Friday, August 1, 2014

Israel/Gaza: Tel Aviv Declares Cease-Fire Over as Hamas Kidnaps Israeli Officer, Soldiers Deaths

According to Reuters, Israel declared a Gaza ceasefire over on Friday (August 1), saying Hamas militants breached the truce soon after it took effect and apparently captured an Israeli officer while killing two soldiers.

Renewed Israeli shelling killed more than 70 Palestinians and wounded some 220, hospital officials said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into special session and publicly warned Hamas and other militant groups they would "bear the consequences of their actions."

The 72-hour break announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting, driven by mounting international alarm over a rising Palestinian civilian death toll.

US President Barack Obama called for the Israeli officer's unconditional release and said that after the day's events it would be tough to reinstate a truce. "I think it's going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if Israelis and the international community can't feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a ceasefire commitment," he told a news conference. 

COMMENT: Kerry said he had asked Qatar, which is close to Hamas, and Turkey to help free the soldier. Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied holding the officer. "We have urged them, implored them, to use their influence to do whatever they can to get that soldier returned," a senior US State Department official told reporters traveling with Kerry. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ban also condemned Hamas's reported violation of the ceasefire and demanded the release of the soldier.

A senior Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said the talks would still begin on Sunday (August 3), and that Cairo "expects the two sides to cease fire before the launch of negotiations."

The Israeli military said that 90 minutes into the truce, militants attacked soldiers searching for tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip used to infiltrate fighters into Israel.

Asked if the ceasefire was over, an Israeli official said: "Yes. We are continuing our activities on the ground." He said Israeli forces were mounting an "extensive effort" to locate the officer, Second-Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23.

PM Netanyahu spoke by telephone with Kerry and told him "the Palestinians had blatantly breached the humanitarian cease-fire" and attacked Israeli soldiers."Israel will take all necessary steps against those who call for its annihilation and terrorize its citizens," a statement from Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying.

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on July 8, unleashing air and naval bombardments in response to a surge of cross-border rocket attacks. Tanks and infantry pushed into the territory of 1.8 million people on July 17. Gaza officials say at least 1,555 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and 7,000 wounded. Sixty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than 400 hurt. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets in Israel.

Eight rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza at Israel after the cease-fire began on Friday.

US officials said Israel and the United States would not sit across the table from Hamas, which the two countries, along with the EU, considered a terrorist group assembled only to end Israel's existence.