The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Wednesday, August 27, the first day since an open-ended truce was agreed by Israel and Hamas. (Thursday’s liveblog is here.)

You can also follow @TOIAlerts on Twitter — we’re live-tweeting all the updates there as well.

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Day 51 of the Israel-Hamas conflict

PREAMBLE: An open-ended Israel-Hamas truce took effect soon after 7 o’clock on Tuesday night, after a final assault by Hamas on southern Israel saw two Israelis killed by mortar fire.

Hamas hailed victory in the conflict, and Hamas TV showed celebrations in the streets of Gaza. There were few signs of joy in Israel, where security cabinet ministers Avigdor Liberman, Naftali Bennett and Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and possibly Gilad Erdan, might have voted against the deal had they been given the opportunity to do so. They were not; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu merely informed them of the deal. Bennett said later he recognized that there was no legal obligation for a vote.

Now we wait to see whether the truce holds, to have the details of the terms confirmed, and to see if subsequent negotiations ensure the sustained quiet and security that Netanyahu set as the goals for this conflict.

Unconfirmed main points of Gaza truce deal

Israel and Hamas accepted an Egyptian proposal for an open-ended truce in war-torn Gaza on Tuesday in a move to end 50 days of bloodshed.

Here are the main points of the Egyptian proposal as explained by Azzam al-Ahmad, lead Palestinian negotiator, in the truce talks, according to AFP. These terms are not confirmed.

Border crossings

The agreement provides for an immediate easing of restrictions on the two main crossings between Israel and Gaza to allow in aid and reconstruction supplies.

The move would facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid and food as well as medical supplies and materials to repair key infrastructure including the water network, the electricity grid and mobile phone networks.

Palestinian fishermen arrive back from fishing in the port of Gaza City on August 5, 2014, after a 72-hour truce agreed by Israel and Hamas went into effect. (photo credit: AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

Palestinian fishermen arrive back from fishing in the port of Gaza City on August 5, 2014, after a 72-hour truce agreed by Israel and Hamas went into effect. (photo credit: AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

Fishing limits

Restrictions imposed on Gaza fishermen are to be relaxed, with an immediate extension of the fishing zone to six nautical miles from the shore, to be extended later to 12 miles.

Prisoners

The Egyptian proposal foresees discussion of a number of as yet unresolved issues, including a future prisoner swap deal.

Such an arrangement would involve the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in exchange for militants handing over the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the fighting.

Hamas wants hundreds of prisoners released, among them those arrested in a major Israeli arrest campaign in the West Bank in June and around 60 who were released in a 2011 prisoner swap deal then re-arrested.

Gaza airport and seaport

A key Hamas demand for the reopening of Gaza’s airport and its seaport will be discussed in negotiations which will take place in Cairo within the next month.

Blockade and demilitarization

The deal provides for a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on Gaza, which was imposed in 2006 and tightened a year later amid attacks from the coastal enclave.

There are no specific details on issues such as restriction of construction materials which could be used for terrorist purposes or a resumption of exports to the West Bank and overseas.

Israel has linked the lifting of the blockade and the reconstruction of Gaza to the disarming of terrorist groups in a demand flatly refused by the Palestinians.

— AFP

UN chief welcomes Gaza ceasefire, calls for PA control of Strip

The United Nations secretary-general welcomed the open-ended ceasefire reached by Israel and Hamas in Gaza but warned Tuesday evening that “any peace effort that does not tackle the root causes of the crisis will do little more than set the stage for the next cycle of violence.”

The statement by the spokesman for Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday said Gaza “must be brought back under one legitimate Palestinian Government,” that the blockade of Gaza must stop and that Israel’s security concerns must be addressed.

It added: “After 50 days of profound human suffering and devastating physical destruction, any violations of the cease-fire would be utterly irresponsible.”

The UN statement stressed that a political process that leads to two states is the only way to reach lasting peace in Gaza.

– AP

Nirim security chief killed in mortar strike

One of the two Israelis killed in the mortar strike on Kibbutz Nirim in the Eshkol Regional Council on Tuesday, just before the truce took effect, has been identified – 55-year-old Ze’ev Etzion, the security chief for the kibbutz.

Israel Radio reported that he was also a volunteer ambulance driver for Magen David Adom.

Another Israeli died on his way to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. A man who was seriously injured was operated on and is currently in intensive care.

They were fixing electric problems caused by another mortar strike.

The deaths bring the Israeli toll in Operation Protective Edge to 70 — 64 soldiers and six civilians.

Kibbutz Nirim security chief Zeev Etzion (screen capture: Channel 2)

Kibbutz Nirim security chief Zeev Etzion (screen capture: Channel 2)

Blair lauds Gaza ceasefire agreement

Quartet representative to the Middle East Tony Blair welcomed the deal late Tuesday and congratulated Egypt on mediating the negotiations successfully.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Middle East Quartet Envoy Tony Blair (L) on June 17, 2014 (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) with Middle East Quartet Envoy Tony Blair (L) on June 17, 2014 (photo credit: Youtube screenshot)

“The Quartet will now concentrate on a long-term plan for Gaza and for its reconstruction, including the effective and efficient re-opening and re-connection to the outside world under the authority of the PA Government,” he said. “Such a plan will enable a proper and decent life for the people of Gaza, as well as protect the security of the people of Israel.”

“It is only tragic that such a ceasefire has come too late to save the lives of so many innocent people.”

Second Nirim fatality named

Shahar Melamed, a 43-year-old father of 3, is the second Kibbutz Nirim resident killed in Tuesday’s mortar attack an hour before the ceasefire comes into effect.

Kerry says hopes Gaza ceasefire leads to ‘enduring end to conflict’

US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote on Twitter in reaction to the ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel. “Good outcome on cease-fire agreement,” Kerry said in telegraphic prose. “hope durable and sustainable/end rocket attacks/help enduring end to Gaza conflict.”

Head of Eshkol Regional Council tells residents to stay away

Haim Jelin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, instructs residents not to return until it is clear that the ceasefire is for real, Israel Radion reports.

Jelin tells Channel 10 that if the rocket fire continues, he will ask government ministers to come to the region with their families, and decide on their next steps in rocket range. “It’s easy to make decisions from the bunkers, as Hamas does.”

Horovitz on those Hamas victory celebrations

ToI’s editor David Horovitz posts an op-ed on the truce deal, writing: “The final word on this conflict is still far from being written. If this round is over, then the focus now shifts to the specifics of the long-term ceasefire arrangements, as military action gives way to diplomacy.

“And if, under a long-term deal, Hamas is able to replicate Hezbollah’s strategy in Lebanon — to retain full or significant control of Gaza, to re-arm, to build a still more potent killing mechanism — then its claims of victory, appallingly, will be justified.

A Palestinian boy flashes the sign of victory as people gather in the streets of Rafah to celebrate after a deal was reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting, Tuesday, August 26, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/SAID KHATIB)

A Palestinian boy flashes the sign of victory as people gather in the streets of Rafah to celebrate after a deal was reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting, Tuesday, August 26, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/SAID KHATIB)

“Only if a long-term mechanism can be fashioned that denies Hamas the capacity to fight and kill another day will the Israeli leadership be justified in asserting that its goal — ensuring sustained calm and security for the people of Israel — has been met… But it is extremely hard to imagine how such an effective supervisory mechanism could be constructed…

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s popularity has nosedived in recent weeks as the war has continued, as the rockets have pounded on, and as residents of the south have learned to their bloody cost that the political and military leadership were wrong in assuring them three weeks ago that it was safe for them to return to their homes. Support for Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict will rise again if time, and the long-term ceasefire terms, prove that Hamas has been marginalized and de-fanged. Many Israelis, indeed, will come to hail him for not having ordered a far more extensive ground offensive into the treacherous heart of Gaza, where Hamas lay in wait, with the consequent likely loss of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of soldiers’ lives.

“But if Hamas is not marginalized, if it proves capable of rebuilding its tunnels, restocking its rocket arsenals, and plotting new strategies toward its goal of Israel’s annihilation, the Israeli strategy for handling this conflict will have been a failure, and the popularity of the prime minister will be far from the most central of Israel’s concerns.”

– Read the full piece here.

More from Kerry on the US role post-truce

In a statement, Secretary Kerry says that the US and the international committee are “fully committed” to an acceleration of “the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza must be accelerated.”

John Kerry speaking on June 19. (photo credit: US State Department)

John Kerry speaking on June 19. (photo credit: US State Department)

He also says that the US and its partners “are prepared to work on a major reconstruction initiative, with appropriate measures in place to ensure that this is for the benefit of the civilian population in Gaza, not Hamas and other terrorist organizations.”

Kerry emphasizes that the US will “coordinate closely” with the Palestinian Authority in its recovery efforts.

– Here’s ToI’s Rebecca Shimoni Stoil from Washington.

‘New Israeli alliances allow it to defy US’ — Indyk

In an interview with Foreign Policy, former US special envoy for the peace process Martin Indyk says that Israel feels it is less dependent on the US because of new alliances with other countries.

“I think that something’s changing on the Israeli side too that all the things that you mentioned reflect, which is that Israel is not anymore the weak and small and dependent state that for so long characterized its position in its relationship with the United States.

“Now it has a strong army. It has a strong economy. And it has developed relations with world powers that it didn’t have before.
Few people noticed that the Indian government came out in support of Israel in this war; social media in China was pro-Israel. It has developed strategic relations with both countries, and with Russia as well, that led Israel to absent itself from the vote of the UN General Assembly condemning Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Special Envoy Martin Indyk.  (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Special Envoy Martin Indyk. (photo credit: AP/Charles Dharapak)

“I think there’s a sense in Israel, particularly on the right, that they can afford to be defiant of the United States. Israelis also sense a potential for a new alignment with Gulf Arab states that didn’t exist before that is generated by their common interest in curbing Iran’s nuclear program and countering Iran’s efforts to dominate the region, opposing if not overthrowing Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and combating Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, with its stepchild Hamas in Gaza. Israel shares this array of enemies with the Sunni Arab monarchs and the Abdel Fattah al-Sisi regime in Egypt. You can see it in this Gaza crisis quite clearly, where the Saudis and the Egyptians in particular wanted Israel to take down Hamas.”

“I saw this once before, before the 1973 war, when Israelis felt they were the superpower in the region and so didn’t have to worry about support from the United States. And it turned on a dime once Egypt and Syria attacked Israel by surprise on Yom Kippur in 1973, and suddenly Israel found itself totally dependent on the United States. So it may be that the bubble of illusion will burst here too and Israeli politicians on the right will come to understand that for all their bravado, the United States is not just Israel’s most important friend but in a real crunch its only reliable friend.”

Truce holding through early morning

After Israel and Hamas agree to an open-ended truce, no rockets or mortars fall on Israel through the wee hours of the morning Wednesday.

‘Israelis do not believe in Hamas truces’

Likud MK Miri Regev says that Israelis do not have faith in the ceasefire.

“Unfortunately, the citizens of the State of Israel do not believe in ceasefires with Hamas, because every time there is a truce it is violated by Hamas, and our soldiers and civilians are wounded,” she writes on her Facebook page.

“I believe that these ceasefires help Hamas stock up and refresh its fighters.”

“If the ceasefire is serious, Israel must demand in any arrangement the demilitarization of the Strip, out of an obligation to protect its citizens.

Likud MK Miri Regev (photo credit:  Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

Likud MK Miri Regev (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

 

Israeli firm thinks it has answer to Gaza tunnels

Something that looks like a can of soda could be Israel’s high-tech answer to the network of tunnels that Hamas has created under the Gaza border.

A sensor known as a geophone can detect underground movement based on the sound generated by the movement, the Israeli defense firm manufacturing the device says. The firm, Elpam Electronics, says the geophone is capable of finding the location of a person crawling as far down as 32 feet.

Israel has grappled with the danger of the Gaza tunnels for years, but the threat has gained greater urgency in the wake of Protective Edge, the military operation launched last month. A ground invasion of Gaza that started five weeks ago had the stated aim of neutralizing the tunnels, 32 of which were subsequently destroyed, according to the Israeli military.

An updated version of this system aimed at locating people trapped in the rubble of downed buildings could help Israel detect subterranean tunnels from Gaza. (photo credit:  JTA/Ben Sales)

An updated version of this system aimed at locating people trapped in the rubble of downed buildings could help Israel detect subterranean tunnels from Gaza. (photo credit: JTA/Ben Sales)

Now the mission is continuing in the research labs of Israeli defense firms. Both Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and, according to several Israeli reports, Elbit Systems are at work on systems to detect tunnels. Neither company would comment on their research.

But Elpam agreed to provide Ben Sales with a look at the technology it’s been working on for decades and is now adapting to address the current threat. Read the full story here.

10 hours in, no rockets during truce

US envoy Powers says America ‘fully committed’ to Gaza aid

America’s UN ambassador Samantha Power tweets, “Must begin delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid as soon as calm is restored in #Gaza. US fully committed to supporting this effort.”

Kidnapped US journalist reaches America

Journalist Peter Theo Curtis returns to the United States on Tuesday, two days after he was released by an Islamist rebel group in Syria, US media reports say.

“I have been so touched and moved, beyond all words, by the people who have come up to me today — strangers on the airplane, the flight attendants and, most of all, my family — to say welcome home,” Curtis says in a statement released by his family to US media after he arrives in Boston.

– AFP

Hamas official says Israel agrees not to target senior terrorists

Senior Hamas political official Moussa Abu Marzouk says that Israel will stop targeting senior Hamas commanders, and will allow them free movement throughout the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reports.

Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk (photo credit: AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk (photo credit: AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Ceasefire ‘too little, too late,’ says veteran journalist

Israel Prize winner Nahum Barnea writes in Yedioth Ahronoth that the ceasefire is “Too little, too late.”

“Not every ending is a happy ending,” he writes. “The fear is that instead of paving the way for the Gaza threat to be lifted, we are paving the way for the next round, from Lebanon or Gaza. But this is what our government produced for us, and we must live with it.”

Barnea, who lost a son in a 1996 Hamas bus bombing, says that Israel discovered a few unpleasant truths during the fighting. One, Israel couldn’t defeat a small, isolated terrorist organization. Two, even limited conflicts demand a price Israelis are reluctant to pay. Three, the army ran the fighting, not the government.

2 policemen hurt in overnight Jerusalem riots

Riots in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem leave two policemen lightly injured, Israel Radio reports. In Silwan, A-Tur, Jebel Mukaber, and Hizma, youths threw stones and shot fireworks at security forces. One was arrested.

Shahar Melamed remembered

As the Israel-Hamas truce reaches its 12th hour of quiet, details emerge about Shahar Melamed, the second fatality in a rocket barrage on Kibbutz Nirim Tuesday.

Melamed, a 43-year-old a father of three, was the kibbutz mechanic.

Schahr Melamed. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

Shahar Melamed. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

“He was a model family man,” a relative is quoting in Haaretz saying of him.

Despite the quiet, Keshet news reports that municipal leaders in the south are urging residents who left the area to stay away for the time being.

Money for sports in the south

NIS 14 million from national lottery proceedings will be used to fund new sports complexes in communities within seven kilometers of the Gaza border, Israel Radio reports.

The news outlet also notes that the Transportation Ministry has ordered that all Rav-Kav bus cards for university students from the spring semester remain in force for an extra month, as a number of exams were pushed off until now because of the Gaza fighting.

Rome man who beheaded maid wanted to fight Hamas

A man accused of beheading a maid in Rome before being killed by police earlier this week had wanted to come to Israel to fight Hamas, the Italian press reports.

Federico Leonelli, 35, was staying at a friend’s home when he killed Oksana Martseniuk on Sunday.

His host, Giovanni Ciallella, said Leonelli had recently discovered his Jewish heritage and became obsessed with learning Torah and Talmud, according to Italian media reports cited by Thelocal.it.

Ciallella says Leonelli twice attempted to obtain a visa to Israel but had been denied, and had come to Rome to speak with the consulate and “sign up at any cost.”

