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Israel tells US - Leave us alone!107 Palestinians killed in fresh wave of violence

Saturday, August 02, 2014 | 6:29 AM    

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Following the quick collapse of the cease-fire in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the White House not to force a truce with Palestinian militants on Israel.

Sources familiar with conversations between Netanyahu and senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, say the Israeli leader advised the Obama administration "not to ever second guess me again" on the matter. The officials also said Netanyahu said he should be "trusted" on the issue and about the unwillingness of Hamas to enter into and follow through on cease-fire talks.

The Obama administration on Friday condemned "outrageous" violations of an internationally brokered Gaza cease-fire by Palestinian militants and called the apparent abduction of an Israeli soldier a "barbaric" action.

The strong reaction came as top Israeli officials questioned the effort to forge the truce, accusing the U.S. and the United Nations of being naive in assuming the radical Hamas movement would adhere with its terms. The officials also blamed the Gulf state of Qatar for not forcing the militants to comply.

With the cease-fire in tatters fewer than two hours after it took effect with an attack that killed two Israeli troops and left a third missing, President Barack Obama demanded that those responsible release the soldier.

Obama and other U.S. officials did not directly blame Hamas for the abduction. But they made clear they hold Hamas responsible for, or having influence over, the actions of all factions in the Gaza Strip. The language was a distinct change from Thursday when Washington was focused on the deaths of Palestinian civilians.

"If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible," Obama told reporters. He added that it would be difficult to revive the cease-fire without the captive's release.

"It's going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can't feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment," he said. His comment reflected uncertainty in the U.S. and elsewhere that Hamas was actually responsible for the incident or if some other militant group was to blame.

At the same time, Obama called the situation in Gaza "heartbreaking" and repeated calls for Israel to do more to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties.

Despite the collapse of the truce, Obama credited Kerry for his work with the United Nations to forge one. He lamented criticism and "nitpicking" of Kerry's attempts and said the effort would continue.

Kerry negotiated the truce with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon in a marathon session of phone calls over several days while he was in India on an official visit. Kerry had spent much of the past two weeks in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and France trying to mediate a cease-fire with Qatar and Turkey playing a major role because of their close ties with Hamas.

Those efforts failed with Israel saying it could not trust Hamas and some Israelis and American pro-Israel groups complaining that the U.S. was treating the group — a foreign terrorist organization as designated by the State Department — as a friend.

KILLINGS CONTINUE 

And at least 107 Palestinians were killed and an Israeli soldier was missing presumed captured as a fresh wave of violence swept through the Gaza Strip Saturday following the failure of an agreed ceasefire.

The attacks continued throughout the night, leaving at least 35 Palestinians dead in the Gaza town of Rafah alone in a series of Israeli air raids in the hours since midnight (2100 GMT) Friday.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of the eight-strong security cabinet, accused Hamas of being behind the disappearance of the missing soldier and said the group would pay a high price.

However early Saturday the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing, said it had no information on the whereabouts of the missing soldier.

"The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades has no information on this soldier. We have lost contact with one of our combatant groups, which was fighting in the sector where the soldier went missing and it is possible that our fighters and this soldier were killed," the group said in a statement.

The intensive fighting resumed after the planned three-day ceasefire, which began at 0500 GMT on Friday, swiftly collapsed.

Early Saturday morning, the Iron Dome aerial defence system intercepted two rockets over the Tel Aviv area and another one over the southern Beersheba city, the army said.

The Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing, said they had fired three rockets at Tel Aviv.

The toll on the Palestinian side was 107 people dead and hundreds others wounded since the toll collapsed, said Palestinian emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra.

Some 1,650 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, have been killed in the 26 days since the present conflict started, Qudra said. On the Israeli side, 63 soldiers and three civilians have died.

Hamas accused Israel of breaking the short-lived ceasefire, while the Jewish state said it was responding to the militant attacks.

The chances of a durable truce seemed as remote as ever after the presumed capture of the Israeli soldier.

The military also announced that two soldiers had been killed in the same incident near the southern city of Rafah.

"Our initial indications suggest a soldier has been abducted by terrorists in an incident where terrorists breached the ceasefire," according to army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

He said a suicide bomber blew himself up, adding that first reports "indicate that a soldier was seized".

In 2006, Hamas militants from Gaza captured Israeli conscript Gilad Shalit and held him for five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Before the truce, Israeli tank fire and aerial bombardment killed 14 Palestinians in Gaza, and the army said five soldiers died in mortar fire near the shared border.

In a speech published after the ceasefire broke down, Saudi King Abdullah denounced "inexcusable" world silence over Israel's "war crimes" in Gaza.

"We see the blood of our brothers in Palestine being shed in collective massacres... all taking place under the eyes and ears of the international community... that has stood indifferently," he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office accused Hamas and other Gaza militants of "flagrantly violating" the ceasefire.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum responded that "it is the (Israeli) occupation which violated the ceasefire. The Palestinian resistance acted based on... the right to self defence."

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