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Israeli Army Declares Missing Soldier Hadar Goldin Dead

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JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Sunday that an Israeli soldier it previously believed had been captured by Hamas fighters in a Gaza ambush had in fact been killed in battle that day.

The soldier's purported capture Friday had helped shatter an internationally brokered cease-fire, drawn global condemnation and triggered a military assault on the area of his disappearance in southern Gaza that left dozens of Palestinians dead and scores of homes destroyed.

The military did not explain how it reached the conclusion that Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old infantry lieutenant, was killed in battle Friday.

The announcement of his death came amid signs that Israel is scaling back its 27-day-old ground operation in Gaza.

In a televised address late Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested troops would reassess the operation after completing the demolition of Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. Security officials said the tunnel mission was winding down.

At the same time, Netanyahu warned that Hamas would pay an "intolerable price" if it continued to fire rockets at Israel and that all options remain on the table.

Hamas said it would not halt its fire if Israel withdraws unilaterally.

"We will continue to resist until we achieve our goals," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said after Netanyahu's speech, dismissing the Israeli leader's remarks as "confused."

Hamas has said it will not halt hostilities until Israel and Egypt lift their blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas overran the territory in 2007.

Egypt was to have hosted indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on a sustainable cease-fire, including new border arrangements for Gaza. The talks were to begin as an internationally brokered three-day truce took hold, starting Friday.

Instead, the arrangement broke down over Goldin's purported capture and the ensuing violence, and Israel said it won't attend such talks, at least for the time being.

Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said Saturday that Israel won't send a delegation to Cairo for now, alleging Hamas has repeatedly broken cease-fire arrangements and that there was "no point" negotiating with the Islamic militant group.

From an Israeli perspective, the advantage of a unilateral pullout or troop redeployment to the strip's fringes is that it can do so on its own terms, rather than becoming entangled in negotiations with Hamas.

However, a unilateral pullback does not address the underlying causes of cross-border tensions and carries the risk of a new flare-up of violence in the future, a prospect underlined by defiant Hamas messages Saturday.

Israel ended a previous major military operation in Gaza more than five years ago with a unilateral pullback.

At least 1,721 Palestinians have been killed and more than 9,100 wounded — the majority civilians— since the Gaza war began July 8, said health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Israel has lost 67 people, most of them soldiers.

Large swaths of Gaza have been destroyed and some 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

In the area around the southern town of Rafah, where Goldin purportedly had gone missing, the extent of destruction became apparent after two days of intense Israeli shelling that left dozens dead and more than 450 wounded.

Entire apartment buildings were flattened. Rescue teams sprayed water on charred rubble as families searched the wreckage for any salvageable belongings.

Nearly two dozen bodies wrapped in bloodstained white cloth lay piled on the ground and on the shelves of a cold storage room in a flower farm. The farm's owner, Ghazi Hijazi, said the Health Ministry asked him to keep the bodies.

Imad Baroud, his wife and three kids fled by foot from their home near the Gaza-Egypt border to his parents' home in the center of Rafah to escape the shelling. He said his home was hit by artillery shells immediately after they left.

"The situation could not be described in words. The kids were yelling, they were scared, my wife was scared. I felt death was close," Baroud said.

Much of Israel has been exposed to close to 3,000 rocket attacks from Gaza which have killed three civilians and damaged several homes.

Israel has said a key goal of its Gaza operation is the demolition of tunnels Hamas has dug into Israel.

The military has said they are a strategic threat because Hamas has previously launched attacks from there. Several soldiers have been killed in the current round of fighting by Palestinian gunmen who popped out of tunnels near Israeli communities along the Gaza border.

On Saturday, Netanyahu suggested the military will reassess after the tunnels are demolished. Once that is done, "the military will prepare for continuing action in according to our security needs," he said, adding that all options remain on the table.