“He told me that he had met a rabbi in Rome and was ready to join the Israeli army against Hamas and terrorists armed with missiles,” Ciallella told La Repubblica, according to TheLocal.

“At night he watched films by rabbis at full volume which informed him of what was happening in the Gaza Strip,” Ciallella said.

Northern border heats up

As the southern border quiets, Channel 2 reports that farmers in the Golan Heights near the Syrian border are being told to stay away, as heavy fighting between Syrian forces and rebels rages near Quneitra.

On Sunday, five rockets were fired from Syria into Israel.

Ceasefire is holding, IDF says

One night into an open-ended truce in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military says there have been no reports of violations since it went into effect on 7 p.m. yesterday.

IDF spokesman Peter Lerner tweets that though the truce has been holding for 12 hours, the military “remains prepared for any development and will continue to be the protective edge for Israel.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

In seeking truce, Israel learns lesson from Lebanon

The Lebanon campaign, Israel’s first against a non-state entity, is a useful lens through which to examine the Gaza conflict in the gruesome summer of 2014.

In June 1982, after Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Shlomo Argov, was gunned down in central London, the Israeli government, sick of the terror empire that the PLO had established in Lebanon, decided to deal the organization a mortal blow. On June 6, 1982, at 11 in the morning, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee. Four divisions streaked north through Lebanon. But in the following days, the remainder of Israel’s alleged plan collapsed.

The Gaza war, which reached a temporary end yesterday, after 50 days, is everything Lebanon was not: Rather than a forceful push headlong into Gaza, paid for with the lives of hundreds of soldiers, Netanyahu and the IDF brass seem to prefer tentative advances in the pursuit of attainable goals — the eradication of the tunnel threat, for example.

Rather than seeking a radical shift in the status quo, Israel seeks merely to return to it. And rather than pursue a plan of anointing a friendly government in a previously hostile seat of power, Israel, under Netanyahu, remains wary of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his ability to stay afloat — both in the West Bank and all the more so in Gaza — amid the crashing waves of jihadism across the region.

— Mitch Ginsburg

Eshkol residents still not safe, says council head

The head of the Eshkol council, where two people were killed in a mortar attack yesterday, pans the government for announcing an open-ended truce, even though the residents of southern Israel still don’t feel safe.

“It is very easy to reach a decision from a bunker, just like Hamas did. There’s a feeling of far from the eye, far from the heart,” Haim Yellin tells Channel 10.

“Maybe there is a ceasefire in Jerusalem, I have no idea what they are talking about,” he says, adding, “In Jerusalem they feel safe, even in some neighborhoods in Gaza they feel safe, but we certainly do not feel safe.”

— Elizabeth Shenn

UK welcomes truce, praises Egypt

After US Secretary of State John Kerry hails the open-ended truce between Israel and the Gaza Strip, the United Kingdom also welcomes the truce, praising Egyptian efforts to end the violence.

“The ceasefire provides a critical and welcome window of opportunity for reaching a comprehensive agreement that tackles the underlying causes of the conflict,” says Tobias Ellwood, Britain’s Minister for the Middle East.

Tony Blair, envoy for the Middle East Quartet of diplomatic peacemakers, also welcomes the end of the bloodshed.

“The Quartet will now concentrate on a long-term plan for Gaza and for its reconstruction, including the effective and efficient re-opening and re-connection (of the enclave) to the outside world under the authority of the Palestinian Authority government,” Blair says in a statement.

“Such a plan will enable a proper and decent life for the people of Gaza, as well as protect the security of the people of Israel.”

— AFP

Yesh Atid to reconsider place in gov’t, MK says

The Yesh Atid party headed by Yair Lapid will reconsider its place in the coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, party member MK Ofer Shelah says.

Speaking to Ynet, Shelach says the party’s decision will be taken in view of Netanyahu’s future actions.

“The Yesh Atid party will reexamine its future in the government, based on the political decisions the prime minister makes,” says Shelach. “Even those who support a [peace] agreement, like us, will reconsider their future in the government.”

Hamas ‘brought Israel to its knees’ — Iran

Hamas terrorists have emerged the victors and brought their Israeli foe “to its knees” during the 50-day Gaza conflict, Iran says.

“The heroic Palestinian people have forged a new era with the victory of the resistance which has brought the Zionist regime to its knees,” the Iranian foreign ministry says in a statement.

“This victory prepares the way for the final liberation of all the occupied lands, especially Quds (Jerusalem),” it says, congratulating the Palestinian people and the terrorist groups in Gaza that Iran supports.

— AFP

Man hurt in mortar attack still in serious condition

The man who was seriously injured by shrapnel in a mortar attack on the Eshkol region yesterday is still in serious condition.

According to a report by Israel National News, the man is being treated at the intensive care unit in Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center while in a medically induced coma.

Three others are lightly hurt.

Truce owed to ‘resistance and sacrifices’ — Qatar

Qatar, a key backer of Palestinian militant group Hamas, hailed the Gaza truce accord reached yesterday, saying it was reached “firstly [thanks] to the resistance and the sacrifices” of the Palestinians.

The gas-rich Gulf emirate also offers to help rebuild the enclave battered by seven weeks of Israeli bombardment. It says Qatar, which is home to Khaled Meshaal, the exiled chief of the Islamist movement Hamas, is “ready to contribute to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip as soon as possible.”

— AFP

Gov’t to dedicate NIS 650m. to strengthening southern Israel

The Israeli government will dedicate over half a billion shekels to strengthening the Gaza periphery, the Construction and Housing Ministry announces.

In a statement, the ministry says that pending the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it plans to allocate about NIS 650 million toward construction in Sderot and other towns and kibbutzim in southern Israel. The construction will include the renovation and expansion of existing structures, as well as building aliyah absorption centers and public institutions in the area.

The plan has also been submitted to mayors and council heads in the south, to ensure that it meets their communities’ needs.

“The residents of the Gaza periphery are the big heroes of the last war. We are committed to boosting their security, but no less importantly, their economic situation. I have submitted to the prime minister a proposal which was drafted by an experienced team. We owe them this economic Iron Dome,” says Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel visits southern Israel. (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel visits southern Israel. (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)

Israeli negotiator says Hamas ‘very weak’

Hamas has emerged from the 50-day war with Israel significantly weakened, senior defense official Amos Gilad, who was part of the Israel delegation sent to Cairo to negotiate a ceasefire, says after an open-ended truce goes into effect.

Speaking to Army Radio, Gilad says that the Gazan terrorist organization has been dealt a heavy blow.

“They are extremely weak and they know it,” he said. “There is no need to be impressed by the celebratory gunfire and the statements by people who are even more extreme than the extremists. In all, everyone there understands what happened. The rehabilitation efforts are massive. They have brought disaster upon themselves.”

Meanwhile, IDF Spokesman Moti Almoz tells Army Radio that if Hamas were as successful as it boasts, it would not have “begged” for a truce and agreed to it on Israel’s terms.

“If Hamas agreed to or begged for a truce, even after three-four days of … such effective mortar attacks, we have to ask, why agree to beg for a truce? I mean, is the truce really what Hamas was planning?” Almoz asks sarcastically, suggesting that the terrorist organization was driven to agree to the terms of the truce due to its weak position.

Palestinian killed by celebratory gunfire in Lebanon

A Palestinian man was accidentally killed last night by celebratory gunfire in a refugee camp in Lebanon after the announcement of an open-ended truce between Israel and the Gaza Strip, The Daily Star reports, citing Lebanese security sources.

Omar Mohammad, 32, was killed by a stray bullet in the Ain al-Hilweh camp, the largest of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, after the truce is announced. His family then shoots in the air in retaliation for his death.

Local security forces in the southern Lebanese camp intervene to prevent an escalation.

Shejaiya residents tag ruins with owners’ names

Residents of the Shejaiya neighborhood, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Israel and armed Palestinian fighters during Operation Protective Edge, put up signs on their destroyed houses bearing their names and phone numbers.

