Israel ready to end Gaza attack but rebuffs talks
Israeli defence forces signal ground operations winding down
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and Jason Burke in Gaza City Israel has rebuffed attempts to negotiate an end to the Gaza conflict amid signs that it may be moving towards unilaterally declaring a halt to fighting without an agreement that would involve concessions to Hamas.The decision to spurn fresh talks in Cairo aimed at forging a ceasefire deal came as the Israeli army indicated that its ground operation in the north of Gaza was winding down. Military and political sources said the goal of "neutralising" cross-border tunnels was on the verge of being achieved.Although heavy fighting continued around the southern towns of Rafah and Khan Younis, yesterday's developments suggested Israel may have turned its back on a negotiated settlement to the 26-day conflict.A Palestinian delegation, including Hamas representatives, was expected to arrive in the Egyptian capital late last night for talks aimed at forging another truce. But, according to reports in the Israeli media, Israel declined to join the talks. "There are no longer any ongoing communications regarding a ceasefire," an Israeli official close to the inner security cabinet told Ynet, an Israeli news website, adding that "as of now no discussion is going on about sending an Israeli delegation to Cairo for talks."The source added: "We will finish our mission regarding the tunnels and then decide when we withdraw our forces."The Haaretz website quoted a senior official saying: "We're not talking about ceasefires any more. Israel will act in its own interest. We will take action against attacks from Gaza, and will finish dealing with the tunnels."Meanwhile, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) told 70,000 residents of Beit Lahiya that they could return to their homes from 2pm yesterday, while warning them of possible booby traps laid by Hamas. "The residents are advised to beware of explosive devices Hamas has spread across the area," the IDF said in a statement. "The army has dealt with tunnels and launching pads and has cleaned the area, apart from booby traps," a source said.The IDF indicated that it was close to completing its mission to destroy cross-border tunnels dug by Hamas and other militant groups for the purpose of launching attacks inside Israel.It said that four tunnels had been destroyed in the past 24 hours. A military source told Haaretz that the mission could be complete within 48 hours.Israel renewed its intensive bombardment of Gaza following Friday's dramatic breakdown after less than two hours of a ceasefire brokered by the United States and the UN. The IDF said that it had hit more than 200 targets in 24 hours of resumed activity, including the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University in Gaza City.Reports from Rafah, in the south of the Gaza Strip and close to where an Israeli soldier, Hadar Goldin, was thought to have been abducted on Friday, indicated heavy civilian casualties from Israeli bombardment of the area as troops continued to clash with Hamas fighters. Around 100 people were killed and hundreds more were injured after fighting resumed.Sirens sounded in Tel Aviv early yesterday morning, warning of incoming rocket fire and sending residents scrambling for shelters. The rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defence system.Hamas denied it was holding the soldier captive, saying that it had lost contact with a unit that carried out an operation in which two soldiers were killed and a third, 23-year-old Hadar Goldin, was believed to be abducted. It said its militants and the Israeli soldier were presumed killed in a subsequent Israeli air strike.Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official in Gaza City, said: "We in Hamas have no information about any soldiers. We are learning about this from the Israeli media. But this does not mean we regret the policy of kidnapping soldiers who . . . we want to kidnap to release our prisoners in Israeli jails."Meanwhile, the UK's Labour party leader Ed Miliband described British prime minister David Cameron's "silence" on Israel's incursion into Gaza as inexplicable. Mr Miliband said that Britain must take a "leading role" in pressuring both sides to end the violence and described Israel's killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinians as unjustifiable.He said: "David Cameron should be playing a leading role in these efforts to secure peace. He is right to say that Hamas is an appalling, terrorist organisation. Its wholly unjustified rocket attacks on Israeli citizens, as well as the building of tunnels for terrorist purposes, show the organisation's murderous intent and practice towards Israel and its citizens."But the prime minister is wrong not to have opposed Israel's incursion into Gaza. And his silence on the killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians caused by Israel's military action will be inexplicable to people across Britain and internationally. I am a supporter of Israel and I believe in Israel's right to self-defence. But its military actions in the past two weeks have been wrong and unjustifiable."
Published 03/08/2014 | 02:30