Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu warned Saturday that Hamas will “pay an intolerable price” if it continues to fire rockets at Israel amid reports that the Israeli military was unilaterally withdrawing from some parts of Gaza.
Netanyahu suggested in his televised remarks that the Israeli military would reassess its Gaza operations once troops complete the demolition of the cross-border tunnels Hamas uses to stage attack in Israel.
"After the completion of our activity against the tunnels, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) will prepare to continue our activities according to security needs, and only according to our security needs, until we achieve the objective of returning security to the citizens of Israel," he said.
Hamas has said it will not halt fire unless both Israel and Egypt lift a seven-year-old border blockade of Gaza.
“We will continue to resist until we achieve our goals,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told AFP after Netanyahu’s speech, dismissing the Israeli leader’s remarks as "confused".
Earlier on Saturday, the Israeli army gave a first indication that it would be winding down operations in parts of Gaza, while continuing to bombard other areas on the eve of fresh truce talks in Cairo.
An Israeli official told The Associated Press that troops will remain in Gaza to wrap up the demolition of Hamas tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border, but that “not much more time” would be required.
Israeli media reported that 31 tunnels have been demolished and that the mission was close to complete.
The announcements came as Israel said it would not be sending a delegation to Cairo for a new round of Egypt-brokered peace talks planned for Sunday, with one minister saying there was "no point" trying to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas.
Speaking to Israel’s Channel 10 television station, Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Hamas had repeatedly violated previous ceasefire deals and that this “leads us to the conclusion that, with this organisation, there is no point speaking” about any new deal.
“We are currently not sending any representative to Cairo because we agreed to several ceasefires and the Egyptian proposal time after time, and the last time was yesterday,” Steinitz said, referring to a 72-hour truce that was to start early on Friday but which deteriorated within hours.
The United Nations and US officials also blamed Hamas for breaking the internationally brokered truce.
Earlier on Saturday, the military told Palestinian residents of the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya that it was safe to return to their homes. The area, one from which Gaza militants has fired rockets into Israel in the past, came under heavy tank fire during Israel’s ground operation, forcing thousands of residents to flee.
The Israeli official said the army announcement concerning Beit Lahiya is “a signal that things are pretty much being wrapped up”. Israeli troops and tanks have started a gradual redeployment away from the area east of the south-central Gaza town of Khan Younis to the border with Israel, residents and police officials there said.
Commenting on reports that Israel is scaling down its Gaza operations, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a text message that “a unilateral withdrawal by the occupation imposes no obligation on us and the resistance factions”.
"They (Hamas) cannot be trusted to keep their word," Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel's Channel Two television earlier on Saturday. "They cannot stop because, for them, a ceasefire at this stage – whether by arrangement or not by arrangement – would mean acknowledging the worst possible defeat."
Journalist Ashraf Khalil tells FRANCE 24 that Hamas will likely be unwilling to agree to a prolonged ceasefire without progress on its stated demands, namely the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades.
"Hamas has stated multiple times that they're not going to stop firing unless they get something concrete from the Israelis and from the Egyptians that changes the nature of daily life in Gaza," Khalil said.
A senior Egyptian foreign ministry official said the talks would begin on Sunday nevertheless, and that Cairo “expects the two sides to cease fire before the launch of negotiations”.
Search for missing soldier
A partial Israeli troop withdrawal would allow Israel to leave on its own terms, rather than becoming entangled in negotiations with Hamas over new border arrangements for Gaza.
Since the Gaza conflict began on July 8 more than 1,712 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and more than 9,000 wounded, according to Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Israel has lost 63 soldiers and three civilians, its highest death toll since the 2006 Lebanon war. Hundreds of other Israeli soldiers have been wounded.
News of the reduction in Israeli military operations in Gaza came as troops continued their search for infantry 2nd Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, who the military has said it believes was abducted in a Hamas ambush about an hour after Friday’s ceasefire was scheduled to take effect.
The soldier’s alleged capture has prompted widespread international condemnation, with US President Barack Obama, UN chief Ban Ki-moon and others accusing Hamas of violating the ceasefire and calling for the soldier’s immediate and unconditional release.
The Hamas military wing said on its website that it is “not aware until this moment of a missing soldier or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance”.
Elsewhere in Gaza, Palestinian officials on Saturday reported more than 150 Israeli airstrikes. The Israeli military said it had struck 200 targets over the previous 24 hours.
Israel said it attacked five mosques that concealed weapons and that the Islamic University was being used as a research and weapons manufacturing site for Hamas.
Gaza militants, meanwhile, have fired 74 rockets at Israel since midnight, according to the Israeli military. Seven of them were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome rocket-defense system, it said.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-08-02