JERUSALEM — Israel and Hamas went back and forth on Sunday over proposals for a humanitarian lull in the fighting in Gaza, underscoring the external and internal pressures on both sides and a reluctance by each to appear to be led or dictated by the other.
By afternoon, Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, had called for a new 24-hour pause, hours after Israel had declared one over in response to a barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza into its territory.
The Israeli military said in a statement shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday that it was resuming its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip “following Hamas’s incessant rocket fire throughout the humanitarian window” that had been meant to last from midnight Saturday through midnight Sunday.
Some Israeli politicians have begun talking of the possibility of escalating the offensive against Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups, now in its 20th day, as intense international efforts over the weekend to press for an immediate, broader cease-fire appeared to have failed.
Huge clouds of smoke could be seen rising from the eastern neighborhoods of Gaza City that run close to the border with Israel, and fewer Palestinians were out on the streets than had been on Saturday.
But on Sunday afternoon, Hamas backtracked and said “resistance groups” would agree to a new 24-hour truce starting at 2 p.m. local time. A Hamas official in Gaza released a statement saying that the decision came “in response to the intervention of the United Nations” and out of understanding for the people of Gaza who are preparing for Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that ends Ramadan.
There was no immediate response from Israel. Asked on the CNN program “State of the Union” whether Israel would accept the offer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel replied: “Hamas doesn’t even accept its own cease-fire. It’s continuing to fire at us as we speak.”
On Sunday afternoon, sirens wailed in Israeli communities close to the border, warning of incoming rocket or mortar shells from Gaza.
More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them civilians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry and monitoring groups.
The ministry said that at least 10 people were killed by Israeli fire on Sunday and that three more died from wounds they had sustained. Around the time that Israel called off its truce in the morning, two Palestinians believed to be militants were killed in a strike as they rode on motorbikes east of Khan Younis.
An Israeli reserve soldier was killed overnight by mortar fire from Gaza as he waited in a staging area along Israel’s border with Gaza, according to the military, bringing the total number of Israeli soldiers killed since the beginning of the campaign, on July 8, to 43. Three civilians in Israel have also been killed by rocket and mortar fire.
Seven rockets were fired into Israel on Sunday morning. Two were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile defense system, and five fell in open ground, causing no injury or damage, according to the police. More barrages were fired toward evening.
In an interview on the “Fox News Sunday” program, Mr. Netanyahu said, “Israel is not going to let a terrorist organization determine when it’s convenient for them to fire at our – at our cities, at our people, and when it’s not, when they can restock.”
Prof. Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said that Hamas, too, “feels it cannot accept even a humanitarian cease-fire when it is not the one that sets the time.” Among other things both sides are concerned with saving face, he said.
The wrangling over even a brief, humanitarian truce also reflected one of the main disagreements between Israel and Hamas regarding any temporary cease-fire. Pending a comprehensive agreement, Israel has continued to search for and destroy Hamas’s underground tunnel network, which has been used by militants to infiltrate Israeli territory. But Hamas says it will not accept any extension until the troops left Gaza.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, repeated on Sunday that Israel would “continue to operate against the tunnels” and said that the 12-hour lull on Saturday had proved that Hamas was able to control other groups in Gaza.
Atai Shelach, a former commander of the combat engineering unit in the Israeli military, told reporters in a telephone briefing that the only way to deal with the problem of the tunnels was to have soldiers in Gaza. He said Israel had discovered up to 40 tunnels and scores of access points, and had destroyed several of them.
“We are in the middle of the operation,” he said, adding, “We won’t find all of them, and once we go out, they will start digging again.”
While Hamas said it was responding to the United Nations and was taking the needs of Gaza’s residents into consideration in seeking a new cease-fire, Mr. Netanyahu was facing political pressure from partners in his governing coalition and from some ministers within his own party not to take the pressure off Hamas.
Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, issued a statement on his Facebook page on Sunday morning saying: “Israel stands at a historic decisive moment. It is possible to defeat Hamas decisively and to dismantle its rockets and tunnels.”
He contended that Israel was winning the current conflict and that with the Israeli public united in support of the operation, this was no time for a cease-fire that would allow Hamas to regroup. Addressing Hamas, he added: “No cease-fires, no lulls, no discussions. You have our phone number. When you are ready to demilitarize, call us.”
Shaul Mofaz, a centrist member of the Israeli Parliament and a former military chief of staff and defense minister, told Ynet, a leading Hebrew news site, on Sunday that Israel had enough troops inside Gaza and stationed along the border to take the ground operation to “the next stage.” He recommended “exacting a direct price from Hamas’s leadership.”
This article written by Dings and copyright 2012 feedbuzz and geirge w, bush