One mortar attack victim to be buried tonight

Shahar Melamed, killed in a mortar attack on the Eshkol region yesterday, will be laid to rest in his kibbutz, Nirim, at 6 p.m. this evening. The funeral of the other victim of the attack, Ze’ev Etzion, will be held tomorrow.

At least 2 mortars from Syria land in Golan

Two mortars fired from Syria land in the Golan Heights this morning, as rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad battle for control of the only Syrian crossing into Israel.

Channel 2 reporter Guy Varon says there are at least three hits.

The IDF says it has not determined whether the mortars were fired into Israel intentionally or were a spillover from fighting between rival factions on the Syrian side of the border.

The mortars caused damage to a car, according to Israeli news source Ynet.

Earlier in the morning, Israeli farmers in the northern territory were told to stay away from their lands near the border as heavy fighting raged for the crossing point near the city of Quneitra.

— Spencer Ho

Germany donates to terror trauma center

The German foreign ministry donates €50,000 (NIS 230,000) to the Israeli trauma center for victims of terror attacks, NATAL.

During a visit to the center earlier today, Germany’s deputy ambassador to Israel, Benedict Heller, hands director-general Orly Gal a check to help fund the center’s activities, which include treatment for children and teens who live in the Gaza periphery and are suffering from trauma as a result of rocket attacks.

Germany has also donated to NATAL in the past, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Gal earlier this year.

IDF officer moderately hurt by Syria mortars

An IDF officer is moderately injured by mortar fire on the Golan Heights, IDF spokesman Peter Lerner says, providing no other information.

It remains unclear whether the mortars — at least two in number — are errant fire from the internal clashes in war-torn Syria, or a deliberate attempt to target Israel.

15 Gazans to be tried for espionage

As Gaza celebrates the end of a 50-day war with Israel, Hamas announces on the website of its armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, that it will try 15 people on charges of espionage against Israel.

Their alleged spying activities are said by Hamas to have been discovered through their phone conversations with Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) agents.

Hamas warns that anyone else who engages in such activity will be caught as well, urging all spies to turn themselves in with the promise of lighter sentences.

If the 15 suspected spies are convicted, they are likely to be executed.

Site allows ‘virtual tour’ of Gaza destruction

A new site set up by Telegraph photojournalist Lewis Whyld allows users to take “virtual tours” of the destruction in the Gaza Strip.

On his Twitter feed, Whyld says the project, titled Gaza War Map, is a farewell to “amazing Gaza,” which proves that the IDF’s airstrikes on the coastal enclave are not “precision strikes.”

The map, which is hosted on the Kolor virtual tour website, shows 15 different locations in the Gaza Strip — from north to south, from Beit Lahiya to Rafah. Once users click on a particular location, they can view a high-resolution image of the destruction in that area — and explore it by zooming in and out and moving their cursors in different directions.

In addition to destroyed structures and ruined houses, the tour also provides glimpses into the funerals of Gazans killed in the 50-day war and the treatment of the wounded in hospitals.

Whyld also includes several images from Shejaiya, the site of heavy clashes between Israeli troops and armed Palestinian fighters, one of which provides a glimpse into — and out of — a room “open to the elements” in a destroyed house in the neighborhood.

Photographer Lewis Whyld's Gaza War Map on Kolor.com. (screen capture)

Photographer Lewis Whyld’s Gaza War Map on Kolor.com. (screen capture)

Gazans overwhelmingly back rocket fire — poll

An overwhelming majority of Gazans support the rocket fire on Israel from the Gaza Strip, a new poll by the West Bank-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion (PCPO) shows.

The poll, conducted in August 2014, reveals that 88.9 percent of Gaza residents “support the firing of rockets from Gaza at Israel,” while 75.4% say they believe the deterrence of the Palestinian resistance movement has increased. A similar poll conducted in January 2013 showed that just under 50 percent of Gazans supported the rocket fire at the time.

A still from footage released by the IDF showing a foiled attempt by Gazan terrorists to infiltrate the Zikim military base. (screen capture/IDF)

A still from footage released by the IDF showing a foiled attempt by Gazan terrorists to infiltrate the Zikim military base. (screen capture/IDF)

However, most participants say that specific operations against Israel, and not the firing of rockets, was the “most successful act of the Palestinian resistance in retaliation for the recent Israeli aggression.” according to the survey, 15.9% say the rockets are the most successful form of resistance, 23.3% opt for “infiltrating through enemy lines,” 29% choose operations such as the deployment of frogmen and other commanders into Israeli territory, while 12% prefer “the coordination between the different factions.”

Some 61.2%, meanwhile, say they oppose the deployment of UN multinational forces in the Gaza Strip, and 64.7% rate the stance of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon — presumably toward Gaza and the Palestinians, although the poll doesn’t specify — as “negative.”

A lower percentage — but still a majority at 54% — express satisfaction with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

In a statement, PCPO president Nabil Kukali says the survey was conducted in Gaza during a temporary six-day ceasefire last week.

Toddler hurt by rocks in West Bank

A toddler is lightly injured by rocks hurled at an Israeli car in the West Bank.

The IDF tells The Times of Israel that about dozens of masked Palestinian rioters were hurling “rocks and heavy furniture” at cars near the Yitzhar junction earlier today, with some of the rocks hitting the car in which the toddler was riding.

The toddler was treated by paramedics at the scene, then evacuated to a hospital for further treatment.

Damage was caused to the car.

The IDF says the cause of the rioting is unclear.

IDF targets 2 sites in Syria, confirms hits

After possibly errant mortars fired from Syria hit the Golan Heights, the IDF strikes two Syrian Army positions beyond the border.

Hits are confirmed.

Rebels take Quneitra crossing

As the IDF strikes targets in Syria on the heels of mortar attacks on the Golan Heights, Syrian rebels seize the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria.

— AFP

IDF says 6 mortars from Syria hit Israel

The IDF says six mortars fired from Syria hit the Golan Heights today, and not 2 or 3 as previously reported.

The army describes the mortars as “errant fire” resulting from heavy fighting very close to the ceasefire line.

Earlier, an Israeli officer sustained wounds to the chest near the border. The army is not immediately able to say whether it was due to a bullet or shrapnel. He was evacuated by helicopter to Rambam hospital in the northern port city of Haifa.

As a result of the fighting on the Syrian side of the plateau, the level of alert is raised on the Israeli side, the army says, without confirming that it had been increased to the highest level.

— AFP

Group confirms Quneitra crossing seized by rebels

A monitoring group confirms that Syrian rebels, including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, have seized control of the Syrian crossing with the Israeli Golan Heights.

“Al-Nusra Front and other rebel groups took the Quneitra crossing, and heavy fighting with the Syrian army is continuing in the surrounding area,” says Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO.

A UN peacekeeper from the UNDOF force stands guard on a watch tower at the Quneitra Crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, on Friday, March 8, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

A UN peacekeeper from the UNDOF force stands guard on a watch tower at the Quneitra Crossing between Syria and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, on Friday, March 8, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)

PA health minister urges world to help Gaza

The Palestinian Authority health minister calls on the international community to help alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Javad Awad says many displaced Gazans are suffering from various conditions and diseases due to a lack of access to clean water, Israel Radio reports.

After truce, Gaza border restrictions still in place

Nearly a day after an open-ended truce is reached between Israel and the Gaza Strip, the streets of Gaza quickly take on some semblance of normalcy, with people going out shopping and heading back to work as workers seek to repair damage to power lines and the phone network.

Meanwhile, fishermen go out to sea after Israel agrees to expand the permitted fishing zone, in a measure which came into force just before dawn today.

But at the crossings into and out of Gaza, through which Israel has agreed to allow in goods, humanitarian aid, medical supplies and materials to repair the water, electricity and mobile phone networks, it is not immediately clear when the changes will go into effect.

Members of a Gazan family ride on top of a horse cart as they head home with their belongings in the Shejaiya neighborhood on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. (photo credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

Members of a Gazan family ride on top of a horse cart as they head home with their belongings in the Shejaiya neighborhood on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. (photo credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP)

A Palestinian liaison official says the restrictions at the Erez crossing in the north and Kerem Shalom commercial crossing in the south have returned to what they were before the 50-day operation.

