Hamas Military Wing: ‘We’ll Be Loyal To The Blood Of The Martyrs’
JERUSALEM (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Israeli officials said the military bombardment of the Gaza Strip resumed Tuesday afternoon, hours after Israel’s cabinet agreed to a ceasefire proposal crafted by Egypt, in response to unrelenting rocket fire from the Palestinian territory.
Tuesday morning, the Israeli government ministers accepted in principle the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire to end a week of conflict between the Jewish state’s military and Hamas militants in Gaza that has left at least 185 Palestinians dead and exposed millions of Israelis to rocket fire.
Amid conflicting signals from leader’s of Hamas’ military and political wings, it was unclear whether they were still considering the proposal, or had rejected it completely, but while the launching of rockets slowed overnight and into the morning, it never stopped.
Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said shortly after the Israeli cabinet’s decision was announced that the Palestinian militant group had rejected the deal. Separately, a statement from Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said it hadn’t even been presented with the Egyptian proposal but that, “it is not worth the ink that wrote it.”
“Our battle with the enemy is to be continued and we’ll be loyal to the blood of the martyrs,” said the al-Qassam statement.
Other senior members of the Hamas group, however, told CBS News and other news organizations that they were still looking over the Egyptian proposal an no official decision had been taken.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the Cabinet met Tuesday morning and approved the deal, which would have gone into effect at 9 a.m. local time (2 a.m. EDT).
But Israel’s acceptance was always conditional.
“If Hamas rejects the Egyptian proposal, if Hamas continues to shoot rockets at Israeli cities, we are prepared to continue the military operation and to intensify it as need be to protect our people,” warned Netanyahu.
The plan called for a cease-fire to begin within 12 hours of “unconditional acceptance” by the sides, followed by the opening of Gaza’s border crossings and talks in Cairo within two days.
The IDF said Gaza militants fired three rockets at Israel after the deadline passed for the start of the truce. The military said the rockets hit empty land near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, causing no casualties or damage.
There was no immediate indication whether or how Israel would respond.
Israel launched the offensive last Tuesday, saying it was responding to weeks of rocket fire out of the Hamas-ruled territory.
Separately, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry decided not to make an immediate trip to the Middle East to push diplomatic efforts toward an Israel-Hamas cease-fire.
Kerry had been weighing for several days whether to extend his current diplomatic swing of Asia and Europe. U.S. officials say he’d considered trips to Israel, Egypt and elsewhere in the region.
But officials now say he will end the nine-day trip on Tuesday and head home.
Kerry was in Vienna Tuesday for talks with Iran’s foreign minister and European partners. Together, they are trying to advance struggling negotiations aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear program.
President Barack Obama praised Egypt’s proposal Monday, telling Muslim-Americans he was hopeful the plan could restore calm in the wake of the deadly wave of violence.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to facilitate a return to the 2012 cease-fire,” Obama said at a White House dinner celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish that goal.”
The upbeat assessment from Obama came hours after Egypt presented the plan to end a week of heavy fighting that has killed at least 185 people. The proposal marked the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict.
At the same time, Obama said the U.S. has been “very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself” against an onslaught of rockets being launched indiscriminately by militants from Gaza into Israel. He also lamented the death and injury of Palestinian civilians in Gaza during Israel’s military response to quell the rockets, urging that civilians be protected and warning against further escalation by either side.
The Health Ministry in Gaza said 185 people, including dozens of civilians, have been killed, and more than 1,000 people wounded.
There have been no Israelis killed, although several have been wounded by rocket shrapnel, including two sisters, ages 11 and 13, who were seriously hurt Monday.
Ahead of the Egyptian announcement, there appeared to be no slowdown in the fighting, with Hamas for the first time launching an unmanned drone into Israeli airspace that was shot down.
The Israeli military said 3 rockets were fired at the southern city of Eilat early Tuesday morning, lightly injuring two people and sparking a fire. The military said it did not immediately know who was behind the rocket fire. Previous rocket attacks on Eilat were from radical Islamic militants in the neighboring Sinai Peninsula.
