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US Approves $225M for Israel's Iron Dome

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The armed wing of Hamas say it does not know the whereabouts of an Israeli solider that Israel has accused it of abducting, but speculated that he was likely killed in an Israeli strike.

The group said Saturday in a statement it had lost contact with its fighters in the southern Gaza Strip where Israel says the soldier was abducted. Hamas said it believes all members of its group in the southern Gaza Strip have died in an Israeli strike along with the Israeli soldier.

The status of the missing soldier has not been confirmed.

On Fridaty, U.S. President Barack Obama called on Hamas to immediately and unconditionally free the soldier to show that Hamas is serious about trying to resolve the situation in Gaza.

At a White House news conference, Obama said it will be very hard to put the shattered cease-fire back together if Israel and the international community are not confident Hamas will follow through on pledges to stop attacks.

The president repeated that Israel has a right to defend itself from Hamas rockets and attacks. But he called the deaths of Palestinian civilians heartbreaking and said everything must be done to protect them.

Late Friday, U.S. Congress approved $225 million in emergency funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, sending the measure to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. The House vote was 395 to 8.

Early Saturday, an Israeli website said the Iron Dome system has intercepted several rockets not long after Hamas said it had fired three rockets at Tel Aviv.

Also Saturday, Palestinian officials say 34 people where killed in airstrikes in and around the town of Rafah.

What was supposed to be a 72-hour cease-fire lasted barely 90 minutes Friday before Israel said a suicide bomber attacked Israeli soldiers dismantling a tunnel near Rafah. Israel says two soldiers were killed and a third kidnapped.

Hamas blames Israel for breaking the cease-fire.

Israel Searches

The presumed abduction of the Israeli soldier occurred in the southern city of Rafah at about 9:30 a.m. Friday, local time, roughly 90 minutes after the humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas took effect. Israel Defense Forces identified the missing soldier as 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23. A spokesman said the military was conducting an extensive search for Goldin.

Gaza Conflict, death tolls, August 1, 2014

Gaza Conflict, death tolls, August 1, 2014

Goldin reportedly was taken, and two other Israeli troops were killed, during an operation to find and destroy tunnels used by militants to infiltrate Israel. The Israeli military said a firefight with militants broke out, with a suicide bombing adding to the mayhem. Several Palestinians also were killed.

Shortly after the attack, the Israeli military resumed shelling the southern Gaza Strip, killing at least 40 people, according to various reports. Hamas resumed firing rockets into southern Israel.

Israel declared the cease-fire over hours after it began. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office released a statement blaming Gaza militants for "flagrantly" violating what was supposed to be a three-day cease-fire. Israeli media later reported that the military had resumed its offensive operations in Gaza.

The United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, said in a statement that if reports of the tunnel attack were corroborated, "this would constitute a serious violation of the humanitarian cease-fire ... by Gazan militant factions, which should be condemned in the strongest terms."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon had announced the 72-hour cease-fire late Thursday, in a statement Friday decried its “outrageous violation" and called for the missing soldier's immediate release.

"After the horrific loss of life in this attack and its aftermath, it would be a tragedy if this outrageous attack leads to more suffering and loss of life on both sides of this conflict," Kerry said. He called upon the international community to "redouble its efforts to end the tunnel and rocket attacks by Hamas terrorists on Israel and the suffering and loss of civilian life."

Kerry has appealed to Qatar and Turkey in particular to help in freeing the soldier, Reuters reported.

Secretary-General Ban, in a statement, said he was "profoundly, profoundly disappointed" by the renewed violence, calling it "a tragic loss of opportunity for both sides to end the cycle of fear and suffering."

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had planned to meet in Cairo, Egypt, during the cease-fire to hammer out a more enduring calm and to address issues underlying the conflict.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said a Palestinian delegation will be in Cairo on Sunday for talks previously planned talks with Israelis. Israel has not yet commented on the upcoming talks, but an Egyptian official said the task are still on track.

The U.N.'s political chief, Jeffrey Feltman, told reporters Friday that the abrupt end to the cease-fire threatened chances for successful negotiation.

"There was substantive and logical linkage between the 72-hour unconditional humanitarian cease-fire and attempt to make it more durable by addressing some core issues," Feltman said. "Right now, that essential first part is not there."

Some Palestinian representatives have sought postponing negotiations to the weekend, meanwhile hoping for a truce, Reuters reported. It said the Palestinian delegation would include representatives of Hamas, Western-backed Fatah, the Islamic Jihad militant groups and others.

A senior official traveling with Kerry in India said several other U.S. diplomats were expected to arrive in Cairo on Friday and Saturday, Reuters said.

According to reports by Reuters, "Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah broke his silence on Friday over the three-week-old conflict in Gaza, condemning what he saw as international silence over Israel's offensive and describing this as a war crime and 'state-sponsored terrorism'."

Positions hardened

VOA correspondent Scott Bobb, who is in Gaza, said both sides are hardening their positions and there is no end in sight to the fighting.

"Hamas continues to insist on a complete end to the [economic] blockade before it will consider a formal, official cease-fire," he said. "And Israel insists on the demilitarization of Gaza before it will consider lifting any blockade. So at the moment, there is no cease-fire."

Israeli leaders want the demilitarization of Hamas, which has sent thousands of rockets into Israeli territory in recent weeks. The Islamist group wants an end to the Israeli-led blockade that has strangled Gaza's economy and prevented Gazans from traveling.

Palestinians say the three-week Israeli air and ground campaign in Gaza has killed about 1,600 Palestinians; mostly civilians. Israel says 63 of its soldiers and three civilians have died.

In the hours before the cease-fire took effect Friday, Gaza police reported heavy Israeli tank shelling in northern and eastern Gaza, and the loud exchange of fire between Israeli troops and militants was audible throughout Gaza City. Tank shells landed on homes in the city, setting homes and shops ablaze.

Hamas fighters hit an Israeli tank with an anti-tank missile, Gaza police said, and then attacked Israeli troops who came to evacuate the tank crew. Clashes continued into the early morning hours, police said.

Brief reprieve

Just after the truce began, Bobb saw "small traffic jams in the city as people rush out to buy supplies and visit the homes they abandoned days or weeks ago."

At a depot selling cooking gas, "literally hundreds of canisters [were] lined up waiting to be filled," he said. This was the first depot to reopen. Others, located to the east near the conflict zone, are considered too dangerous to reopen.

Bobb said some stores and restaurants had reopened. "People are out in the streets today," he reported. "For the first time, I saw children playing in the ocean, on the beach. And fishermen have gone out, although they stay within about a hundred meters offshore."

But the respite was short-lived.

After Friday prayers, news began to spread that the cease-fire had been broken. City and neighborhood streets emptied, and Gaza returned to its previously forlorn state.

VOA's Scott Bobb contributed to this report from the Gaza Strip. Reuters, AFP and the Associated Press also contributed.

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