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After a brief pause, Israel-Hamas war resumes

Joel Greenberg McClatchy Foreign Staff
JERUSALEM - Efforts by the United Nations to get Israel and Hamas to extend a “humanitarian pause” in fighting in the Gaza Strip collapsed today as Israeli forces resumed bombardments and shelling in response to renewed rocket and mortar fire from the Palestinian territory. Israel had declared a 24-hour cease-fire at midnight Saturday, but said it resumed attacks because of violations by Hamas. The Islamist group declared its own 24-hour cease-fire at 2 p.m. local time on Sunday, citing the hardships of Palestinian civilians and the approaching Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, but Israel rejected it. Diplomatic contacts to arrange a broader seven-day cease-fire leading to negotiations on a durable truce appeared to be mired in disagreements over the terms. There were signs of dissatisfaction in Israel with the mediation efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry. The war so far has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 6,000, according to Gaza health officials. The U.N. said that three-quarters of the dead in Gaza are civilians, including more than 200 children. About 200,000 Palestinians have been displaced by the fighting, and most are sheltered in U.N. schools. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai laborer have been killed in rocket strikes on Israel, and 43 Israeli soldiers have been killed in ground combat. The absence of a trusted mediator has hobbled diplomatic efforts to halt the Israeli offensive, which began July 8 with bombardments from land, sea and air, followed 10 days later by a ground push into Gaza. The diplomacy has also been complicated by regional tensions between Egypt and the Palestinian Authority on the one side, and Hamas and its allies, Turkey and Qatar, on the other. Hamas rejected an initial cease-fire proposal put forward by Egypt, reflecting its distrust of of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who is hostile to the Islamist group and its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. Kerry’s attempts to broker a deal have foundered over Israeli dissatisfaction with the terms of his latest proposal for a seven-day cease-fire. Israel’s Cabinet unanimously rejected the plan on Friday, which officials described as heavily weighted in favor of Hamas demands, without taking adequate account of Israeli security concerns. A leaked text of the draft proposal was published Sunday by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The plan calls for a seven-day “humanitarian cease-fire” followed by negotiations in Cairo within 48 hours to reach “a sustainable cease-fire and enduring solution to the crisis in Gaza.” Topics to be discussed would include opening Gaza border crossings kept shut by Egypt and Israel for the passage of people and goods, transferring funds for salaries of Hamas government employees who have gone unpaid since the formation in June of a Palestinian unity government with the mainstream Fatah faction, and “all security issues.” Implementation of the cease-fire would be supported internationally, including by Turkey and Qatar, which would join a “major humanitarian assistance initiative” for Gaza. The United States has used Turkey and Qatar as intermediaries with Hamas because it does not talk to the group, which it considers a terrorist organization. Israeli officials said the plan failed to spell out Israel’s demand for “demilitarization” of the Gaza Strip, ridding it of Hamas’s rocket arsenal and network of tunnels, some of which have been dug toward Israel to carry out cross-border attacks. Destruction of the tunnels has been a main focus of Israel’s ground operations in Gaza. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of the Israeli security cabinet, said Kerry’s plan promoted Hamas and its allies, Qatar and Turkey, at the expense of “pragmatic” regional players like Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. The cease-fire proposal contained elements that “strengthen the extremist axis in the region,” Livni told Israel Radio. “There are identical interests and understanding between the pragmatic, moderate elements in the region - Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and other Arab states - who don’t want to see the extremists making gains and profiting from their aggression and terrorism,” she said. “We’re all on the same side, and our decisions will be made accordingly.” Interviewed on NBC’s program “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Egyptian cease-fire proposal initially turned down by Hamas was the “only game in town.” In a lengthy interview last week with the BBC, Khaled Mashal, the Qatar-based political leader of Hamas, spelled out the group’s main demand, to lift border closings on the Gaza Strip that have created a stranglehold on the local economy. “Gaza is part of the Palestinian land,” he said. “We have 1.8 million people. They need to live without a blockade. We want an airport and a port. We want to open up to the world. We don’t want to be controlled by a group of crossings that make Gaza the biggest prison in history.”
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