Dozens are killed in Gaza as cease-fire agreement falls apart (+video)
Israel and Hamas blame the other for the collapse of what was supposed to be a three-day humanitarian cease-fire leading up to talks in Egypt.
Both sides blame the other for the collapse of the agreement, brokered with help from the United States and the United Nations. Reuters reported that two hours into the cease-fire, Israeli troops fired on the Rafah area in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. An Israeli Army spokesman told the Associated Press that an exchange of fire had occurred in the area, but offered no other details.
The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying, “Once again, Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza have blatantly broken the cease-fire to which they committed, this time before the American Secretary of State and the U.N. Secretary General.”
The agreement was intended to give civilians a reprieve from weeks of heavy fire. Parties on both sides were then scheduled to meet for talks regarding a long-term plan for a cease-fire in Cairo, which has been engaged in trying to resolve the conflict. But, as the BBC notes, "the fate of the talks now seems unclear."
Israeli military officials have already said they are renewing their military engagement, warning people to stay indoors, according to the BBC. Mr. Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israeli forces would continue to destroy Hamas’s underground network of tunnels “with or without a cease-fire.”
Hours before the agreement was supposed to come into effect, the AP reported that 17 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting and Hamas fired 11 rockets into Israel.
During a brief window, Gaza residents were able to return to their homes to survey damage. The death toll in the conflict continues to rise, Reuters notes:
Gaza officials say at least 1,499 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and 7,000 wounded. Sixty-one Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than 400 hurt. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets in Israel.
As the Monitor reported, the path towards a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has become more difficult after four cease-fires in the past six years. Both sides are looking for concessions that will be difficult to negotiate.
Israel is hesitant to end the current "Operation Protective Edge" until it has neutralized Hamas as a military threat. Recent opinion polls indicate that the Israeli public overwhelmingly supports continued war in Gaza in order to achieve long-term "quiet" from rocket fire and tunnel incursions. In line with this thinking, a few Israeli government ministers have considered reoccupying the entire coastal strip.
On the other side, Hamas is wary of halting its fire before achieving any concessions. The Islamist organization is demanding at a minimum that its borders be opened to trade.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, accused both sides of war crimes, saying that firing rockets from densely populated areas was “a violation of international humanitarian law, therefore a war crime.”