"We promised to return the quiet to Israel, and that is what we will do. We will continue to act until that goal is reached, however long it will take and with as much force needed," Netanyahu said. "Hamas needs to understand that it will pay an intolerable price as far as it is concerned for continuing to fire."

Early Sunday, before Goldin's death was announced, the Israeli defense minister and the chief military rabbi met with the soldier's family at their home in the central Israeli town of Kfar Saba.

Hundreds of people had gathered outside the home, praying and showing their support. There was an outpouring of grief when the military's announcement was made public.

"Prior to the decision, all medical considerations, religious observances, as well as additional relevant issues were taken into consideration," the military said.

In the past, Israel has gone to great lengths to get back captured soldiers. In 2011, it traded over a thousand Palestinian prisoners for a soldier who had been captured by Hamas-allied militants in 2006.

On Saturday, there were some signs of troop redeployment in Gaza.

The Israeli military told residents of the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya that it would be safe for them to return to their homes.

The area, from which Gaza militants had fired rockets at Israel in the past, came under heavy tank fire during Israel's ground operation, forcing thousands to flee.

Israeli troops and tanks also started a gradual pullback from the area east of the Gaza town of Khan Younis to the border with Israel, residents and police officials there said.

At the same time, Palestinian officials reported more than 150 Israeli airstrikes across Gaza, including several against mosques and one against the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza City. Heavy shelling also continued along the border areas.

The Israeli military said it struck dozens of targets. It said this included five mosques that concealed weapons and that the Islamic University was being used as a research and weapons manufacturing site for Hamas. The claims could not be independently verified.

Gaza militants, meanwhile, fired about 90 rockets at Israel since midnight Saturday, according to the Israeli military. Seven were intercepted by Israel's rocket defense system, it said, while a mortar attack seriously injured a 70-year-old Israeli civilian.

___

Laub reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writers Hamza Hendawi and Yousur Alhelou in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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From Reuters:

The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.

"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.

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Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.

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The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)

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From Reuters:

Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.

"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."

Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.

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Reuters reports:

Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.

"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

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A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.

The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.

For more, click here.

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From Reuters:

Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.

Hamas had no immediate comment.

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ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.

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08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT
Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect

Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.

Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.

Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.

The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.

The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.

Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.

Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.

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India's NDTV has released footage that appears to show three Palestinian militants setting up a rocket launching site in a crowded area of Gaza. The rarity of the video is remarkable, as militants in the enclave are notoriously covert in their launching operations.

NDTV journalist Sreenivasan Jain describes the scene from his neighboring balcony, narrating as blurred figures move in and out of the suspected rocket site.

Read more here.

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In an interview with HuffPost UK, former British Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi explained why she dramatically quit the government on Tuesday.

Speaking exclusively to The Huffington Post UK in her first interview since resigning on Tuesday morning, the Tory peer accused the coalition of failing to act as an "honest broker" in the Middle East and called for an immediate arms embargo against Israel.

"The British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker," the former Foreign Office minister said, "and at the moment I do not think it is."

Read the full story here.

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From the Associated Press:

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Jordan has circulated a revised U.N. resolution calling for a durable cease-fire in the Gaza war and condemning "all violence and hostilities against civilians."

Jordan's new U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar said the draft resolution was submitted to the Security Council on Tuesday in a form that could be put to a vote.

"We are in consultation with all council members and we hope by the next day or two that we come with a product," she said.

The draft resolution calls for "the sustained reopening" of crossing points into Gaza and calls on the U.N. to establish a mechanism to monitor implementation of a cease-fire agreement.

It makes no mention of Hamas or its rocketing of Israel and is likely to face an uphill struggle winning U.S. approval.

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Agence France Presse reports on an initial assessment of the cost of damage to the Gaza Strip after weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Palestinian deputy economy minister Taysir Amro said "direct damages" will cost Gaza at least -6 billion in damage, and that the number will rise once further assessment of the full scale of damage is possible, according to the news agency.

Read the full story here.

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From Reuters:

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said there was "clear evidence" of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court prosecutors on Tuesday to push for an investigation.

