Israel-Gaza conflict: Death toll rises as Israel 'pulls out of Egypt ceasefire talks'

Hadar Goldin went missing as forces tried to destroy a militant tunnel

Heather Saul
Saturday 02 August 2014 17:29 BST
Lt Hadar Goldin is said to be a cousin of the Defence Minister
Lt Hadar Goldin is said to be a cousin of the Defence Minister (EPA)

At least 55 people have been killed in a fresh wave of attacks on the southern Gaza town of Rafah as the search continued for an Israeli solider Israel believes may have been captured during an ambush as a three-day ceasefire collapsed.

Palestinian health officials say dozens were killed in the bombardment and shelling in and around the Rafah, while the area's main hospital was evacuated because of the strikes.

It is now being reported that Israel will not send a delegation to Cairo-hosted negotiations for a new truce, which a Palestinian delegation including Hamas officials was also due to attend.

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi had announced a ceasefire proposal on Saturday he believed would provide "a real chance to find a real solution to the crisis taking place in the Gaza Strip".

However, he warned lost time will further complicate matters.

Rockets were also reportedly fired into Israel on Saturday morning, a day after a ceasefire announced by the US Secretary of State and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon crumbled when fighting resumed. Israel and Hamas have accused each other of violating the truce.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military has now told Palestinians who had fled fighting in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya they can return to the area on Saturday, which houses some 70,000 residents.

The army believes solider Hadar Goldin, 23, went missing in the Rafah area when the Israeli military was attacked during a continued operation to destroy tunnels, just after the ceasefire began.

Two Israeli soldiers were also killed in the ambush, bringing the total number of Israeli soldiers who have died during the conflict to 63.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Hamas military wing said in a statement on its website it is "not aware until this moment of a missing soldier or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance."

The group said it believes the soldier might have been killed in a clash with Hamas fighters about an hour before the start of the 8.00am (0500 GMT) cease-fire.

"We believe all members of this group have died in an (Israeli) strike, including the Zionist soldier the enemy says disappeared," it said.

After Friday's ceasefire was shattered, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into special session and warned Hamas and other militant groups they would "bear the consequences of their actions".

President Barack Obama called for the unconditional release of Lt Goldin and gave a bleak outlook on the prospect of a durable ceasefire, saying: "I think it's going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if Israelis and the international community can't feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a ceasefire commitment."

He described the situation in Gaza as "heartbreaking".

Ahmad Al Kafarna, aged 7, cries on the remains of his home in Beit Hanun, the northern Gaza Strip, yesterday
Ahmad Al Kafarna, aged 7, cries on the remains of his home in Beit Hanun, the northern Gaza Strip, yesterday (EPA)

Elsewhere in Gaza, Palestinian officials reported more than 150 airstrikes including one against the Islamic University in Gaza City. The fiercest battles took place near the site of Friday's attack near Rafah, about 3 kilometers inside the strip and close to the borders with Israel and Egypt.

Israeli media said rockets had been fired on Saturday morning. It said at least two were shot down by its Iron Dome missile defence system.

Palestinian officials say more than 1,650 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 9,000 wounded. Israel says that alongside the deaths of 63 of its soldiers, two civilians and a Thai national have died and more than 400 have been injured.

Additional reporting by agencies

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