Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media during a press conference in Tel Aviv on Saturday. Photo: Oded Balilty/AP Israeli soldiers stand on top of a tank near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on August 2. Photo: Baz Ratner/Reuters
Smoke rises after an explosion in the northern Gaza Strip as seen from the Israeli border on August 2. Photo: Amir Cohen/Reuters
Gaza City: Israeli tanks appeared to be pulling back from a number of border towns around Gaza, as its military continued an intensive bombardment of the southern city of Rafah after one of its soldiers went missing.
But a suggestion that Israel may unilaterally withdraw its ground troops in the next 48 hours appeared unlikely, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying however long it takes and with whatever force is required, Israel would bring back peace to its border.
His former deputy defence minister, Danny Danon, who was fired for public criticism of the government, said on Saturday that “the cabinet is gravely mistaken in its decision to withdraw forces from Gaza. This is a step in the wrong direction.”
But Mr Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech with Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon beside him, insisted that Israel was achieving its goals.
The Israeli army announced the death of Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23. But on Sunday, a military spokeswoman declined to say whether Goldin had been killed along with two comrades by a suicide bomb one of the militants exploded, or later by Israel’s assault on the area to hunt for him; she also refused to answer whether remains had been recovered.
The soldier’s parents called on Mr Netanyahu and on the army not to leave their son behind.
Adding to the confusion, the Israel Defence Forces announced that it would soon have destroyed all the tunnels built by Hamas from Gaza into southern Israeli towns.
Palestinian residents of towns including Beit Lahiya and east of Shujaiya were told by the IDF on Saturday afternoon they could return to their homes, but there was considerable suspicion about whether it was safe for them to do so.
Even though people are desperate to go home, or at least attempt to recover some personal items from the rubble, most have chosen to say in the overcrowded UN schools that are providing a temporary home for up to 250,000 Palestinians.
At least three temporary ceasefires have collapsed in the last week, leaving thousands of Palestinians who elected to return to their villages and towns stranded in live fire zones.
Hamas and its military wing denied any knowledge of Lieutenant Goldin.
Mkhaimar Abusada, associate professor of political science at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said Hamas was now in a position of strength, moving from a state of political and economic weakness to the centre of the political stage.
“One of the main goals for Hamas has been the end of the siege of its borders,” Professor Abusada said.
“In Gaza we know that many people are very angry with Israel because of the destruction of Beit Lahiya, Shujaiya and Rafah … but there are also so many Palestinians left homeless that it is generating some private criticism of Hamas as well.”
The most that can be achieved from negotiations in Cairo on Sunday is a unified Palestinian voice on the conflict and some concrete proposals for ending the siege and a two-state solution, he said.
Israel has already said it will not attend the Cairo talks, which were designed to capitalise on the 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that collapsed on Friday. A Palestinian delegation, minus representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, arrived in Egypt on Saturday.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the organisation had no information about the missing Israeli soldier.
“I do not mean that we regret capturing soldiers, we want them for the release of our prisoners in Israeli jails.
“We are not kidnapping them in Tel Aviv,” he said. “They are in Gaza and they are here to kill women and children.”
He said the IDF was undertaking a “scorched earth” policy in Gaza, admitting that Palestinians had lost a lot since this war had begun.
“But 1.8 million Palestinians were dying slowly before the war because of the siege, we had no option but to act for our survival.”
with New York Times, agencies
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