revenge for the killing of three Israelis killed in the West Bank last month. Israel’s attorney general denounced the crime as a shocking case of racism and cruelty, according to local media reports.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

AFP Photo / Thomas Coex

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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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