International pressure mounted on Israel to end its three-week offensive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, with President Barack Obama and the United Nations Security Council demanding an immediate truce.
Israel reduced the scope of its military offensive today, saying it wouldn’t initiate strikes. After holding its fire overnight, Israel shelled a site in northern Gaza in response to a rocket fired from there despite a Hamas truce call, the army said. Military spokesman Brigadier-General Moti Almoz said the army would continue to destroy tunnels militants dug to infiltrate Israel and attack it.
The conflict is the third major military showdown between the sides in less than six years. It has already claimed the lives of more than 1,050 Palestinians, 45 Israelis and a Thai worker in Israel. Previous truce deals have failed to resolve underlying issues including the proliferation of arms in Gaza and Hamas’s demand to end Israel’s economic blockade of the Palestinian territory, initiated in 2006 and joined by Egypt.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scoffed at the Hamas truce offer in interviews with U.S. television shows yesterday, noting that the militant group rejected proposed extensions of a UN-sponsored truce a day earlier and continued to bombard Israel with rockets.
Immediate and unconditional
Obama called Netanyahu afterward to “make clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities,” the White House said in a statement. Israel and Hamas both rejected a truce proposal put forward over the weekend by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Added pressure came today from the UN Security Council, which in an emergency session called for an “immediate and unconditional” truce to allow for the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to Gaza, according to a statement on its website.
In Israel, after years of rocket fire and the surprising disclosure that dozens of infiltration tunnels have been built under the border, support for the military campaign is strong. A poll commissioned by Israel’s Channel 10 television showed 87 percent support for the military offensive, with 69 percent saying it should continue until Hamas is toppled, a goal the government hasn’t declared. Seven percent favored a cease-fire. The report didn’t include the size of the polling sample or margin of error.
While the military operation has barely affected Israel’s financial markets, the only analyst to predict Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug’s first interest-rate cut in September says the conflict is tipping her toward another one today.
“You can’t completely ignore the effect of the security incidents,” Rafael Gozlan, chief economist at Israel Brokerage & Investments Ltd. in Tel Aviv, said by phone last week. While 17 of 21 economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast the rate will be held at 0.75 percent, Gozlan said he expects it to be pared to 0.5 percent.
Israel says its campaign is intended to quell the rocket fire and destroy the infiltration tunnels, which militants used during the fighting. Israel, the U.S. and the European Union label Hamas a terrorist group. Netanyahu says Gaza militants must be disarmed if a sustainable peace is to be achieved.
“We have to demilitarize it from the weapons that Hamas has put in there -- missiles, rockets, terror tunnels,” he said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “We can’t allow them to restock this arsenal or we’ll be stuck in another five, six months with the same problem.” Militants have fired more than 2,500 rockets at Israel during the current fighting, the military says.
Hamas’s exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, said it is “high time to lift the siege on Gaza,” a reference to the blockade. “We are not fanatics,” he said in an interview taped July 26 that aired yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We fight the occupiers.”
Asked if he would recognize Israel if the occupation and blockade were to end, he replied, “When we have a Palestinian state, then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies.”
The Israeli army said yesterday it wasn’t to blame for the deaths of 16 Palestinians at a UN-run school July 24 in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, citing its investigation. Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said video footage showed one errant Israeli mortar shell hit the school’s yard at a point where there were no people. He suggested in a phone briefing that the victims may have been killed in crossfire between Israel and Palestinian militants and moved into the yard.