Israel Warns of Long Gaza Conflict as Hamas Leaders DefiantCalev Ben-David and Jonathan Ferziger
Israel and the Gaza Strip’s ruling Hamas group showed no sign of backing down as Egyptian mediators tried to coax them back into a temporary cease-fire.
Israeli Air Force planes struck a car today in northern Gaza, killing three men the military said were planning a large-scale attack, while Hamas fired at least 94 rockets into southern Israel.
With hostilities entering their eighth week, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid told Army Radio that his country’s battle against Gaza militants would take time. “Anyone looking for a magic solution, or a shortcut, will find themselves in a lengthier process,” Lapid said.
At least nine Gazans were killed in Israeli raids today, bringing the total Palestinian death toll to more than 2,100, including hundreds of civilians, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qedra. The three in the car were hit because Israel’s Shin-Bet intelligence agency received information that they were preparing an attack to kill a large number of Israelis, the army said in an e-mailed statement. It gave no further details of the plan.
The death toll on the Israeli side is 68, all but four of them soldiers, since the country embarked on its offensive July 8 with the declared aim of halting rocket fire.
Hamas said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to hunt down more of its leaders only emboldens the group. Israel has “resorted to threats of assassination and other actions designed to scare us, but the will of our people will not be broken,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said late yesterday.
Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Hamas to halt executions of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel, saying 25 Gazans have been killed since Aug. 21. Hamas has not officially taken responsibility for the executions, 18 of which were carried out by masked men near a mosque in front of dozens of witnesses.
“Hamas authorities should immediately investigate and take appropriate action against all those responsible for these killings and prevent future killings from taking place,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s Middle East director, said in a press release.
Egypt last week proposed an open-ended truce to give the sides time to work on a more lasting accord. Bassam Salhi, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team in Cairo, said militant factions agreed to halt their fire to allow for the start of reconstruction in Gaza, where thousands of buildings have been damaged, and in some cases leveled, by Israeli strikes.
In the longer term, they seek Palestinian Authority supervision of the Gaza side of crossings with Israel. Hamas has agreed to put off the demand for a seaport and airport, Salhi said on official Voice of Palestine radio.
“We are still waiting for the Israeli side to respond,” he said. Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev had no comment.
Israel says the crossings need to be supervised by a third party and that Palestinian militant groups must be disarmed, a condition Hamas rejects. It also says it isn’t prepared to discuss the opening of ports at this point, seeing them as a possible conduit for the entry of weapons into Gaza.
The last temporary truce between Israel and Hamas broke down Aug. l9 with rocket fire after negotiations in Cairo for a long-term agreement hit a dead end.
Stakes in the conflict rose last week when Israeli air strikes killed three senior Hamas military leaders and the wife, a son and a daughter of the group’s top military commander, Mohammed Deif. Israel yesterday said an air strike killed Mohammed al-Oul, who arranged financial transfers to fund Hamas militant operations.
Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist organization. About 4,000 rockets have been fired at Israel over the past seven weeks, and the Israeli military has carried out more than 5,000 strikes on Gaza, the army said. A dozen rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel today with no injuries or damage reported, and Israeli aircraft hit 16 targets in the Palestinian territory, it said.
Israel’s benchmark stock index, which lost 0.7 percent last week, rose 0.9 percent in Tel Aviv trading today. The shekel weakened against the dollar 0.7 percent to 3.5430.