Middle East News

Ceasefire In Gaza Lasts Just 90 Minutes

It had been announced to the world that Israel and the various Palestinian factions had agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire, but violence erupted anew after only 90 minutes of calm when Palestinian fighters emerged from a tunnel near the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip and killed two Israeli soldiers and abducted a third soldier, the New York Times reported.

Israeli military Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in a live video interview that the incident occurred while Israeli soldiers were sealing off the tunnel, as was agreed to in the ceasefire agreement, when a suicide bomber emerged from underground and blew himself up along with two of the Israeli soldiers. In the ensuing firefight, the Gazans managed to capture another Israeli soldier whom they dragged back into the tunnel.

It remains unclear if the Palestinians intended to intentionally violate the ceasefire, or whether they were part of a rogue faction that simply had not heard or understood that the Israeli soldiers were to be allowed to remain in place and continue sealing off the tunnels during the ceasefire.

Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israel’s military intelligence directorate, said on Israel Radio, “I think that what happened here is that the details of the cease-fire were not sufficiently clarified.” He also conjectured that it was possible that the militants who emerged from the tunnel on Friday morning were simply unaware of the cease-fire. “In the absence of any command and control, “he said, “it could be that they emerged to commit a ‘preset’ attack that it had prepared earlier.”

Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior official in the political wing of Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza, told the Turkish news media that Hamas had taken a soldier captive but claimed the event occurred before the cease-fire began.

As has been the case throughout the current hostilities, each side continued to blame the other for resuming the fighting.

Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan blamed Israel’s actions for violating the cease-fire, claiming the Palestinian militants have the right to protect themselves.

The Israeli military told a different version, saying its troops in Rafah were attacked in a “brutal incident” that required them to defend themselves. At the same time, rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel’s Prime Minister, told CNN.

Israel has asserted throughout the Gaza campaign, now in its 25th day, that Hamas was intent on taking hostages to exchange for its prisoners held in Israeli jails. One Israeli soldier who was captured by militants in a cross-border raid in 2006, was held captive by Hamas for five years until he was eventually traded for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Indeed, the Israeli military claims to have recently found handcuffs and tranquilizers in Gazan tunnels, presumably in preparation for abductions.

The hostilities had continued overnight, with Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire that killed 14 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel until just minutes before the scheduled 8 a.m. start of the ceasefire.

Then, after the brief lull in fighting, not quite long enough to catch one’s breath and consider extending the ceasefire, they were back at it again.

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