The Times of Israel is liveblogging events as they unfold through Saturday, the 19th day of Operation Protective Edge. Israel’s government on Friday unanimously rejected a ceasefire offer advanced by US Secretary of State John Kerry, with sources saying it was too tilted towards Hamas. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted a 12-hour truce from 8 a.m. Saturday, and ministers later extended it to midnight. West Bank violence escalated Friday, with six Palestinians reported killed in riots. With the Gaza death toll said to reach 1,000, Israeli military sources noted that several hundred Hamas gunmen are among those killed. The IDF death toll rose to 40 by Saturday evening as it was announced that five more soldiers were killed in Gaza overnight and on Saturday.
Hamas spokesperson says no ceasefire extension
Israeli government sources on Saturday night accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of “completely capitulating” to the demands of Hamas and its champion Qatar in drafting the Gaza war ceasefire proposal that Israeli ministers unanimously rejected on Friday.
The unnamed sources, quoted by Israel’s Channel 2 TV, said Kerry “dug a tunnel under the Egyptian ceasefire proposal” — which Israel accepted and Hamas rejected last week — and presented the Israeli government with a text that accepted “most of the demands” raised by Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules the Strip.
To the “horror” of the Israeli ministers, the Kerry proposal accepted Hamas’s demands for the opening of border crossings into Gaza — where Israel and Egypt fear the import of weaponry; the construction of a seaport; and the creation of a post-conflict funding channel for Hamas from Qatar and other countries, according to the sources. The proposal, meanwhile, did not even provide for Israel to continue demolishing the Hamas network of “terror tunnels” dug under the Israeli border.
Hamas is, of course, claiming that it is “winning” in the current conflict with Israel. Unfortunately, not all of its claims can be easily shrugged off, thanks to its ruthlessness and its cynical abuse of the Palestinian people, and in no small part thanks to the international community’s willful blindness and worse. Ultimately, though, what Hamas has to say matters far less than what Israel achieves in this resort to force. And most Israelis seem well aware of that.
Hamas is “winning,” for a start, because it doesn’t care who it kills in support of its declared goal of destroying Israel. It especially likes to kill Israelis, but it has no compunction in killing Palestinians too. It killed many Palestinians when seizing power in Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in 2007. And it has cynically got hundreds of Gazans killed in this conflict, by storing its rockets in Gaza schools, firing from inside hospitals, building ammunition stores, rocket launchers and command centers in the heart of residential neighborhoods.
Hamas is giddy with success, too, because it has killed, at time of writing, 40 soldiers. It’s all too easy for Hamas gunmen to kill the incoming troops when the Israelis are trying not to kill the civilians around them, and when Hamas has prepared for this moment for years — when it has booby-trapped buildings, deployed snipers, primed teenagers with suicide-bomber belts, planted bombs, and, most relevantly, when it knows where the soldiers are headed: to the tunnel openings Hamas has dug and in which its gunmen are hiding. That the IDF death toll is not much higher is evidence of the Israeli army’s abilities. But any and every Israeli fatality is a victory for Hamas.
Israelis generally believe the government is stewarding the conflict competently. A snap poll on Channel 10 gave Netanyahu an 82% favorability rating on Thursday — unprecedentedly high figures, though understandable in times of war, with so many soldiers dead. The government, for now, is demonstrating unity too; the entire security cabinet rejected the Kerry ceasefire proposal on Friday — Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, et al. Of course, that also underlines how outrageous the ministers considered that proposal to be.
Motivation levels in the IDF itself are very high. Call-up orders to reserve units are being overwhelmingly answered. Reservists who have not been called are seeking ways to serve. There are numerous accounts of soldiers who recently finished their three years in the standing army insisting on being allowed to return to their units.
For all the criticisms abroad, there’s a sense of vindication. Israel was trashed internationally after naval commandos, under attack by thugs with iron bars and clubs, killed nine people aboard the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara when it sought to breach the naval blockade of Gaza in 2010. Hamas is demanding the “lifting of the siege” of Gaza. But Israelis recognize more clearly than ever how much more danger they would now be in were it not for that blockade, which at least partially reduced the quantity and quality of weaponry that Hamas is able to muster against Israel.
Israelis are casting their eyes anxiously now to the north, wondering if Hezbollah, which served as a role model for Hamas in assembling a rocket-assault capability, has also been tunneling energetically under the northern border. On this issue, too, there is sure to be considerable focus once this round of conflict is over. For now, though, the warning alarms are certainly sounding. Far better now than later.