At least 62 Palestinians dead as Israel searches for soldier
Fierce fighting lead to collapse of US-brokered truce after less than two hours
Israel declared a Gaza ceasefire over today and killed more than 50 Palestinians in renewed shelling, saying militants had breached the truce shortly after it began and apparently captured an Israeli soldier.
The 72-hour break announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting, and followed mounting international alarm over a rising Palestinian civilian death toll.
The ceasefire was to be followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution.
Egyptian officials said the invitation still stood, but some Palestinian representatives had asked for a postponement until tomorrow or Sunday to allow a new truce to be reached.
The Israeli military said that 90 minutes into the truce - as Palestinian families who had fled neighbourhoods that had been turned into battlefields began to trek home - militants attacked soldiers searching for infiltration tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip.
“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 said in a conference call with reporters.
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 soldier.
The Gaza health ministry said more than 50 people were killed and 220 wounded by Israeli shelling after the incident near the southern town of Rafah.
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.
There was no immediate word from militant groups on whether any were holding the soldier, identified by the military as Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin (23). 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”.
Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on July 8th, 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 on July 17th.