Cease-fire collapses between Israel, Hamas; Israeli soldier captured

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from The Washington Post,

It was the start of a three-day truce, the best hope yet to end a 25-day-old war that has taken an enormous toll on both Palestinians and Israelis.

On Friday morning, Israeli troops were in the southern Gaza Strip preparing to destroy a Hamas tunnel, said Israeli military officials. Suddenly, Palestinian militants emerged from a shaft. They included a suicide bomber, who detonated his explosive device. In the chaos, two Israeli soldiers were killed. The militants grabbed 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, and pushed him back through the tunnel, according to the Israeli account.

Within minutes, the war was back.

“The cease-fire is over,” declared Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a senior spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces. Ground operations will continue, he said, “and our aircraft are in the sky as we speak.”

By Friday afternoon, Israel was heavily shelling areas near the border city of Rafah, where the soldier’s capture occurred. Hamas officials were disputing the timeline of the clashes, accusing Israel of breaking the cease-fire. And the United States and the United Nations, the architects of the truce, were condemning the killing of the two soldiers and Goldin’s abduction while seeking ways to save the peace talks scheduled to take place in Cairo over the weekend.

Goldin’s fate, military analysts said, could alter the course of the conflict, with Israel either slowing its offensive to negotiate his return or widening its operations, pushing deeper into the Gaza Strip to eradicate Hamas, and leading to the likelihood of greater civilian casualties.

Israel’s bombardment Friday in the Rafah area killed 52 Palestinians and injured more than 350, said Gaza Health Ministry officials, bringing the Palestinian death toll to more than 1,600 since the conflict began July 8. Sixty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by mortar rounds or rockets fired by militants from Gaza into Israel.

President Obama, speaking in the White House briefing room, urged Hamas and other Palestinian factions to release Goldin, saying that was an essential condition for a durable truce. He added that Israel had “a right to defend itself.”

“I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire together again if Israel and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through,” Obama said. “When they sign on a cease-fire they’re claiming to speak for all Palestinian factions. . . . If they don’t have control of them . . . then it’s hard for the Israelis to feel confident that a cease-fire can actually be honored.”

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