“We will have a meeting today with Israel to discuss the new procedures — but the only thing in place so far is the new fishing limit, while crossings have returned to the status quo ante,” he tells AFP.

— AFP

Gov’t must disclose truce details — Diskin

The Israeli government must disclose the details of the truce it reached yesterday with the Gaza Strip, says former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin.

Yuval Diskin, ex-head of the Shin Bet. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

Yuval Diskin, ex-head of the Shin Bet. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

In a post on his official Facebook page, Diskin says that “with 70 Israelis and over 2,100 Palestinians killed, over 50 days of fighting and without the security cabinet discussing the agreement and approving it, the Israeli public has a right to receive an explanation about the details of the agreement or understandings.”

He adds that “it is the duty of the political echelon to provide” such an explanation.

Syrian rebels announce Quneitra ‘liberation’

Syrian opposition groups making inroads in the Golan Heights against forces loyal to President Bashar Assad announce the “liberation” of the Quneitra border crossing with Israel.

In a document uploaded to Twitter, the groups announce that they have “liberated” Quneitra city and that they have now seized control of the crossing.

They also announce that after a series of battles, they have captured the al-Rawadi checkpoint, also near the border.

The document, signed by the Southern Front of the Quneitra Military Council, also names the groups involved in the fighting. The groups, which include Jabhat al-Nusra — which is linked to al-Qaeda — and the Syrian Rebel Front, are said to have joined forces, at least temporarily, to conquer the crossing.

  — Suha Halifa contributed to this report.

Liberman denounces ceasefire with Hamas

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman voices his opposition to the ceasefire with Hamas, arguing that Israel must not make agreements with “contemptible murderers.”

He calls on the Israeli government to “free the Middle East and the Palestinians from the threat of Hamas,” and says “no one will do it for us.”

In a statement posted on his Facebook page, Liberman writes:

“So long as Hamas controls Gaza, we cannot guarantee safety for the citizens of Israel and we cannot reach a political arrangement. Hamas is not a partner for any sort of deal, neither a diplomatic [agreement] nor a security [agreement]. We cannot trust contemptible murderers. Therefore, we oppose the ceasefire, under which Hamas will be able to continue and become stronger and wage another campaign against Israel at its convenience.

“So long as the Hamas regime is not overthrown — the rocket and tunnel threats remain.”

Liberman says Hamas must not benefit from the truce, and appeals to Israel to fight the terror organization “without compromises.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. (photo credit: Flash90)

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. (photo credit: Flash90)

No leads in hunt for missing yeshiva student

As police and volunteer search parties continue to comb the Jerusalem forest for traces of 23-year-old Aaron Sofer, a US-born yeshiva student who disappeared Friday, ZAKA head of operations Haim Weingarten says a number of possible scenarios are being investigated, including kidnapping or a hit-and-run.

“We are checking whether he could have exited one of the paths, and a car hit him and fled,” he tells the ultra-Orthodox Kikar Hahabbat website.

“The police and Shin Bet are investigating whether he was kidnapped. He had no cellphone and there are no clues. Even if he was kidnapped, it’s possible we would have found glasses or clothing, but even that could not be found,” he says.

Aaron Sofer

Aaron Sofer

Weingarten adds that “we are not entering areas we searched in the past days because we want to let the area settle, and allow the animals to go there so they can give us an indication of whether there is a body in the area.”

While a nationalistic motive has not been ruled out, police have no evidence that Sofer was the victim of a terror attack, it reports.

The ultra-Orthodox website indicates that searches are now primarily concentrated near Ein Kerem.

UN aid convoy arrives in Gaza from Egypt

A United Nations humanitarian aid convoy crosses into Gaza from Egypt for the first time since a blockade was introduced on the territory in 2007.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says the convoy, which entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing, carries enough food to last 150,000 people for five days.

“It is extremely important that we have access to the Gaza Strip to ensure a constant flow of humanitarian supplies to meet the growing needs of the people affected by the recent violence,” says Mohamed Diab, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and East Europe.

The convoy was carrying 15,650 food parcels, including ready-to-eat canned meat, canned beans, tea and dates, according to a statement from the UN agency in Geneva.

Another 10,000 parcels are to be delivered in the next few days.

Since the conflict began in July, WFP has provided daily food rations to around 350,000 people in Gaza.

The organization says it needs around $70 million (50 million euros) to continue its mission for the next three months.

AFP

PM and defense officials to address public

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz are set to hold a press conference at 8 p.m. on the ceasefire.

Mashaal says truce ‘amounts to a defeat’

Despite the public celebrations and declarations of victory in Gaza, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal says the “agreement reached amounts to a defeat,” Channel 2 reports.

The TV station’s Ehud Ya’ari says the victory celebrations in Gaza have not been particularly large.

Channel 2 quotes a senior Israeli official who insists: “Hamas is feeling a defeat: you must hear what they are saying among themselves.”

The official defends Netanyahu’s decision not to present the truce deal to the cabinet vote before approving it, saying that the cabinet had voted in favor of the Egyptian proposal in the past.

US senior officer calls Shejaiya battles indefensible

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, an unnamed senior US military officer likens the IDF’s ground offensive tactics in Shejaiya on July 21 to a “walking barrage” and dismisses the IDF’s assertions that the high casualty rate in the Gaza neighborhood was due to Hamas’s use of “human shields.”

The officer tells the news outlet that at the start of the battle, the Israeli troops were “suppressing fire to protect their forward units, but then poured in everything they had — in a kind of walking barrage. Suppressing fire is perfectly defensible — a walking barrage isn’t.”

On the subject of the IDF’s tactics, Al Jazeera reports, citing the US sources, that the IDF was “cratering” the area to collapse the tunnels below.

It reports:

Senior US officers who are familiar with the battle and Israeli artillery operations, which are modeled on US doctrine, assessed that, based on the rate of artillery fire into Shejaiya overnight Sunday, IDF commanders weren’t precisely targeting Palestinian military formations, as much as laying down an indiscriminate barrage aimed at “cratering” the neighborhood.The cratering operation was designed to collapse the Hamas tunnels discovered when IDF ground units came under fire in the neighborhood.

With regard to the civilian casualties, the US military officer says:

Listen, we know what it’s like to kill civilians in war. Hell, we even put it on the front pages. We call it collateral damage. We absolutely try to minimize it, because we know it turns people against you. Killing civilians is a sure prescription for defeat. But that’s not what the IDF did in Shejaiya on July 21. Human shields? C’mon, just own up to it.

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile hits the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, July 20, 2014.  (Photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile hits the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, July 20, 2014. (Photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

Shejaiya was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting between Hamas and the IDF during the operation. In the deadly battle in late July, seven Golani Brigade soldiers were killed when an anti-tank missile hit their APC. The remains of one of the seven, Sgt. Oron Shaul, are believed to be held by Hamas operatives.

Iran says purported Israeli drone came from north

An Iranian general says a purported Israeli drone shot down near a nuclear facility flew in from a northern country that was once part of the Soviet Union.

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the armed forces’ deputy chief of staff, making the allegation Wednesday. It reports that Jazayeri says the country must make “compensatory actions” or else be publicly named.

Iranian Brig. Gen Masoud Jazayeri (photo credit: image capture from YouTube video uploaded by NTDSpanish)

Iranian Brig. Gen Masoud Jazayeri (photo credit: image capture from YouTube video uploaded by NTDSpanish)

There are three former Soviet republics immediately north of Iran: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

On Saturday, Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said it shot down an Israeli drone near the country’s uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, some 240 kilometers (150 miles) south of the capital, Tehran. State television aired footage of the purported drone Monday.

Israeli officials have not commented on the incident.

AP

Palestinian PM to join panel on border crossings

As part of the truce agreement, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah will join UN envoy Robert Serry and Israel’s Major General Yoav Mordechai, to oversee all transfers of materials into the Gaza Strip, Channel 2 reports.

