Israel Accepts Cease-Fire to End Gaza Conflict

PHOTO: A Palestinian boy stands in the rubble of a destroyed house the day after an Israeli strike in the town of Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, July 9, 2014.
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Israel resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza on Tuesday and warned that Hamas "would pay the price" after the Islamic militant group rejected an Egyptian truce plan and instead unleashed more rocket barrages at the Jewish state, causing the first Israeli death in eight days of fighting.

In Gaza, 194 people were killed and more than 1,400 wounded so far, Palestinian health officials said, making it the deadliest confrontation between Israel and Hamas in just over five years.

The Egyptian proposal, initially accepted by Israel, had been the first attempt to end the fighting.

It unraveled in less than a day, a sign that it will be harder than before to reach a truce. Hamas does not consider Egypt's current rulers — who deposed a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo a year ago — to be fair brokers.

PHOTO: A map of Israel and its surrounding areas.
ABC News
PHOTO: A map of Israel and it's surrounding areas.

Violence is bound to escalate in coming days.

Hamas believes it has little to lose by continuing to fight, while a truce on unfavorable terms could further weaken its grip on the Gaza Strip, a territory it seized in 2007. Underscoring that position, Gaza militants fired more than 120 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel on Tuesday, during what Egypt had hoped would be a period of de-escalation.

A particularly heavy barrage came around dusk, with more than 40 rockets hitting Israel in just a few minutes, including one that fell on an empty school. TV footage showed children cowering behind a wall in Tel Aviv's main square as sirens went off. An Israeli man in his 30s was killed near the Gaza border when he was delivering food to soldiers — the first Israeli death.

Hamas' defiance prompted Israeli warnings. In an evening address aired live on TV, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that after Hamas' rejection of the truce, Israel had "no choice" but to respond more forcefully.

"Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision," he said. "When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire."

After holding its fire for six hours, the Israeli air force resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza, launching 33 strikes from midafternoon, the military said. In all, Israeli aircraft struck close to 1,700 times since July 8, while Gaza militants fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel.

Netanyahu said Israel would have liked to see a diplomatic solution, but would keep attacking until rocket fire stops and Hamas' military capabilities are diminished. The Israeli leader said he would "widen and increase" the campaign against Hamas, but it remains unclear if that will include a ground offensive.

Israel has warned it might send troops into Gaza and has massed thousands of soldiers on the border. However, entering Gaza would likely drive up casualties on both sides. Israel has hesitated in the past to embark on ground operations for fear of getting entangled in the densely populated territory of 1.7 million.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Israel has the right to defend itself, but that "no one wants to see a ground war."

"Our effort remains focused on seeing if we can return to a cease-fire," she said.

The current round has been the deadliest since a major Israeli military offensive in the winter of 2008-09. The previous outbreak of cross-border violence, in 2012, eventually ended with the help of Egypt, at the time seen as a trusted broker by Hamas.

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