Readers of the Hebrew newspapers on Friday are likely to encounter an unnerving sense of déjà vu: As yet another humanitarian truce is seemingly approved by all parties, yet another mortar shelling in southern Israel causes heavy Israel Defense Forces casualties (this morning it was cleared for publication that five IDF soldiers had been killed in the incident), and three additional troops slain in the Gaza Strip are laid to rest.
As the UN and US announcement of the 3-day ceasefire took place after midnight Thursday, only Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth catch it before going to print.
Israel Hayom reports “a dramatic development after midnight, but stresses that “as of sealing this edition, Israel refuses to address the notice [Israel later agrees]. Sources in Gaza confirmed there are developments, but noted that the Islamic Jihad is opposed to the proceedings.” It quotes an unnamed senior official in Cairo, who said the Palestinian and Hamas delegations will begin discussions for a longer-term deal Friday.
The administrator reported that the delegation is comprised of Hamas leaders both from Gaza and from abroad, and said that Cairo is in the midst of talking with Israel to ensure that Hamas officials will not be harmed as they cross the Rafah crossing en route to the talks.
Over in Yedioth, the paper reports that the 72-hour lull will likely be followed by a unilateral withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, once the tunnel demolitions are concluded.
Haaretz leads with the deadly shelling in the Eshkol Region: “This is the second time this week that a mortar in the area close to the border causes significant harm. This, once again, points to the problem of the concentration of large numbers of troops close to the Strip. The station areas, in fields, are a target for Hamas for mortar fire. Soldiers stationed in these areas in the past few days say that ‘we always knew that in these areas there is a danger of mortar shelling.’”
Similarly, in Israel Hayom, the paper’s Yoav Limor wonders if the high casualty rate is the result of army negligence.
Pointing to the incident as the second one this week, he writes: “Following the earlier incident, some of the station points were moved eastward, to remove people from the range of mortars. And yet, after the fighting is over, an in-depth probe will be needed” to determine whether the army acted correctly, given the sporadic mortar fire, he says.
Yedioth’s Yossi Yehoshua writes that although most soldiers were moved northward to avoid mortar fire, thousands of IDF soldiers continued to mill around the Gaza border, either after leaving combat in the Gaza Strip or preparing to enter.
Both Yedioth and Israel Hayom highlight the funerals of SSgt. Matan Gotlib, SSgt. Guy Algranati, and SSgt. Omer Hay on Thursday.
According to Israel Hayom, Ruhama Gotlib, Matan’s mother, said at the funeral: “You spread the love of life wherever you went. Only yesterday we realized what a friend you were, the entire street was full of your friends. It’s hard to speak about you in the past tense. Who thought we would reach this moment…? In Judaism we say, ‘God gives and God takes away.’ But if he gave, why [would he] take away? We didn’t agree it would be a short-term arrangement. I just want to hug you one more time.”
“He was supposed to bury me, not I him!” Algranati’s grandfather eulogizes his 20-year-old grandson.
Yedioth spotlights the three soldiers’ wounded commander, who went to all three funerals Thursday, strapped in a wheelchair, his arm bandaged. When he was injured last week in the Gaza Strip, his fellow soldiers report, it was Algranati who had carried him to the APC. “You told them [other soldiers] to move, because you won’t let him die. And you put him in yourself, and you refused to move until he was okay,” a friend says of Algranati.
The Israeli press also reports that the IDF is looking ahead to the day after the operation ends, when the criticism of its conduct will likely come pouring in.
Haaretz’s Amos Harel reports that the IDF anticipates an internal probe on its performance, which will center around two questions: how the tunnel threat was presented to the cabinet; and how aware were the Intelligence branches of the locations of the tunnels.
The paper points to the changing narrative — from Israel agreeing to a ceasefire before launching a ground offensive, to the gradual emphasis on the wide-scale tunnel network. The discrepancy points to a failure of Israeli intelligence, it reports.
Meanwhile, Israel Hayom reports that a government committee has been established to gather evidence supporting Israel’s actions and incriminating Hamas, ahead of an international probe spearheaded by the UN Human Rights Council — which is likely to come down hard on the Israeli actions and may file indictments against Israeli officials for “war crimes.”
The committee is headed by Brigadier General Nimrod Shefer, and has representatives from the Defense, Justice, and Foreign ministries, as well as from the Prime Minister’s Office. It reports that the evidence gathered will also be used for advocacy purposes to present the extent of Hamas’s use of civilian facilities and human shields.