The three will constitute a committee that discusses all shipments entering the coastal enclave, it reports. Prior to the campaign, Mordechai and Serry supervised the transfers.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah speaks during a press conference following the first cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian unity government in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 3, 2014. (photo credit: Abbas Momani/AFP)

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah speaks during a press conference following the first cabinet meeting of the new Palestinian unity government in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 3, 2014. (photo credit: Abbas Momani/AFP)

The TV report indicates that the representatives will have to detail exact quantities of materials needed for construction, to ensure that cement and other building materials are not used to build cross-border tunnels into Israeli territory.

If the agreement is violated and cement is not used for its specified purpose, the deal will be called off and the materials will no longer be allowed into the enclave, it reports.

In addition, Israel is set to coordinate that all money transfers into the Gaza Strip go through PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, the Erez crossing is said to open as the truce terms go into effect.

Thousands urge US to ‘hold Israel accountable’

A petition by the US Campaign to End the Occupation garners over 23,000 signatures in the past few days.

The full text of the petition:

Dear President Obama,

Israel’s government and military must be held accountable for their recent war crimes and massacres of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Thank you for freezing the delivery of Hellfire missiles to Israel and for scrutinizing future weapons transfers. These are important first steps, but much more is needed.

The United States must end military aid and all weapons transfers to Israel, in compliance with the Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act, and end its diplomatic support for Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians in the UN.

The United States must not obstruct the work of the UN Human Rights Council in investigating violations of international law during Israel’s recent attack on the Gaza Strip, and leaders must be prosecuted and stand trial in the International Criminal Court for the commission of war crimes.

The United States must also work to end Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, its 47-year-old military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, for the implementation of Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Wounded IDF soldier to undergo surgery

The IDF officer moderately injured earlier by mortar fire from Syria is stable and will undergo surgery today a statement from the Rambam Health Care Campus says.

The officer, 28, is a military doctor.

Mortar victim to be laid to rest tomorrow

Ze’ev Etzion, 55, who was killed by mortar fire yesterday, will be laid to rest tomorrow at 5 p.m. in Kibbutz Nirim.

Kibbutz Nirim security chief Zeev Etzion (screen capture: Channel 2)

Kibbutz Nirim security chief Zeev Etzion (screen capture: Channel 2)

Hamas leader Haniyeh emerges from bunker

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh emerges from his fortified bunker and gives his first public address since the Gaza campaign began on July 8.

Channel 2 reports that the turnout at the speech was relatively small.

Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh gives a speech during Friday prayers in the Bureij refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, on July 5, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Adel Hana)

Gaza’s Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh gives a speech during Friday prayers in the Bureij refugee camp, central Gaza Strip, on July 5, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Adel Hana)

Victory ‘paving the way to J’lem’ — Haniyeh

In his Gaza address, former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh says (somewhat incomprehensibly) that the operation began with rockets targeting Haifa and ended with a rocket targeting Haifa.

“Gaza is victorious, and is paving the way to Jerusalem,” he says, according to Channel 2.

PM tours air force base, praises pilots

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, visits the Hatzor Air Force Base in southern Israel.

“The air force carried out its missions very well. You operated in a manner that inspires amazement; this was extraordinary,” Netanyahu says. “You reached the summit of achievements by the world’s air forces and there are new and unprecedented things here. There was a very major breakthrough here but the most important thing is that we have the tools to defend the country and attack the enemy. You have the nation’s gratitude.”

Traffickers en route to Israel kill Egyptian guard

An Egyptian border guard was killed during a shootout with human traffickers trying to cross into Israel with illegal African migrants, a security official says.

The 22-year-old officer was stationed in the middle of the Sinai Peninsula — which borders Israel — when he was shot, officials say.

Israel’s population of African immigrants reached almost 54,000 in 2013, the majority of whom were Eritrean and Sudanese, the country’s immigration office says.

Last year, Israel constructed an electric fence along its 230-kilometer (143-mile) border with Egypt, attempting to put an end to illegal immigration.

In April 2013, Amnesty International said Eritrean refugees kidnapped in Sudan had been raped, beaten, chained and sometimes killed after being forcibly transported to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and held for ransom.

AFP

Cairo negotiator says Hamas won’t get seaport

Defense official Amos Gilad, who was part of Israel’s Cairo delegation, tells Channel 2 that the negotiations on some of Hamas’s larger issues will begin this month, but adds that they are likely to “drag on” and that the terror organization will not receive its seaport.

He says that during the course of the future talks, Israel will make the establishment of the seaport contingent on disarmament, which Hamas will likely reject.

In the several rounds of ceasefire talks in Egypt, Gilad says the Israeli team operated according to Israeli government instructions to ensure Hamas would not see any significant gains from its offensive. All the talks were conducted in Arabic, he says. In the end, a full ceasefire was reached and Hamas was deterred, he says.

Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad (res.), director of the Defense Ministry's office of Policy and Political-Military Affairs (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad (res.), director of the Defense Ministry’s office of Policy and Political-Military Affairs (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90)

We want to help the Palestinians, Gilad says, describing Israel’s willingness to ease the crossing restrictions and let more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Gilad says the Arab world — except for Qatar — is not supporting Hamas, and is not organizing victory rallies for the Gaza.

“Hamas did not achieve even one of its goals,” he says.

Mortar victim buried in Kibbutz Nirim

Shahar Melamed is laid to rest in his hometown of Kibbutz Nirim, Israel Radio reports.

Melamed was killed in a mortar attack yesterday, shortly before the ceasefire with Hamas went into effect.

He leaves behind a wife and three children.

Schahr Melamed. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

Shahar Melamed. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

US hostage’s mother pleads with jihadists to spare him

The mother of a US hostage who has been threatened with death by the jihadist gang that murdered a kidnapped reporter pleads for her son’s life in an emotional televised appeal.

Shirley Sotloff, mother of 31-year-old freelance reporter Steven Sotloff, directly addressed the leader of so-called Islamic State, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, in a video message distributed to the media.

“My son is Steven is in your hands,” she says. “He is a journalist who made a journey to cover the story of Muslims suffering at the hands of tyrants.”

“As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.”

Sotloff disappeared while reporting in Syria in August 2013. His apparent kidnap was not widely reported until he appeared on a video released last week by the Islamic State.

In the footage a masked militant beheads US reporter James Foley then parades Sotloff, warning he will meet the same fate unless US President Barack Obama halts airstrikes against the group in Iraq.

“We have not seen Steven for over a year and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him,” the mother says, looking tired and tense but controlled.

“Since his capture, I have learned a lot about Islam. I’ve learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others,” she says.

“Steven has no control over the actions of the US government. He’s an innocent journalist. I’ve always learned that you, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child.

“I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad. I plead with you to grant me this.”

– AFP

The war Netanyahu won, and the one he may lose

ToI’s Haviv Rettig Gur argues that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unequivocally won the war he set out to fight – but not, perhaps, the war the Israeli public expected him to fight.

He writes:

Signs of political danger for the prime minister are multiplying.

The prime minister’s public backing has dropped precipitously, from a high of 82% on July 23, shortly after the start of Israel’s ground operation in Gaza, to 38% on Monday, after 49 long days of rocket fire.

Meanwhile, his critics span the political spectrum. His most vocal critics are not in the opposition, but sit in his inner security cabinet – with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett slamming the prime minister’s ceasefire talks in Egypt as ‘negotiating with terrorists,’ even as Bennett’s Jewish Home party saw its popularity rise by 50%, from 12 seats in the current Knesset to the equivalent of 18 seats in wartime opinion polls.

Read the full analysis here.

Is Hamas really ISIS?

ToI’s Lazar Berman takes on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent assertion that “Hamas is ISIS, ISIS is Hamas.”

He writes:

“The PR benefits Israel would gain by conflating the two organizations are obvious, as it and Hamas jockey for every advantage on the field of public opinion as vigorously as they do on the battlefield.

“But scholars agree that the message ignores key differences between Hamas and IS.”

Read the full analysis here.

Mortar explodes in Golan Heights; man lightly injured

A man is lightly injured after a mortar lands in the Golan Heights.

Earlier, an IDF officer was injured after six mortars fired from Syria fell in northern Israel.