The violence followed the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month, as well as the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack, along with Israeli raids against Hamas militants and infrastructure in the West Bank.
Israeli officials have said the goal of the military campaign is to restore quiet to Israel’s south, which has absorbed hundreds of rocket strikes, and that any cease-fire would have to include guarantees of an extended period of calm.
Hamas officials had said they would not accept “calm for calm.” The group is demanding an easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has ground Gaza’s economy to a standstill and that Israel release dozens of prisoners who were arrested in a recent West Bank crackdown following the abductions of the Israeli youths.
With the death toll mounting, both sides have come under increasing international pressure to halt the fighting.
Egypt Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said there is “no alternative but return to the truce” of November 2012, and added that Egypt contacted all the parties, including the Palestinian leadership, different Palestinian factions, and Israeli authorities in addition to Arab and international parties. Such contacts led to shaping up the proposal which called for cease-fire.
“Egypt stresses the international responsibility toward what is happening in Palestine,” he said.
In a speech broadcast on Al-Jazeera, Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader in Gaza, confirmed there was “diplomatic movement.”
“The problem is not going back to the agreement on calm because we want this aggression to stop,” he said. “The siege must stop and Gaza people need to live in dignity.”
Egypt, the first Arab state to reach peace with Israel, often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas.
In the 2012 fighting, Egypt’s then-President Mohammed Morsi brokered a cease-fire, leveraging the influence his Muslim Brotherhood held with Hamas, its ally.
That deal included pledges to ease the blockade – promises that Hamas says were never kept. The blockade has greatly restricted movement through Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt – the territory’s main gateway to the outside world – while Israel has restricted the flow of many goods, particularly much-needed construction materials, into Gaza. Israel says Hamas can use things like metal and concrete for military purposes.
Hamas has seen its position further weakened by last year’s military coup in Egypt that ousted Morsi. Egypt’s new leaders have cracked down on Hamas by nearly shuttering a network of smuggling tunnels along the border that were Hamas’ key economic lifeline – and supply route for its weapons.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the rival forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. With the economy stagnant and Hamas unable to pay the salaries of its thousands of civil servants, the group recently agreed to back a unity government under Abbas’ leadership. But Hamas remains in firm control of Gaza.
Israel and Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by the West, have battled many times. In the latest round, Israel carried out more than 1,300 airstrikes, along with attacks by naval gunships and artillery forces. Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Israel.
Israeli military officials say the airstrikes knocked out roughly a third of Hamas’ rocket supply and delivered a blow to the group. It says that roughly 90 of the dead were wanted militants, and it has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields.
A Hamas drone launched Monday into Israel marked the Islamic militant group’s latest effort to catch the Israeli military off-guard. But like the others, it had little impact on the battlefield.
Israel shot down the drone – named Ababil for a protective flock of birds mentioned in the Quran. Still, the drone represented a new level of sophistication for Hamas, and Israel said it was taking the threat seriously.
It was the first time Hamas has launched a drone into Israel, though military officials say they knew the group has had the technology for some time. Israeli airstrikes in the past have targeted what were believed to be drone facilities in Gaza.
“Hamas is trying everything it can to produce some kind of achievement, and it is crucial that we maintain our high state of readiness,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said. “The shooting down of a drone this morning by our air defense system is an example of their efforts to strike at us in any way possible.”
The hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas disrupted life across Israel. But a new Israeli rocket-defense system has intercepted dozens of projectiles headed toward major cities.
Looking to gain an edge, Hamas has employed tactics not seen before. It has fired rockets deeper than ever into Israel, including weapons it has developed and manufactured in Gaza. Last week, Hamas sent a team of scuba divers on an infiltration mission, but Israel quickly detected the frogmen and killed them outside an army base.
Isaac Ben-Israel, a retired Israeli air force general and a former head of the Israeli space agency, said the Hamas drone was similar to aircraft sent by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon during a 2006 war.
He said the drone’s capabilities were limited. But “looking to the future, these technologies are becoming more and more available,” he told Channel 10 TV.
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