Gaza offensive to be stepped up after first Israeli killed
The first Israeli was killed by a missile fired from Gaza last night, setting the week-long conflict on course for an even bloodier phase with Israel poised to escalate its military offensive.
A 38-year-old man was pronounced death at Askelon's Barzilai medical centre after suffering severe shrapnel wounds from a missile fired on Tuesday, according to initial Israeli media reports.
The reports suggested he was an ultra-Orthodox rabbi distributing food to Israeli soldiers near the Erez border crossing into Gaza.
Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the death, saying they had killed a soldier in a shell attack.
"The enemy acknowledges the death of a Zionist soldier and the injury of another in the Qassam shelling of the Erez base," the unit said.
The death prompted an immediate riposte from Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who said Israel had no choice but to expand its military operation in Gaza.
"It would have been preferable to solve this diplomatically, and that is what we tried to do, but Hamas has left us no chance but to expand the operation against it," he said.
The death of the first Israeli – following 194 Palestinians fatalities in a week of warfare – followed the virtual collapse of efforts to arrange a ceasefire and raised the possibility that Israel might order a ground invasion of Gaza, with the security cabinet due to meet for the second time in a day. Israel had earlier resumed air strikes six hours after Mr Netanyahu's security cabinet had agreed to the terms of a temporary truce as Hamas militants rejected the deal and continued to fire rockets into Israel.
After an overnight lull, 47 missiles were launched into Israeli territory after the ceasefire supposedly took effect. In a furious Israeli response during which the air force claimed to have attacked 30 targets, a 77-year-old man was killed after a missile strike in Khan Younis. A man of 24 was also reported to have been killed.
Hamas declined to accept the ceasefire after the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades dismissed it as a "surrender" and vowed to fight Israel with "increasing ferocity and intensity".
Other Hamas officials sent mixed signals – with some publicly opposing the ceasefire while others saying it was under consideration amid speculation of a split within the Islamist movement.
The breakdown came after Gazans began coming out of their homes into the streets in numbers for the first time since the Israel military offensive started on July 8 amid a mood of cautious optimism.
After a week of closures that has left Gaza City resembling a ghost town, many shops reopened while traffic reappeared in the streets for the first time in more than a week.
Some of it took the form of donkey travel as an estimated 17,000 refugees from the northern Beit Lahiya district – who had fled their neighbourhoods in response to an Israeli bombardment warning on Sunday – loaded their possessions into animal-drawn carts and began returning to their homes.
At the Fakhura school in Jabalya, one of eight UN institutions used as temporary shelters by Beit Lahiya residents, Ahmad Zantiet (23), was unconvinced the truce would stick as he loaded three mattresses on to the roof of a yellow cab before preparing to return home with 12 members of his family.
"They say it's over. It's better than before but it's not over completely," he said sceptically.
His comments typified a general lack of euphoria and a fear that the ceasefire may be no more than a temporary lull that would fail to bring the benefits Gazans commonly seek – frequently defined as an end to the siege of the territory, solutions to shortages of water, electricity and other commodities, freedom to travel and free passage of goods in and out of Gaza. (© Daily Telegraph, London)