Sunday, July 27, 2014

IDF Continues Murderous Reign: Cease-Fire in Gaza Breaks Down
Buildings leveled by the IDF in east Gaza on July 26, 2014.
Palestinian Death Toll Reaches More Than 1,000

Wall Street Journal
July 27, 2014 12:42 p.m. ET

A humanitarian truce that had given Gaza Strip residents a respite from nearly three weeks of fighting collapsed Sunday after militants there fired a barrage of rockets into Israel and Israeli forces resumed strikes.

The renewed fighting between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, came after a day of wrangling over terms for extending the 12-hour lull on Saturday that international diplomats had hoped could be expanded into a longer truce.

By mid-afternoon, militants had fired more than 40 rockets from Gaza, the Israeli military said. One killed an Israeli soldier near the border.

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the military to resume its assault on the densely populated Palestinian territory by land, air and sea. The army warned Gazans against returning to neighborhoods racked by fighting before the truce.

Israeli tanks and artillery pounded targets along the coastal enclave, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky. Four Palestinians were killed on Sunday, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The violence was a new setback for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who returned to Washington on Saturday after a week of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East failed to achieve a weeklong truce as a prelude to negotiations on the future of Gaza.

Israel rejected Mr. Kerry's draft proposal. Officials said it would have given Hamas much of what it wanted—including eased Israeli and Egyptian restrictions along Gaza's borders and a release of Palestinian prisoners—before addressing Israel's demands to demilitarize Gaza.

Few had expected Saturday's lull, brokered by the United Nations, to change the course of the conflict. Hamas leaders objected to the army's continued search for tunnels during the truce. Israel said its troops in Gaza uncovered and severed four tunnel shafts on Saturday. Israeli drones flew overhead.

More than 1,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched an aerial bombardment on July 8 and later sent ground troops in to halt Palestinian rocket fire and destroy cross-border tunnels used by militants to infiltrate. The Israeli military says it has killed 250 Palestinian fighters.

The Israeli soldier killed by rocket fire Sunday was the 43rd to die in the conflict. Three civilians in Israel have also been killed by rockets fired from Gaza.

Saturday's truce gave Gaza's 1.8 million people their first significant pause in the fighting. They lined up outside banks to withdraw cash and stock up on food and gifts for Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday at the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which falls in the coming days.

As the truce ended on Saturday evening, Israel offered to extend it through Sunday but Hamas resumed its rocket attacks. A Hamas spokesman, Samy Abu Zohry, said the group would no longer hold fire while Israeli troops remained in Gaza.

But around midday Sunday, with Gaza City under fierce shelling and artillery fire, the spokesman gave a different explanation. He said Hamas had initially rejected the terms of a truce extension because they lacked guarantees that Israel would permit safe passages of ambulances in Gaza to collect the wounded.

He said Hamas later got those assurances and was willing to restore the truce for 24 hours, starting at 2 p.m. Sunday. But the fighting didn't stop. Reporters in Gaza City saw three rockets fly out. Air raid sirens wailed in southern Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu said Israel's operations military operations would continue.

"They are violating their own cease-fire," he said in an interview on CNN. "Under these circumstances, Israel will do what it must do to defend its people."

Confusion over the cease-fire kept many of Gaza's 1.8 million people indoors on Sunday, though a few ventured out to shop for the holiday.

Umm Ahmed Ahmed was leaving a store after buying some new clothes for her son, a holiday tradition. Because of the conflict, she said she had initially planned to cancel a family celebration.

Then she said realized "Eid is the only day the children can celebrate, so I couldn't tell them no."

Down the street, Ali Rajeh, who was purchasing belts, said he had heard of the possible cease-fire on radio broadcasts, but had begun to ignore the back and forth.

"I don't care about the cease-fire," he said. "Look, there is a bombing down the street from here, and I'm still going outside."

Mr. Rajeh recalled the past Eid, when his family's neighborhood wasn't under attack but the long-standing economic blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt still made the holiday tense in Gaza.

His sentiments reflected those of many Palestinians interviewed in recent days, who said Hamas was fighting for guarantees that Gazans can gain freedom of movement in and out of the territory.

"We want a cease-fire, but not a temporary one that doesn't achieve our goals," he said.

Many Israelis say they support their army's offensive despite its biggest combat losses since a monthlong war against Hezbollah militias in Lebanon eight summers ago.

However on Saturday, thousands of Israelis demanding the army's withdrawal from Gaza staged the country's largest antiwar rally since the start of the conflict.

"In Israel and in Gaza, innocent people are dying after having been dragged into conflict by extremist governments in Israel and in Gaza,'' said Ifat Soleil, a speaker at the rally in Tel Aviv.

A few hundred feet away, behind a barrier mounted by riot police, people draped in Israeli flags cursed the peace activists and held signs saying "Let the Israel Defense Forces win.''

David Cohen, one of the counter-demonstrators, shouted: "How can you support someone who is killing you?"

—Tamer El-Ghobashy contributed reporting from Gaza City.

No comments: