Cease-Fire Attempt Ends as Israeli Airstrikes Resume
[Breaking news update, 8:15 a.m. ET]
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that airstrikes against targets in Gaza have resumed, after a cease-fire attempt that lasted about six hours. A CNN crew witnessed at least five airstrikes Tuesday as the cease-fire was lifted.
[Original story, published 7:52 a.m. ET]
Israel has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire. But with Hamas’ military wing rejecting the gesture outright, there may be little hope of seeing an end to the near constant exchange of fire that has so far killed more than 190 Palestinians in Gaza.
The Israeli Security Cabinet met early Tuesday morning and reached a decision to halt aerial strikes beginning at 9 a.m. (2 a.m. ET).
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, even with the development, Israel wasn’t letting its guard down.
“If Hamas rejects the Egyptian proposal and the rocket fire from Gaza does not cease — and that appears to be the case — we are prepared to continue and intensify our operation and protect our people,” Netanyahu said three hours after the cease-fire began.
“Our goal was and remains putting an end to rocket fire from Gaza on our cities, and providing the citizens of Israel with the sustained peace and quiet to which they are entitled.”
Five hours into the cease-fire, Israel had not carried out a single airstrike in Gaza, Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. During that same period, 40 rockets had been fired into Israel from Gaza, he said.
Palestinian security forces had reported an Israeli airstrike over some farmland, but Regev denied that any such airstrikes happened.
The bottom line, he said, is that the rocket attacks have to stop.
The current situation — with Israel showing restraint while rockets continue to be fired from Gaza — “is just unsustainable,” he said.
“We remain alert and preserve high preparedness levels, both defensive and offensive,” military spokesman Peter Lerner said. “If the Hamas terror organization will fire at Israel, we shall respond.” he tweeted.
The plan calls for all sides to cease hostilities in Gaza. It also calls for the opening of border crossings, once the security situation is stable, and for high-level talks among those involved.
The response from Hamas’ military wing contradicted the one from its political wing.
“We are still discussing and there is no official position yet from the movement on the Egyptian initiative,” Mousa Abumarzook, a senior member of Hamas, said on his official Facebook page.
Hamas’ military wing, the Qassam Brigades, dismissed any talk of a cease-fire, saying its battle with “the enemy” will “increase in ferocity and intensity.”
“We in the Al-Qassam Brigades reject altogether the proposal, which for us is not worth the ink that it was written with.”
‘A first step’
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the Israeli acceptance of the Egyptian proposal should be seen as “a first step, not the end.”
“We have to be cautious of this cycle of violence which the Palestinian people continue to suffer,” she said.
Earlier, Hamas mocked the proposal in public, with a spokesman describing it as a “joke.”
“We did not receive this declared paper from the Egyptians … which means it’s an initiative for the media. It’s not a political initiative,” said Osama Hamdan.
Speaking on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” he continued: “It’s not really an initiative. It’s not really an idea, what they are trying to do is to corner the Palestinians and to help the Israelis more.”
The stakes are high and climbing.
By Tuesday, the death toll from a week of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza had reached 194 with at least 1,400 wounded, according to Palestinian health authorities.
The death toll is now greater than the number of people killed in Gaza during the 2012 conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Amid the diplomatic maneuvering, the residents of Gaza are stuck in the middle of the continued fighting. The United Nations has said that most of the people killed by Israel’s aerial attacks are civilians.
“I urgently call on the Israeli Security Forces to put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians and civilian infrastructure which are contrary to international humanitarian law,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA.
There are now 17,000 refugees taking shelter in 20 schools in Gaza, UNRWA said, and the airstrikes have damaged 47 of its buildings, including clinics, schools and warehouses.
The Israeli military says it uses a variety of methods, including phone calls and leaflets, to warn civilians of impending strikes.
But UNRWA called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint and precautions to avoid more casualties.
“Clearly at this stage not enough is being done in that regard,” Krahenbuhl said.
‘This is tyranny’
Israel said Monday its forces have struck 1,470 “terror targets” across Gaza, including 770 concealed rocket launchers.
But in one area of northern Gaza, Mohamed Abu Hassan said Monday he doesn’t understand why his house was severely damaged in an Israeli airstrike that struck the building next door.
There was no unusual activity in the house in the town of Jabalya, he said.
“My son isn’t even here. He’s working in Libya,” Hassan said. Only his wife is at the house.
“Is she fighting Israel?” he asks. “This is tyranny.”
15 seconds to seek shelter
Israel has used its Iron Dome defense system against some of the more than 1,088 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, the military said.
On Monday, the system intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza toward the Israeli border town of Sderot, close to CNN’s Blitzer.
“We heard a loud boom,” he said. “If you don’t seek shelter, you’re gonna be in danger because even though the rocket was destroyed in the air, the shrapnel starts coming down very, very quickly.”
When sirens go off, people along the border have about 15 second to seek shelter. Farther north in Tel Aviv, where the Iron Dome system also intercepted a rocket Monday, people have about a minute.
More than 60 of the rockets fired from Gaza have targeted Ashkelon, with more flying overhead Tuesday.
“So as you see, Hamas don’t accept the cease-fire,” resident Merav Danielie said, seeming to accept her fate.
“It won’t last because Hamas always will get more bombs from Iran … so it doesn’t really matter,” she said. “Six months from today, it will start all over again. As long as they don’t have a state, they will always hate us.”
Seventy percent of Israel’s population lies within range of Hamas rocket attacks, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The defense system has intercepted roughly a fifth of the rockets fired, the IDF said early Tuesday.
So far, no Israelis have been killed by the rocket attacks.
Kerry delays trip
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was preparing a possible trip to the Middle East to lay groundwork for a cease-fire, but several U.S. officials told CNN on Monday night that he is postponing the visit to give Egyptian efforts a chance to take root.
One official said the United States wants to give Egypt a chance to reassert itself as a power broker the Middle East, as it did during the 2012 cease-fire.
Kerry continued to follow that line Tuesday.
“The Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire and negotiations provides an opportunity to end the violence and restore calm,” Kerry said from Vienna, Austria. “We welcome the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to accept it. We urge all other parties to accept the proposal.”
Kerry strongly condemned the rocket launches by Hamas in the face of the cease-fire plan, and said he is prepared to fly to the Middle East as early as Wednesday, if needed.
The current Egyptian President, the ex-military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has weaker relations with Hamas than former President Mohamed Morsy, who brokered the 2012 deal. Morsy was ousted by the military in 2013.
Earlier, Kerry spoke by phone with Netanyahu and expressed U.S. concerns about escalating tensions. He reiterated that the U.S. is prepared to help bring about a cease-fire, a senior State Department official said.
But “offering facilitation is not enough,” Yousef Munayyer of the Washington-based Palestine Center told CNN’s “New Day.”
“It’s important that the United States demand a cease-fire,” he said. “There is no military solution to this.”