28 July 2014

Israel Restarts Gaza Strip Offensive

July 27, 2014

Ending Cease-Fire, Israel Resumes Gaza Offensive

Isabel Kershner

New York Times
Israeli soldiers leaving Gaza near the Israel-Gaza border on Sunday. Credit Uriel Sinai for The New York Times

JERUSALEM — Soon after barrages of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Sunday morning, the Israeli military announced that a humanitarian lull in its Gaza offensive, which was meant to last through midnight, was over.

The military said in a statement shortly after 10 a.m. that it was resuming its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip “following Hamas’s incessant rocket fire throughout the humanitarian window.” Some Israeli politicians began talking of the possibility of escalating the Israeli offensive against Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups, now in its 20th day, as intense international efforts over the weekend to press for an immediate, broader cease-fire appeared to have failed.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said that 25 rockets and mortar shells had been fired into Israel since 8 p.m. on Saturday, when an initial 12-hour cease-fire ended. Israel said it would hold its fire for an additional four hours while its cabinet met on Saturday night, then announced that, at the request of the United Nations, it would extend the lull for 24 hours. But Israel responded to some of the fire overnight with artillery fire toward Rafah, in southern Gaza, Colonel Lerner said.

The Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement that the Israeli military was aiming to hit “terrorist” targets and that “if civilians are hurt unintentionally, Hamas will be responsible for that, after once more violating a proposal for a humanitarian lull that Israel agreed to.”

After listing previous violations of temporary cease-fires over the past few days, the statement accused Hamas of “making cynical use of Gaza’s civilians in order to use them as a human shield.”

The United Nations, it added, had requested an extension of the cease-fire to allow Gaza’s residents to prepare for the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza and is leading the fighting against Israel, rejected the extension of the temporary truce on Saturday night, saying that any cease-fire that did not secure the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip and allow residents to go back to their homes was unacceptable. Israel had said that it would maintain defensive positions in Gaza during the lull and continue to operate against Hamas’s underground tunnel network, which has been used by militants to infiltrate Israeli territory.

An Israeli reserve soldier was killed overnight by mortar fire from Gaza as he waited in a staging area along Israel’s border with Gaza, according to the military, bringing the total of Israeli soldiers killed since the beginning of the campaign on July 8 to 43. More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the health ministry in Gaza and monitoring groups.

Seven rockets were fired into Israel on Sunday morning. Two were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile defense system and five fell in open ground, causing no injury or damage, according to the police.

Shaul Mofaz, a centrist member of the Israeli Parliament and a former military chief of staff and defense minister, told Ynet, a leading Hebrew news site, on Sunday that Israel had enough troops inside Gaza and stationed along the border to take the ground operation to “the next stage” and recommended “exacting a direct price from Hamas’s leadership.”

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