The cease-fire that was supposed to go into effect this morning in Gaza has completely broken down. There are conflicting reports as to who was the first who broke it: Israel or Palestinian militants, who are said to have captured a soldier. The U.S. and Israel are blaming Hamas, though the militant group pointed the finger at Israel.
Whatever the case, the assault on Gaza is now escalating after an Israeli soldier was reportedly captured by militants who, in a suicide attack, ambushed a group of soldiers who were trying to destroy a tunnel in Rafah, the border town near Egypt. Two soldiers were killed in addition to the alleged capture. After the reported capture, Israeli forces heavily shelled Rafah, killing at least 50 people and injuring 220, the Gaza Health Ministry told Reuters. The overall death toll is now over 1,500 people. Israeli forces are now trying to locate the soldier.
The Israeli army says the soldier, 23-year-old British-Israeli Hadar Goldin, is “suspected” to have been captured at around 9:30 am, which is after the 72-hour truce announced last night was supposed to come into affect. Hamas spokespeople have not confirmed that a soldier was captured. “Israel claims that a soldier was captured to hide their crimes and to divert the public opinion to speak of the captured soldier instead,” Hamas official Osama Hamdan said in a statement. So a full picture has not emerged about what exactly happened this morning, and the New York Times reported:
After the initial publication of this article, the military’s censor informed The New York Times that further information related to the soldier would have to be submitted for prior review. Journalists for foreign news organizations must agree in writing to the military censorship system to work in Israel. This was the first censorship notification The Times had received in more than two years.
Hamas’ militant wing, the Qassam Brigades, says that it was Israel who broke the truce. “There had not been any Israeli soldiers in eastern Rafah for the past 20 days. But as soon as the ceasefire was announced, Israeli movement in the area began at around 2:00 a.m. (They moved) 2.5 kilometers into eastern Rafah,” Qassam Brigades said in a statement.
But Secretary of State John Kerry issued a harsh statement blasting Hamas for what he says was a break in the truce:
The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s attack, which led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the apparent abduction of another. It was an outrageous violation of the cease-fire negotiated over the past several days, and of the assurances given to the United States and the United Nations.
Hamas, which has security control over the Gaza Strip, must immediately and unconditionally release the missing Israeli soldier, and I call on those with influence over Hamas to reinforce this message.
Last night, the U.S. and the United Nations announced that 72-hour truce would come into affect so that Palestinians could obtain humanitarian aid and tend to their wounded. But the U.S. and Israel both said all troops would remain in place and that Israeli soldiers would be able to continue to destroy tunnels. But Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan told CNN that was not the group’s understanding of the truce.