An Israeli soldier carries a shell at a mobile artillery
unit while it fires towards the Gaza Strip. REUTERS/ Baz
Israel has declared a Gaza ceasefire over, saying Hamas
militants breached the truce soon after it took effect and
apparently captured an Israeli officer while killing two other
Renewed Israeli shelling killed more than 70 Palestinians and
wounded some 220, hospital officials said. Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into special
session and publicly warned Hamas and other militant groups
they would "bear the consequences of their actions".
The 72-hour break announced by US Secretary of State John
Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the most
ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of
fighting, driven by mounting international alarm over a
rising Palestinian civilian death toll.
US President Barack Obama called for the Israeli soldier's
unconditional release and said that after the day's events it
would be tough to reinstate a truce.
"I think it's going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back
together again if Israelis and the international community
can't feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a
ceasefire commitment," he told a news conference.
Obama said he has been in constant contact with Netanyahu
about the situation, and added that more needs to be done to
protect Palestinian civilians.
Kerry said he had asked Qatar, which is close to Hamas, and
Turkey to help free the soldier. Hamas, the Islamist group
dominant in Gaza, has neither confirmed nor denied holding
"We have urged them, implored them, to use their influence to
do whatever they can to get that soldier returned," a senior
State Department official told reporters travelling with
Kerry. "Absent that, the risk of this continuing to escalate,
leading to further loss of life, is very high."
Turkey's foreign minister said his country would do its best
to help, but that reinstating the truce should be the
Ban also condemned Hamas's reported violation of the
ceasefire and demanded the release of the soldier.
The ceasefire, which began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), had prompted
Palestinian families to trek back to battle-devastated
neighbourhoods where rows of homes have been reduced to
rubble. It was to be followed by Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution.
A senior Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said the talks
would still begin on Sunday, and that Cairo "expects the two
sides to cease fire before the launch of negotiations".
SEARCHING FOR TUNNELS
The Israeli military said that 90 minutes into the truce,
militants attacked soldiers searching for tunnels in the
southern Gaza Strip used to infiltrate fighters into Israel.
"Out of a tunnel access point or several, terrorists came out
of the ground. At least one was a suicide terrorist who
detonated himself. There was an exchange of fire," said
Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Two of
the soldiers were killed.
"The initial indication suggests that a soldier has been
abducted by terrorists during the incident," he told
reporters. Mark Regev, a Netanyahu spokesman, said Hamas was
responsible for the attack.
Asked if the ceasefire was over, Lerner replied: "Yes. We are
continuing our activities on the ground." He said Israeli
forces were mounting an "extensive effort" to locate the
officer, Second-Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23.
Kerry said the international community "must now redouble its
efforts to end the tunnel and rocket attacks by Hamas
terrorists on Israel and the suffering and loss of civilian
The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 70 people were killed
by Israeli shelling after the incident near the southern town
There was no immediate word from militant groups on whether
any were holding the officer. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for
the dominant Hamas movement in Gaza, said Israel was trying
to mislead the world and "cover up its Rafah massacre".
Netanyahu spoke by telephone with Kerry and told him "the
Palestinians had blatantly breached the humanitarian
ceasefire" and attacked Israeli soldiers.
"Israel will take all necessary steps against those who call
for its annihilation and terrorise its citizens," a statement
from Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying.
Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on July 8, unleashing
air and naval bombardments in response to a surge of
cross-border rocket attacks. Tanks and infantry pushed into
the territory of 1.8 million people on July 17.
Gaza officials say at least 1,555 Palestinians, mostly
civilians, have been killed and 7,000 wounded. Sixty-three
Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than 400 hurt.
Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets in
The Palestinian death toll is now higher than during the last
major outbreak of hostilities in 2008-2009, when more than
Eight rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza at Israel
after the ceasefire began on Friday, the military said,
adding that one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system and
seven hit open areas.
The truce had left Israeli ground forces in place in the
Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip and a military spokeswoman had
said operations would continue to destroy a warren of tunnels
through which the Islamist group has menaced Israel's
southern towns and army bases.
Israeli officials have long voiced concern that militants
would try to capture a soldier or an Israeli civilian. In
2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners
in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier snatched by Hamas
five years earlier.
Amid strong public support in Israel for the Gaza campaign,
Netanyahu had faced intense pressure from abroad to stand his
forces down. International calls for an end to the bloodshed
intensified after shelling on Wednesday that killed 15 people
sheltering in a U.N.-run school in Gaza's Jabalya refugee
Hamas, isolated in an Arab world concerned about the rise
Islamist militancy, is seeking an end to Israel's blockade of
Gaza. It also wants a hostile Egypt to ease restrictions at
its Rafah crossing with the territory imposed after the
military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last July.
Israel has balked at freeing up Gaza's borders under any
de-escalation deal unless Hamas's disarmament is also
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, in a speech read out on his
behalf on state television on Friday, accused Israel of
committing "war crimes against humanity" in Gaza.
A senior State Department official travelling with Kerry in
India had said US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns would
arrive in Cairo on Saturday and that Frank Lowenstein, the
acting U.S envoy for Middle East peace, and another US
official, Jonathan Schwartz, would be there on Friday.
The Palestinian delegation would be comprised of Hamas,
Western-backed Fatah, the Islamic Jihad militant group and a
number of smaller factions, Palestinian officials said.
But US officials said Israel and the United States would not
sit across the table from Hamas, which the two countries,
along with the European Union, consider a terrorist group.