Israeli soldiers stand on top of a tank near the Israeli
border with the Gaza Strip. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
Israel is prepared to continue fighting Palestinian
guerrillas in the Gaza Strip after the army completes its
primary mission of destroying cross-border tunnels from the
territory, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says.
"After completing the anti-tunnel operation, the IDF (Israel
Defence Forces) will act and continue to act, in accordance
with our security needs and only according to our defence
needs, until we achieve our objective of restoring security
to you, Israel's citizens," he said in a televised speech.
Earlier, some Israeli ground forces withdrew from the Gaza
Strip, two Israeli television stations reported, after the
military said it was close to achieving its main war goal of
destroying the tunnels.
Asked about the reports, an Israeli military spokesman said
she could not comment on troop deployments.
Shelling exchanges continued, pushing the Gaza death toll
given by Palestinian officials up to 1,669, but in some areas
witnesses reported Israeli tanks pulling back toward the
Israel said Palestinians launched 74 rockets across the
border, most of which fell harmlessly wide while seven were
shot down by its Iron Dome interceptor, including over Tel
Several ceasefires between Israel and the Gaza Strip's
dominant Islamist Hamas faction had failed to take hold or
quickly collapsed, most recently on Friday after two Israeli
soldiers were killed and a third went missing in an ambush.
Israel accused Hamas of seizing lieutenant Hadar Goldin and
the United States blamed the group for a "barbaric" breach of
the truce. The United Nations was more guarded in its censure
of Hamas but demanded Goldin's release.
Seeking to shift responsibility, Hamas said it believed its
gunmen had struck before Friday's ceasefire began and that if
they captured Goldin, he probably died with his captors in
heavy Israeli barrages that followed.
A Palestinian delegation arrived in Cairo for new truce
talks, which would include Hamas's demand Egypt ease movement
across its border with blockaded Gaza. Turning its back on
those negotiations, Israel said it would not send envoys as
"They (Hamas) cannot be trusted to keep their word. They
cannot stop (firing) because, for them, a ceasefire at this
stage, whether by arrangement or not by arrangement, would
mean acknowledging the worst possible defeat," Deputy Foreign
Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel's Channel Two TV.
"I believe this is the point at which the ground manoeuvres
should be brought to an end. Hamas can be hit as much as will
be required in response to firing that, I expect, will
A poll by Israel's Channel Ten TV found 32 percent of the
public wanted a truce, 31 percent wanted ground forces
withdrawn even without a halt to hostilities, and 31 percent
wanted the military to step up operations, reoccupy Gaza and
Hamas, its guerrillas massively outgunned by a Jewish state
it considers an eternal enemy, said it would prevail.
Any unilateral pullout by Israel would mean "it has failed to
achieve any of its goals and would be a clear defeat for the
occupation army and for its leaders," Hamas's bloc in the
Palestinian parliament said in a statement. "Gaza resisted,
endured and will achieve victory."
Israel launched a Gaza air and naval offensive on July 8
following a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas and
other Palestinian guerrillas, later escalating into ground
incursions centred along the infiltration tunnel-riddled
eastern frontier of the enclave but often pushing into urban
With U.S. backing, Israel had said that whether or not there
is a ceasefire its forces would pursue their main mission of
hunting tunnels used by Hamas for several cross-border
attacks. More than 30 of these, and dozens of access shafts,
have already been unearthed and were being blown up, the
"Our understanding is that our objectives, most importantly
the destruction of the tunnels, are close to completion," a
military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, said.
Crowded Gazan towns close to the Israeli border have seen
devastating clashes, and the flight of tens of thousands of
Palestinians, as tanks and troops swept in to confront dug-in
guerrillas after the army warned civilians to evacuate.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 520,000 people
had been displaced by the fighting - more than a quarter of
Gaza's population. Another group, the Al-Mezan Centre for
Human Rights, said some 3,000 homes had been totally or
Israel said on Saturday evacuees from Beit Lahiya, a northern
town of 70,000 residents, could return. But fear still
gripped the townspeople.
"No one has told us to go back," said Talab Manna, a
30-year-old father of seven camped out at a U.N.-run school
serving as a refugee haven. "We can't risk going back and
being bombed by the Israeli forces."
After Friday's ceasefire was shattered, Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into
special session to discuss Goldin's suspected capture in the
southern town of Rafah, and warned Hamas and other
Palestinian guerrillas would "bear the consequences of their
But Israeli media said Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe
Yaalon would likely hold course in Gaza rather than escalate.
Citing an internal investigation complicated by inability to
communicate with its gunmen in the Rafah area, Hamas's armed
wing said on Saturday it believed their ambush happened an
hour before the truce began, in response to Israeli troop
Hamas said it did not know what had happened to the soldier
but if he was captured, he probably died in Israeli
hostilities that followed the ambush.
Quoting a senior military officer, Israel Radio also said
Goldin's condition was not known. It said he was last seen
next to the two troops killed by a Hamas suicide bomber -
suggesting Goldin may not have survived and his captors had a
Israel has confirmed that 63 soldiers have died in combat.
Palestinian shelling has also killed three civilians in
Hamas had long threatened to capture Israelis for a prisoner
swap. In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian
prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier snatched by
Hamas five years earlier. Israel has twice freed prisoners
for the bodies of soldiers held by Lebanon's Hezbollah
RAFAH IN RUINS
The Rafah clash triggered Israeli shelling from the middle of
Friday morning that killed 150 Palestinians. By afternoon,
Israel declared an end to the truce - which was meant to have
lasted 72 hours, allowing humanitarian relief to reach Gaza's
1.8 million Palestinians and for further de-escalation talks.
Rafah residents said they had received recorded telephone
warnings from Israel to stay indoors during a barrage that
wreaked widespread ruin. Medical officials on Saturday
counted at least a dozen homes destroyed.
"It was like an action movie - explosions everywhere, cars
flying up in flames, people crushed under houses that were
bombed," local man Bassim Abed told Reuters.