The Israeli security cabinet decided not to send a delegation to Cairo for possible ceasefire talks Saturday, and the Israeli army focused on efforts to retrieve missing soldier Hadar Goldin and its continuing work demolishing Hamas’s tunnel network.
Israel formally told Egypt it would not be sending negotiators since Hamas had repeatedly breached previous truce efforts, Israel Radio reported Saturday afternoon. A Palestinian delegation including PLO and Fatah representatives from the West Bank, Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives from abroad, but no representatives in Gaza, was due to arrive in Cairo late Saturday.
The cabinet held talks into the small hours of Saturday and did not issue a formal statement at the conclusion of its session. But government sources were quoted later Saturday saying Israel would not send its negotiators to Cairo, since Hamas — which killed two soldiers and seized Goldin in an attack in Rafah on Friday in a breach of a US- and UN-brokered 72-hour ceasefire — could not be trusted to honor ceasefire agreements. Israel was not ruling out sending negotiators “in, say, five days’ time or a week,” according to a source quoted by Army Radio.
Ministers decided to maintain the “current nature” of the operation, sources said, stressing the goal of demolishing tunnels, destroying Hamas terror infrastructure, and creating the deterrent effect intended to restore sustained calm for Israel. The sources said the IDF expected to complete its work on the tunnels in the next few days and would then “take stock,” Israel Radio reported.
Palestinian officials in Hamas-run Gaza said at least 35 Palestinians were killed in IDF bombardment and shelling in and around Rafah early Saturday. Elsewhere in Gaza, Palestinian officials reported more than 150 airstrikes including several against mosques and one against the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza City.
The Israeli military said it struck 200 targets over the previous 24 hours. It said it attacked five mosques that concealed weapons and that the Islamic University was being used as a research and weapons manufacturing site for Hamas.
Hamas fired more than 20 rockets and mortar shells at Israel by mid-afternoon Saturday.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi said Saturday the Egyptian truce plan provided a “real chance” to end the Gaza conflict, and stressed the need for its speedy implementation. “The Egyptian proposal is the real chance to find a solution to the crisis in Gaza and to end the bloodshed,” Sissi told a televised news conference. Israel accepted the Egyptian proposal, which provides for an unconditional ceasefire followed by negotiations, on July 17; Hamas rejected it.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office also said Israel “expects the United States and the international community to respond strongly to a terror organization that so blatantly defies them.” President Barack Obama on Friday told Hamas to release Goldin unconditionally and as soon as possible.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu feels that, in agreeing to the truce on Friday morning, which was meant to lead to substantive negotiations, Israel honored Obama’s call from last Sunday for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire, Israel Radio reported, quoting government sources. It should now be clearer still that Hamas was responsible for the ongoing bloodshed, the sources said.
Some members of the eight-strong security cabinet — including Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett — have been urging that the IDF be ordered to smash Hamas and end the Islamist terror group’s rule of Gaza, where it seized control in 2007. But an Army Radio report late Friday quoted an unnamed government source from the marathon cabinet meeting saying that to retake Gaza “would cost hundreds of soldiers’ lives” and would have an immensely detrimental economic impact. The source said decisions on how to direct Operation Protective Edge needed to be taken “calmly.”
Earlier, IDF Spokesman Moti Almoz said the apparent kidnapping of Goldin and the killing of the two other IDF soldiers during the truce in Rafah was “a very grave incident” but that grave incidents happen during military operations. The comment seemed to reflect an Israeli desire to try not to inflate the psychological impact of the kidnapping.
“Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip will bear the consequences of their actions,” Netanyahu told US Secretary of State John Kerry during a phone call before the cabinet convened on Friday afternoon. Israel will “take all necessary steps against those who call for our destruction and perpetrate terrorism against our citizens,” Netanyahu told Kerry.
Kerry later condemned an “outrageous” violation by Palestinian militants of the Gaza ceasefire he helped to broker.
Israel’s security cabinet began its meeting at 6:30 p.m., and discussed how to react to the day’s events and, more specifically, whether to expand the offensive or stick to its original objective — restoring sustained quiet to Israel’s citizens while dealing a harsh blow to Hamas terrorist infrastructure.
Mitch Ginsburg and AP contributed to this report.