Malki visited The Hague shortly after Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza entered a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt in an effort to pave the way for an extended ceasefire.

Malki said the Palestinian Authority wanted to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes by all sides and had discussed a timeline with prosecutors to join the court. He did not provide details.

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08/05/2014 6:35 AM EDT
Gaza, Post-Offensive
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Sayeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at the British Foreign Office, has tendered her resignation because she can "no longer support" the country's policy on Gaza, BBC News reported.

Warsi took to Twitter to confirm the news:

Click here for more.

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08/05/2014 2:23 AM EDT
72-Hour Cease-Fire Takes Effect
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A spokesman for Hamas told Reuters that the Islamist group also agrees to a Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

"Hamas told Egypt a short while ago of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

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An Israeli official says Israel has agreed to a temporary Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Reuters reports.

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Egypt is urging senior Israeli and Palestinian delegations to join in talks on a permanent ceasefire for Gaza in the Egyptian capital, Reuters reports. Cairo also calls on Palestinians and Israelis to accept a proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire that would start tomorrow morning.

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08/04/2014 3:29 PM EDT
Ceasefire Agreement?

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the Palestinian factions have agreed to an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire that would start tomorrow morning. While Palestinians officials have said Israel agreed to the truce as well, there is no official response from the Israeli government yet.

Read more here.


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Britain is investigating the possible death of one of its citizens in Gaza, Reuters reports on Monday. The country's Foreign Office said it had received reports a British national was killed in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday.

More from Reuters:

(Reuters) - Britain is "urgently" investigating reports that a British national was killed in Gaza over the weekend, a spokesman for the British government said on Monday.

Britain sought to establish the man's fate as a brief Israeli truce to allow aid to reach Palestinians ended amid accusations of strikes by both sides, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash against the war in Gaza.

Citing friends of the man, British media reported that an aid worker from Rochdale in northern England had been killed on Sunday during an Israeli strike on Rafah while he was delivering supplies for a hospital.

"We are aware of the reports of the death of a British national in Rafah and are urgently looking into them," a spokesman for the Foreign Office said.

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The number of displaced Palestinians seeking shelter at UN facilities has topped 270,000.

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08/04/2014 11:48 AM EDT
Report: Israel Is Resuming Strikes

A spokesperson for the Israeli army reportedly told Agence France Presse that Israel is resuming its airstrikes in Gaza.

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In a statement released on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused Israeli troops of having opened fire and killing several fleeing civilians in the town of Khuza'a in southern Gaza. The international human rights group says the incidents took place between July 23 and July 25.

Human Rights Watch investigated several incidents between July 23 and 25 when, local residents said, Israeli forces opened fire on civilians trying to flee Khuza’a, but no Palestinian fighters were present at the time and no firefights were taking place.

On the morning of July 23, Israeli forces ordered a group of about 100 Palestinians in Khuza’a to leave a home in which they had gathered to take shelter, family members said. The first member to leave the house, Shahid al-Najjar, had his hands up but an Israeli soldier shot him in the jaw, seriously injuring him.

Israeli soldiers detained the men and boys over age 15 in an area close to the Gaza perimeter fence. Based on statements from witnesses and news reports, some were taken to Israel for questioning. Israeli forces released others that day, in small separate groups. As one group walked unarmed to Khan Younis, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing one and wounding two others.

Read the briefing here.

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A gunmen opened fire near Jerusalem's Hebrew University, hitting a soldier in the stomach. It was the second incident in the Israeli capital this morning. Earlier, a man drove a construction vehicle into a bus.

Haaretz reports:

According to a preliminary investigation of the Mt. Scopus incident, a man dressed in black shot a 20-year-old soldier in the stomach, wounding him seriously, got on a motorcycle that was waiting for him and fled the scene. A security guard standing nearby shot at the suspect, but failed to hit him. Security forces are attempting to apprehend the attacker.

Read the full story here.

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