This story has been updated.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry went
to sleep Thursday night having achieved a rare Middle East diplomatic victory:
Israel and Hamas had agreed to silence their guns and rockets for 72 hours to
create time for Palestinians to bury their dead and for diplomats to broker a
more durable peace. But like so much else in the Middle East, it turned out to
be a bad dream.
By the time American policymakers in Washington, D.C., had awoken Friday
morning, Aug. 1, the cease-fire had collapsed amid reports that Palestinian militants had
killed two Israeli soldiers and had captured a third during an Israeli search of a
militant tunnel in the Rafah neighborhood of the Gaza Strip. Israel followed up by
bombarding the area, while Hamas continued to fire rockets and mortars into
Each side cast blame on the other, with Israel charging Hamas with
violating the terms of the cease-fire. One Hamas official claimed that Israel
provoked the breakdown and that the Israeli soldier had been captured before the
cease-fire had gone into effect.
But the resumption of fighting underscored the
fragility of the cease-fire, which permitted Israel to continue operations aimed
at destroying a vast network of underground tunnels that has become a vital component
of Hamas's military strategy of bringing the war to Israel's doorstep.
Israel's spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said on Twitter Friday morning
that an Israeli soldier, 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, had been captured and dragged
into a tunnel.
"If our suspicions about today's events are accurate, Hamas
took advantage of the latest ceasefire in order to kidnap an IDF [Israel Defense
Forces] soldier," according to a tweet from his account. "We are
conducting extensive searches in S. Gaza in order to find a missing IDF
In a telephone conversation with Kerry, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu blamed Hamas for having "unilaterally and grossly violated the
humanitarian ceasefire," his spokesman, Ofir Gendelman, tweeted Thursday.
A senior member of Hamas's political wing, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said that the soldier was captured before the cease-fire
took hold, according to the New York Times.
Facing mounting international pressure to halt the fighting in Gaza,
Israel and Hamas agreed to observe a U.N.-brokered 72-hour "humanitarian
cease-fire" to give Palestinian civilians a respite from weeks of
relentless violence to bury their dead, tend to their wounded, and stock up on
food and water.
The agreement -- which was announced jointly Thursday night by Kerry and
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon -- was also intended to allow Egyptian-hosted talks
between Palestinian and Israeli officials to resume this weekend in Cairo to reach a more
"durable cease-fire," according to the joint statement.
In the meantime, Israeli forces could stay put in Gaza, a
key Israeli demand. Netanyahu activated 16,000
more reserve troops Thursday and told his people in a televised address that the offensive wouldn't stop until all of the tunnels Hamas has been using
to sneak into Israel were destroyed.
"Israel will be able to continue its defensive operations for those
tunnels that are behind its lines, and the Palestinians will be able to receive
food, medicine, and additional humanitarian assistance, as well as to be able
to tend to their wounded, bury their dead, be able to in safe areas travel to
their homes, and take advantage of the absence -- hopefully, hopefully -- of
violence for these 72 hours," Kerry said shortly after the deal was
The pact came one day after the U.N. chief
accused Israel of engaging in "reprehensible" conduct for
allegedly shelling a U.N. shelter housing 3,000 Palestinian civilians. At least
16 people were killed in the strike. Meanwhile, the U.N. high commissioner for
human rights, Navi Pillay, on Thursday condemned Israel for shelling the U.N.
facility, saying that attacks on relief facilities constitute war crimes.
"Six U.N. schools have now been hit, including another deadly
strike on 24 July that also killed civilians," Pillay said Thursday. "If
civilians cannot take refuge in U.N. schools, where can they be safe? They
leave their homes to seek safety -- and are then subjected to attack in the
places they flee to. This is a grotesque situation."
She also condemned Palestinian militants' "indiscriminate firing of
rockets" into Israeli towns and said that military assets should not be
located in densely populated areas. Since the fighting began, she said, armed Palestinians have fired more than 3,500 rockets and 800 mortars
into Israel. "The launching of indiscriminate attacks is a war
crime," she said.
Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor,
on Thursday told reporters at the United Nations, where the Security
Council convened an emergency session on Gaza's humanitarian crisis, that the
Israeli government was investigating the incident. But he insisted that "no
Israeli soldier intentionally targets civilians."
"Israel does not shy away from accepting responsibility" for
its actions, he added. The international community is "quick to condemn
Israel but slow to condemn Hamas for its war crimes."
Since fighting began on July 8, more than 1,200 Palestinians, including
850 civilians, have been killed, as well as 60 Israelis, including 57 soldiers
and three civilians, according to Pillay.
Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, brokered the cease-fire
agreement. But the United States, Egypt, Qatar, and other key powers have also
been working behind the scenes to secure the deal. The negotiations have been
slowed by a sharp divide between Egypt, which tacitly supports the Israeli
offensive and is mounting one of its own against Hamas, and Qatar, one of the
armed group's largest political and financial supporters.
"I applaud the efforts of Secretary
Kerry and partners such as Egypt who should be congratulated for all they have
done to bring an end to this humanitarian crisis," Britain's foreign
secretary, Philip Hammond, said before the deal unraveled. "We should now
redouble our efforts and leave no stone unturned, to ensure this is a lasting
and durable ceasefire to make way for substantial discussion to resolve the
underlying issues on both sides."
Israel has insisted that any agreement require the silencing of
Palestinian rockets, the disarmament of Palestinian armed groups, and the
destruction of a vast network of tunnels used by Palestinian militants to
Serry has been pushing both Israelis
and Palestinians to build on this weekend's temporary cease-fire to reach agreement
on a plan that would open Gaza's long-shuttered border crossings into Egypt and
Israel and establish a humanitarian corridor to permit the delivery of basic
goods -- including food, medicines, and building supplies -- into Gaza. Another
idea under consideration by Israel and other key powers involves the adoption
of a new measure inspired by Resolution 1701, which formally ended the 2006 war
in southern Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah, the heavily armed Shiite
militia. The new resolution would call for extending the Palestinian
Authority's administration over Gaza and disarming armed Palestinian fighters,
including Hamas. The plan -- which was first outlined
by Haaretz -- would require
some sort of international monitoring force to verify compliance with the
terms. The newspaper reported Wednesday that the Israeli Foreign Ministry has urged
Netanyahu to push for such a resolution in the Security Council.
But one U.N.-based diplomat said that
negotiators will have to address one uncomfortable reality. "What is in it
for Hamas?" the diplomat said. Negotiators, the diplomat said, will have
to include incentives, including the payment of salaries to Hamas officials in
the Gaza Strip's government.
"This is not a time for
congratulations and joy, or anything except a serious determination, a focus by
everybody to try to figure out the road ahead," Kerry said. "This is
a respite. It's a moment of opportunity, not an end; it's not a solution. It's
the opportunity to find the solution."
AFP/Getty Images/ pool photo