Gaza militants reject cease-fire plan; Israel says Hamas ‘will pay’
Hamas continued rocket attacks on Tuesday after Israel’s Security Cabinet accepted Egypt’s proposal for a cease-fire, dissolving hope for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Palestinian militants fired more than 140 rockets from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in response to an Israeli-endorsed cease-fire, pressing on with a fight that has already cost the lives of nearly 200 Gaza residents in Israeli airstrikes on the densely populated seaside enclave.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, that it would regret spurning the Egyptian-drafted cease-fire proposal. And in a televised address Tuesday night, he said that Israel had “no choice” but to resume its airstrikes on Gaza.
“Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision,” warned Netanyahu, who has been pressed by Israeli hard-liners to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, a move likely to inflict even higher casualties.
The Egyptian cease-fire plan had called for a 12-hour winding-down of hostilities beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday, then negotiations in Cairo within the next two days on a more permanent truce. The battle is the third major Israeli-Palestinian flare-up in five years.
“We were not part of the announcement so we are not going to commit to it,” Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zuhri told The Times, suggesting that the cease-fire proposal had been worked out without consideration of the group’s interests.
Gaza residents, who have faced an Israeli economic blockade since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, say that a 2012 Egypt-brokered settlement of the last Gaza conflict remains unfulfilled. There is also less confidence now among the Palestinians that Egypt is a trusted intermediary after an army coup last year deposed a Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Cairo that was more ideologically aligned with Hamas.
Israel defends its right to respond to rocket attacks from Gaza — more than 1,100 since its offensive began July 8. Palestinian fighters demand an end to the Israeli blockade of the impoverished coastal strip.
Resumed fighting Tuesday resulted in the first Israeli fatality of the offensive. Dror Chanin, a 37-year-old from the settlement of Beit Aryeh, was hit by a mortar shell that landed at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza, Israeli police reported. Chanin was said to be a volunteer taking food to Israeli soldiers posted at the crossing.
Besides a lifting of the blockade, Hamas, which the U.S. and Israel consider a terrorist group, has demanded the release of members jailed in the West Bank during a recent sweep spurred by the disappearance and slaying of three Israeli teens, and the reopening of Gaza border crossings into Israel and Egypt.
“What we are demanding is not just an end to the fighting but also an end to the unjust situation that we live under,” Abu Zuhri said. “Hamas will continue our fighting and defend our people until we achieve our goals.”
Gaza journalist Sami Abed, in an interview on Israel’s Channel 10 television, said Gaza residents have turned to Hamas to give voice to their desperation even though the militia has brought on a cycle of confrontation and standoff since gaining power.
“We in Gaza live in total despair and darkness. There’s no electricity, no water, no money, no work, no cement — no anything,” Abed said. “Hamas tells us wait, we will free you, we will lift the siege. But Israel has decided to lock up Gaza and throw the keys into the sea.”
Abed said Israel had “pushed the people of Gaza into the arms of Hamas” by disrupting trade and commerce.
“In Gaza we have nothing, and we have nothing to lose,” Abed said. “Let us live in dignity, and you will receive quiet and love in return.”
In Tel Aviv, Netanyahu came under fire from hard-liners for having accepted the cease-fire without arrangements to strip Palestinian militants, who reject Israel’s right to exist, of their caches of long-range rockets and without sealing tunnels used to ferry in arms and fighters.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon called the government’s acquiescence to a halt in military operations a “mistake,” arguing that “with the terrorists of Hamas we can only speak with the full force of the Israeli army.”
Netanyahu immediately fired Danon, saying it was “inconceivable” that a senior defense official would criticize the government so harshly at such a volatile juncture in the conflict.
Moshe Maoz, a professor emeritus and former director of Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, said Hamas probably rejected the cease-fire proposal because its military leaders feared it was a ploy by Israel to make the group the culprit in the fighting.
The Egyptian proposal appeared from Hamas’ view to be a directive “coordinated behind the scenes by Israel, the U.S. and Egypt,” designed to push Hamas into a corner, Maoz said. “Hamas saw this as a trap and rebelled.”
Israel appears to have won the faceoff, Maoz said, but “it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Israel has no strategy. Where is any of this going to lead?”
Special correspondent Sobelman reported from Jerusalem and Times staff writer Williams from Los Angeles. Special correspondents Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City and Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.
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