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Israel, Hamas wrangle over Gaza ceasefire

Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Sunday. (Reuters)

Jerusalem, July 27: Israel and Hamas went back and forth today over proposals for a humanitarian lull in the fighting in Gaza, underscoring the external and internal pressures on both sides and a reluctance by each to appear to be led or dictated by the other.

By afternoon, Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, had called for a new 24-hour pause, hours after Israel had declared one over in response to a barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza into its territory.

The Israeli military said in a statement shortly after 10am today that it was resuming its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip “following Hamas’s incessant rocket fire throughout the humanitarian window” that had been meant to last from midnight Saturday through midnight Sunday.

Israel at first accepted that lull requested by the United Nations, but Hamas rejected it on the grounds that it did not involve a withdrawal of troops from the Palestinian coastal territory.

But around afternoon, Hamas backtracked and said “resistance groups” would agree to a new 24-hour truce starting at 2pm local time. A Hamas official in Gaza released a statement saying that the decision came “in response to the intervention of the United Nations” and out of understanding for the people of Gaza who are preparing for Id.

There was no immediate response from Israel. Asked on the CNN program “State of the Union” whether Israel would accept the offer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied: “Hamas doesn’t even accept its own ceasefire. It’s continuing to fire at us as we speak.”

In 20 days of fighting, over 1,000 Palestinians and 45 Israelis, including an Indian-origin soldier, have been killed. The Indian-origin soldier has been identified as Sergeant First Class Barak Refael Degorker, a 27-year-old reservist, PTI reported.

In an interview on the “Fox News Sunday” program, Netanyahu said: “Israel is not going to let a terrorist organisation determine when it’s convenient for them to fire at our cities, at our people, and when it’s not, when they can restock.”

Professor Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said that Hamas, too, “feels it cannot accept even a humanitarian ceasefire when it is not the one that sets the time”. Among other things, he said, both sides are concerned with saving face.

The wrangling over even a brief, humanitarian truce also reflected one of the main disagreements between Israel and Hamas regarding any temporary ceasefire.

While Hamas said it was responding to the United Nations and was taking the needs of Gaza’s residents into consideration in seeking a new ceasefire, Netanyahu was facing political pressure from partners in his governing coalition and from some ministers within his own party not to take the pressure off Hamas.

Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, issued a statement on his Facebook page this morning saying: “Israel stands at a historic decisive moment. It is possible to defeat Hamas decisively and to dismantle its rockets and tunnels.”

Addressing Hamas, he added: “No ceasefires, no lulls, no discussions. You have our phone number. When you are ready to demilitarise, call us.”

 
 
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