Israel to increase Gaza offensive as Hamas ends truce with deadly attack

‘Terrorists will bear the consequences of actions,’ says Netanyahu

Jerusalem

Israel’s security cabinet convened on Friday night amid expectations it will escalate military steps in Gaza against Hamas in response to an attack in which two soldiers were killed and a third was apparently captured in Rafah.

The capture is likely to mark a turning point in the more than three-weeks-old conflict, convincing Israeli decision makers that Hamas is not interested in a truce in the short term and that they should intensify military operations against it.

According to the UN, the attack came in violation of the humanitarian ceasefire that was supposed to be in effect on Friday morning. More than 50 Palestinians were reported to have been killed in Israeli shelling during the incident.

“Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip will bear the consequences of their actions,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, in a telephone call on Friday.

Mr Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to discuss whether Israel would still dispatch representatives to talks in Cairo aimed at forging a long-term ceasefire. But the mood in Israel was to focus on heightened military action against Hamas.

 

“You cannot talk and shoot at the same time. It doesn’t work and Israel shouldn’t agree to that,” said Yisrael Ziv, a former head of the Israeli army’s operations directorate.

Giora Eiland, Israel’s former national security adviser, told The Independent that Israel would “activate all its means in the Rafah area and won’t stop in a bid to reach the kidnapped soldier.”

“This wasn’t just a tactical incident that spoiled the ceasefire. It’s a message from the Hamas military leadership that they don’t want a ceasefire. So there won’t be a ceasefire in the coming days. If there is no ceasefire, Israel has to increase the pressure,” he said.

Israel’s leaders “have to assess whether to carry out deeper operations, for example in Gaza City,” he added. The aim would be to “get closer” to the Hamas military leadership and to further degrade Hamas’s rocket capability, he said.

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The apparent capture raises the prospect for Israelis of years of bargaining with Hamas to end in a lop-sided prisoner exchange. In 2006, Cpl Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid. Five years later, he was released in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom had been convicted of multiple murders. In 2000, Israeli businessman and reserve colonel, Elhanan Tanenbaum, was kidnapped and held for three years by Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Israel freed 435 prisoners in exchange for Mr Tanenbaum and the return of three killed soldiers’ corpses.

Far-right politicians have pressed for an all-out reoccupation of the Strip and the removal of Hamas. But Mr Netanyahu has been wary of high fatalities among soldiers, tensions with the international community and the prospect that whatever comes after Hamas could be worse.

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