Last Thursday night, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was still making connections in order to find a way to accomplish a cease-fire plan and end the Gaza bloodshed. He made more than 100 calls over the last 10 days, according to his aides. This is happening at the same time that US government is working to increase its military support to Israel.
Hamas agreed, as well as Israel: it was calm as all sides signed off on the plan for a 72-hour truce. Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the deal in the middle of the night Friday and issued a statement calling for a 3:30 am press conference to seal the deal before any party could back out.
What The Cease-Fire Meant?
This is an important question. According to what the media reports, that means: Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza can continue to destroy the tunnels, but only those that are behind their defensive lines and lead into Israel.
For Palestinians in Gaza: they will be able to get food, medicine and humanitarian assistance, bury their dead, treat the wounded, and travel to their homes. The time also will be used to make repairs to water and energy systems.
The Cease-Fire Broke Up; Hamas and Israel Blame Each Other!
It’s still unknown who is the responsible, but paying attention to the details makes things a little clearer.
Israel said that it shelled Rafah, a southern Gaza town, as troops searched for an officer, 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, who they believe was captured by Hamas in an ambush. This is what shattered the humanitarian cease-fire. Israel stated that his capture could give Hamas powerful new leverage in its effort to end the fighting on its terms.
Of course, Israel blamed Hamas for ‘killing or kidnapping’ of the officer, Goldin, who disappeared during the heavy battle for control of what believed to be an underground tunnel shaft that left two Israeli soldiers dead near Rafah, as the Israeli military said.
Israel said they have scientific evidence that Goldin was killed in action and his remains taken into Gaza by militants. Israel hasn’t released that evidence and they haven’t stated what that evidence is.
President Barack Obama also blamed Hamas for the quick breakdown of a U.S.-brokered cease-fire, calling for the Israeli soldier’s “unconditional release” and ignoring all the Israeli massacres against Palestinians. He 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,” Obama said.
At the same time, Obama called the issue of the mounting civilian casualties in Gaza “heartbreaking.”
Hamas’s Story is Different
The soldier’s alleged capture is still an unclear story despite it being reported by Israel.
Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan denied they had captured a soldier, while al-Qassam Brigades – Hamas military wing – announced it lost contact with a group of its fighters in the Rafah area. This is the same area where Goldin was reportedly taken. Al-Qassam Brigades posted a statement on the brigade’s website saying that all of the fighters were killed in an Israeli airstrike, including possibly the soldier that Israel claims was captured.
“We believe all members of this group have died in an (Israeli) strike, including the Zionist soldier the enemy says disappeared,” Hamas said.
The statement also added that Hamas is “not aware until this moment of a missing soldier or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance.”
“It’s clear that the capture of the soldier is an Israeli story; there’s nothing from the resistance saying there was a capture,” Osama Hamdan told CNN.
Israeli analysts claimed that Hamas could be hiding information about Goldin in order to extract concessions from Israel, a strategy used in the past by the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which did not disclose whether two Israeli soldiers it seized in 2006 were alive or dead until their remains were handed over in a prisoner exchange.
From the other side, bombing Rafah appeared to express what the IDF called the “Hannibal directive“, in which it responds to any capture of a soldier with heavy fire aimed at stopping the captors leaving the scene, even if it risks injury to the Israeli prisoner.
The Israeli Response Is Mass Violence
Israel suddenly started air and artillery strikes that leveled homes and killed at least 50-70 people in and around the city of Rafah, many women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry and as shown in gruesome photos published online.
Intense shelling on Gaza, as well as Rafah, was continuing until the moment of writing this report. The shelling is taking place while there is no electricity and not enough food / water resources in Gaza.
Later on August 2nd, Israel sent messages to Palestinians in northern Gaza saying that they could return home, but as the IDF tweeted, Palestinians don’t respond: they said they don’t trust IDF. While other Palestinian officials said that there had been a series of Israeli air strikes around Rafah since midnight, causing the death of 35 more people!
The ministry of health in Gaza called for immediate international assistance to evacuate thousands of civilians “trapped under heavy Israeli bombardment” in Rafah.
It said: “Some 5km between Salah al-Eddin street and al-Najar hospital is under intense and indiscriminate artillery fire, ambulances are unable to reach the wounded and thousands of civilians are trapped in their homes. We cannot reach the civilians to evacuate them, the wounded to provide medical care, or the dead to retrieve their bodies.”
Haaretz confirmed the story, saying that IDF soldiers followed Hamas members through the tunnel and Special Forces were sent to search the surrounding neighborhood, supported by heavy artillery and warplanes, which caused the high civilian casualties.
New Talks Expected, Looking for Future Cease-Fire
Israeli and Palestinian delegations (including members of Hamas) were in Cairo for talks moderated by the Egyptian government. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said last night his government’s truce plan provided a “real chance” to end the Gaza conflict, stressing the need for its speedy implementation.
It’s not clear which other nations will be attending the talks, and aides to Kerry said Egypt will ultimately decide who will participate.
Since Israel began Operation Protective Edge against Hamas on July 8, three civilians have been killed in Israel, while in Gaza, the number killed reached more than 1600 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 8,900 Palestinians have also been injured.