Saturday, August 2, 2014

Israel/Gaza: Abducted Israeli Lt. Presumed Killed, Tel Aviv Continues with Tunnel Sabotage

According to Reuters, Israel signaled it was winding down the 25-day-old Israeli-Gaza war unilaterally, saying on Saturday (August 2) it would not attend Egyptian-hosted negotiations for a new truce, availing Palestinians who had fled fighting in one northern town the all-clear to return.

Shelling exchanges continued, with Palestinian officials saying Gaza's mostly civilian death toll rose to 1,669 and Israel saying its Iron Dome interceptor shot down rockets launched at the cities of Tel Aviv and Beersheba. 

Several ceasefires between Israel and the Gaza Strip's dominant Islamist Hamas faction had failed to take hold or quickly collapsed, most recently on Friday (August 1) after two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third went missing in an ambush. 

Israel accused Hamas of kidnapping Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and the United States blamed the group for a "barbaric" breach of the truce. The United Nations was more measured in its censure of Hamas, but urged Goldin's immediate release.

A Palestinian delegation was to fly to Cairo for new truce negotiations, which would include Hamas' demand that Egypt ease movement across its border with blockaded Gaza. Yet, Israel said it would not send its own envoys as scheduled on Saturday.

COMMENT: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel's Channel 2 television: "I believe this is the point at which the ground maneuvers should be brought to an end. Hamas can be hit as much as will be required in response to firing that, I expect, will persist."

With US backing, Israel had said that with or without a truce its forces would pursue their main mission of hunting tunnels used by Hamas for several cross-border attacks. More than 30 of these, and dozens of access shafts, have already been unearthed and were being blown up, the Israeli military said.

After Friday's ceasefire was shattered by Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into special session to discuss Goldin's suspected capture in the southern town of Rafah, and warned Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas would "bear the consequences of their actions."

Israel has confirmed that 63 soldiers have died in combat. Palestinian shelling has also killed three civilians in Israel.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi cast Cairo's truce efforts as worth pursuing.