Bennett vows to ‘settle the score’ with Abbas

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett says PA President Mahmoud Abbas is responsible, in part, for Operation Protective Edge and the Israeli casualties.

“Hamas was elected democratically by the Palestinians,” he writes in a Facebook post. “Abu Mazen [Abbas], the PA president, sits with Hamas in the unity government, funds the salaries of murderers, and bears the responsibility for what we experienced here. With him, too, we will settle the score.”

Bennett argues that the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders “dissipated in the tunnels,” and “flew away with the rockets.”

“A Palestinian state, if it would be established, would destroy Israel’s economy, close Ben Gurion Airport,” and put the residents of central Israel in the same compromised position the southern residents face, he argues.

“In the world of ISIS and Hamas, Hezbollah and the PLO, there is no alternative to force, and no forgiveness for withdrawals and escape from territory, and all those who still support a Palestinian state should say: I saw, I was wrong, I stand corrected,” he writes.

Bomb discovered in Ramat Gan

Sappers are defusing a bomb found in the central city of Ramat Gan, the Walla news website reports.

The area has been closed to traffic, and the circumstances of the incident — whether criminal or nationalistically motivated — remains unclear.

Haniyeh makes victory sign

Israel Radio’s Gal Berger tweets a photo of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s victorious stance, following his exit from his underground bunker.

Ramat Gan bomb threat lifted

Walla news reports that the bomb threat in Ramat Gan has been removed, and roads have reopened.

Hamas negotiator has legs broken

A senior Hamas official, who also served as a Cairo negotiator on behalf of the terror organization, had his two legs broken in what is likely an internal faction dispute related to the ceasefire, Channel 2 reports.

The details of the incident are unclear.

Channel 2 analyst Ehud Ya’ari says that despite Haniyeh’s confident remarks, Operation Protective Edge set back Hamas’s military infrastructure by 5-10 years.

Fighting expected to intensify at Quneitra

Channel 2 analyst Ehud Ya’ari says that the Syrian clashes at Quneitra, near the Israeli border, between Syrian rebels and Assad forces are expected to intensify in the coming days, with both sides bringing in reinforcements to defend their positions.

Public doesn’t feel Israel won, but pleased with IDF — poll

A Channel 2 poll shows that 54% of respondents are opposed to the ceasefire, and 37% support it.

A majority — 59% — do not believe Israel won against Hamas (29% believe it did). Still, the public’s satisfaction with the army’s performance stands at 83%.

The survey indicates that 59% of participants are dissatisfied with the prime minister’s performance during the campaign, and just 32% are happy with Netanyahu — a continuing trend of falling ratings in recent weeks.

A Haaretz survey published today shows Netanyahu with even less support. Fifty-two percent are pleased with the prime minister, and 40% are not, its results show. This is a marked drop for the prime minister, it notes, who saw 77% support in an August 5 Haaretz poll.

Hamas did not get any of its demands — PM

In his first address after the truce, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the campaign brought a “great military and diplomatic achievement.”

Hamas “has been hit hard” did not attain any of its demands, he says.

‘We pulled out troops so they wouldn’t be killed, kidnapped’ — PM

Netanyahu emphasizes that the Hamas tunnels were destroyed, some 1,000 fighters killed “including very senior commanders,” and many terror targets and rockets were destroyed.

Iron Dome and other measures prevented Hamas’s planned “mass killings of Israeli civilians,” he says.

Israel withdrew the troops from Gaza once the goals of the ground offensive were achieved to prevent Hamas from harming or kidnapping our soldiers, he says.

He adds that Hamas has sustained a massive military and diplomatic blow.

The prime minister details the Hamas demands — airport, seaport, prisoner releases, Qatari and Turkish mediation, salaries and money transfers — and repeats that “it did not get any of its demands.”

Israel was always ready to support the humanitarian rehabilitation of Gaza, provided it oversaw material entering the Strip, and that’s what will happen.

‘Israel convinced world of Hamas’s radicalism’

Netanyahu says Israel successfully ingrained in the minds of the international community the extent of Hamas’s Islamist radicalism, and convinced it “that Hamas, ISIS, and al-Qaeda are all part of the same family.”

Israel also convinced the world “that the long-term goal is disarmament” in the Gaza Strip, he says.

There are “new possibilities” in the region for Israel now, with the “moderate regional states… We’ll try to advance those possibilities.”

Too soon to say if long-term calm attained; we will not tolerate rocket fire, PM says

He says it’s “too soon to say” if Israel’s goal of sustained calm has been achieved. But the goal of harming Hamas and the other terror groups, and establishing the capacity to prevent them rearming, has been met.

Hamas was “surprised by the intensity of our response” to its breach of the last truce last Tuesday. “I said that attrition would be met with a pounding. The terror towers fell” — a reference to Israel’s bombing of high-rises said to contain Hamas command centers — “and Hamas understood that the price was very costly.”

Netanyahu says: “We will not tolerate the [rocket] ‘drizzle’ on any part of Israel.”

He hails the resilience of the southern residents, the countless volunteers, the soldiers. “The entire nation is deeply grateful,” he says of the soldiers.

PM praises national unity

The prime minister recounts a visit with an IDF soldier, who told him that he wishes the Israeli unity he encountered during the operation will continue.

“Amen,” the prime minister says he told him.

He says of the soldiers “all of them are dear to me,” and praises the national unity.

Ya’alon — We set Hamas back by years

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, like Netanyahu, praises residents of the south for their courage during the operation.

“This is a difficult reality,” and their questions and fears are “justified,” he says.

He says Hamas was dealt a serious blow.

“We set Hamas back by years,” he says. Hamas sustained “unprecedented harm” and “has no achievements.”

Ignore Hamas’s victory calls, Ya’alon says

Ya’alon tells Israelis not to be swayed by the cries of victory by Hamas leaders, as they emerge from the hospitals and schools and clinics where they were hiding out.

“They too know they were dealt a serious blow and took a ceasefire on terms they didn’t want,” he says. “And the next blow will be harsher still” if necessary.

We will return remains of soldiers to Israel — Ya’alon

Ya’alon praises Netanyahu’s wise stewardship and “responsible leadership” of the campaign. He says he and the PM “held our tongues” when they came under criticism at home, and focused on the goals.

Ya’alon says that Israel garnered international support during the campaign, and says the security forces “will learn the lessons of the operation,” as after every such operation.

He says that we “do not delude ourselves,” and know a resurgence of hostilities is possible. “If we have to, we’ll use cataclysmic force.”

The defense minister pledges to return the remains of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul to Israel for burial.

“We will do everything to return the bodies of the soldiers,” he says.

Ya’alon defends Gantz

The defense minister defends IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who sits on the panel, saying criticism of him during the operation was “irrelevant.”

Gantz says campaign was ‘very complex’

Gantz says the campaign was “very complex,” fought in a complicated urban environment. During the past weeks, the air, ground, and naval forces collaborated effectively, and exercised force “that was built up over years.”

“We hit Hamas’s capabilities very strongly,” he says.

He says the residents of Gaza were taken “hostage” by Hamas.

We are with you at all times, Gantz tells southern residents

Gantz mentions the fallen soldiers and civilians, including “one little boy,” 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman, describing the loss as “a painful price we are a familiar with.”

Like Ya’alon, Gantz says Israel will do everything to bring the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul home.

Gantz speaks directly to the residents of the Gaza border towns, who are “in this very sensitive front.”

“You know we are with you at all times, know from up close the struggle,” he says. We feel “the great difficulty of dealing with the challenge of the campaign.” He expresses his appreciation for the southern residents, and promises to do everything to fight for their security in the future.

He says the army is strong, but also an army that learns from its mistakes and investigates its actions.

Unclear whether quiet will last, PM concedes

Netanyahu says that “I cannot say for certain that the goal of sustained quiet was reached, but the goal of hitting Hamas hard was achieved.”

He says Hamas is doing its best to present victory pictures, and those who don’t join the celebrations risk a bullet in the head.

US hasn’t destroyed al-Qaeda, PM says, because terror groups are hard to extinguish

Netanyahu says Israel has international support to hit Hamas again if needed.

“I think there’s a chance — I can’t say more than that — that Hamas will face up to the reality. They agreed a ceasefire on terms they didn’t want. If they starting firing again, we’ll hit them seven times harder.”

“I hope the goal of long-term quiet will be achieved,” he says. “We’re ready for all scenarios.

He says completely defeating terror organizations is difficult for democratic states; for example, the US hasn’t extinguished al-Qaeda, he says.

The prime minister says toppling Hamas is a goal that will be reached if it’s disarmed, under international supervision. He says the goal was to strike Hamas hard, not to reoccupy the coastal enclave.

Netanyahu says Hamas “intended to cause cataclysmic harm to us. But we hurt it.” He stresses again that Hamas agreed to a long-term ceasefire without getting any of its demands.

Abbas ‘needs to choose whose side he’s on’ — PM says

Netanyahu says the international community has noticed that the Arab world didn’t rally behind Hamas during the conflict.

“This is a change, we didn’t have this in the past,” he says, saying formerly enemy states are now partners in combating radical Islamists in the Middle East.

Netanyahu says regional cooperation to destroy Islamic State would pave the way for “new opportunities.”

Abbas “needs to choose whose side he’s on,” and we hope he will continue to seek peace with Israel, Netanyahu says.

We will always seek peace partners to resolve the conflict, he says.

“We would be happy if Abbas’s forces would enter Gaza.”

Asked what Israel would do if Hamas restarted tunnel digging tomorrow, Netanyahu says Israel “always has the right to self-defense.”

He says “we’ll wait and see” what new diplomatic opportunities are available. “We’re checking.”

‘Cabinet empowered PM, DM to accept ceasefire without vote’

Addressing rumors that much to the cabinet’s discontent, the current truce was accepted without a vote by ministers, Netanyahu says the cabinet backed the Egyptian ceasefire proposal from the start.

Later, the cabinet voted to authorize the prime minister and defense minister to accept ceasefires on their own, without a cabinet vote, he says.

If there is a long-term arrangement, “that will be brought to the cabinet, he says. But he casts doubt on that prospect. “It’s not clear there will be” a long-term negotiated deal. “The talks will start in a month,” he says, indicating that anything could happen with those talks.

The fact is, he reiterates, “Hamas abandoned all its demands” and signed an open-ended ceasefire “without preconditions.”

“I thought it right to accept that.”

EU welcomes Gaza truce, calls for peace talks

The European Union welcomes the long-term ceasefire and calls for more talks to bring a lasting end to the conflict.

While praising the Egyptian government for its mediation efforts in bringing an end to 50 days of violence, it calls for a “comprehensive and sustainable agreement” to follow.

“Simply returning to the situation before the latest conflict is not an option,” says a statement from the bloc’s diplomatic arm, the European External Action Service (EEAS).

“A sustainable agreement should address all the root causes of the conflict and bring fundamental change to the situation in Gaza.”

The EU says that “a durable peace can only be achieved through the resumption of the Middle East peace process, leading to a two-state solution.”

AFP

Israel closes Golan area as Syria rebels seize crossing

Israel closes off the area around Quneitra on the Golan Heights after an officer was wounded by stray fire as Syrian rebels seized control of the crossing.

Rebel fighters, including some from al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, captured the Syrian side of the sole crossing over the armistice line earlier Wednesday in deadly fighting with government troops.

“From what we know, opposition forces overran the Syrian regime forces on the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, some of those including the Al-Nusra Front, which ultimately leave the crossing in the opposition forces’ hands,” IDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner tells AFP.

He says there had been “extensive fighting” on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line since early Wednesday which had resulted in several instances of “errant fire.”

AFP

There are more tunnels in Gaza — Hamas

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri rejects Netanyahu’s statements that Israel struck a heavy blow to the terror organization, Israel Radio reports.

The official says Hamas fired rockets up to the very end, and has other cross-border tunnels in the Gaza Strip that have gone undetected by Israel.

Right- and left-wing MKs pan Netanyahu’s speech

Knesset members from both right-wing and left-wing parties criticize Netanyahu after his speech, arguing that the Israeli leader failed to live up to the promises he made and is increasingly losing the public trust.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) calls the prime minister’s speech “pathetic” and says Netanyahu let down the Israeli citizens in general, and the residents of Gaza border towns in particular.

Herzog issues a threat to replace the current coalition.

Israel Labor party Leader Isaac Herzog speaks during a Labor party meeting in the Israeli parliament on July 28, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Israel Labor party Leader Isaac Herzog speaks during a Labor party meeting in the Israeli parliament on July 28, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

“The army won, but the government failed, and we will make efforts to replace it, to demonstrate political determination while maintaining Israel’s security and striving for peace,” he says.

MK Zahava Gal-on of the left-wing Meretz party says: “Prime Minister Netanyahu promised the disarmament of the Strip from weapons, the dismantling of Hamas infrastructure and long-term deterrence and quiet for the southern residents. None of those promises were implemented.”

She argues that if the prime minister deals only with Hamas, and does not boost the standing of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, “we will be witness to, God forbid, additional rounds of violence in a year to two years.”

Meanwhile, Likud MK Danny Danon, who was fired by the prime minister from his position of deputy defense minister during the operation, says: “The goal of the operation was to restore the sense of security for the residents of the south, and the fact is that today, there is no sense of security for the residents of the south.”

“The government ignored the demands of the people to topple Hamas and operated hesitantly,” he writes in a Facebook post.

Mortar strikes Golan Heights; no injuries

For the third time today, a mortar fired from Syria lands in the Golan Heights.

There are no injuries or damage in the attack, according to Ynet.

‘Netanyahu will end up like Olmert’ — Hamas

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri says Netanyahu is trying to create a “false victory” to improve his political standing, Israel Radio reports.

“Netanyahu is trying to fix his public status, but he will end up like [Ehud] Olmert,” the official says, in reference to the largely unpopular former prime minister, who faced significant public criticism for his decisions, and was recently slapped with a jail sentence for corruption.

Senior Hamas official Mushir Al-Masri. (screen capture: YouTube/idfnadesk)

Senior Hamas official Mushir Al-Masri. (screen capture: YouTube/idfnadesk)

US Coast Guard fires at Iranian boat in Gulf

A US Coast Guard vessel fired in self-defense at an Iranian boat in the Persian Gulf, the Navy says.

Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, says personnel on a small boat dispatched from the US Coast Guard patrol boat Monomoy fired a single shot when it saw crew on a nearby Iranian dhow training one of its two .50-caliber machine guns on them and preparing to fire.

“This action by the dhow’s crew demonstrated hostile intent which resulted in the defensive fire by the Coast Guardsmen,” he says.

Dhows are traditional wooden boats common to the region that are typically used for trade.

No Americans were wounded in the encounter, which happened in international waters around 11:30 a.m. local time Tuesday, Stephens says.

The Monomoy was operating on “a routine maritime security operation” when it contacted the dhow’s bridge. After initial contact, the Iranian vessel stopped communicating and the Coast Guard ship deployed small boat to investigate, according to Stephens.

It was not clear if the shot hit the Iranian vessel or if anyone onboard was injured. Iranian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

– AP

2 injured in Tira shooting

A Muslim cleric is critically injured and another man is lightly wounded after being shot in the city of Tira.

The two are rushed to the Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba for emergency treatment. Police launch an investigation into the shooting, Walla reports.

Hamas says it’s willing to negotiate for soldiers’ bodies

Hamas is willing to hold negotiations for the remains of deceased IDF soldiers which it says it possesses, one of the group’s top officials Muhammad Nazzal tells Turkey’s Anatolia news agency, according to a report on Walla News.

Nazzal is believed to be referring to 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, both killed in battle in Gaza. Some of Goldin’s remains were retrieved and brought back to Israel, and a funeral was held for him. Shaul, meanwhile, was declared a soldier whose place of burial is unknown.

Haniyeh reportedly rushed to hospital

Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh has reportedly been hospitalized after feeling unwell, Channel 2 says.

There are no further details at this time.

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh at the Rafah Border Crossing on his way to Egypt, July 25 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

Former Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)