By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams
GAZA/JERUSALEM, July 28 (Reuters) - Israel sees no need for another Gaza ceasefire, an Israeli official was quoted as saying on Monday, as tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and Washington flared over U.S. mediation to end the almost three-week-old war.
Fighting had subsided over the weekend, with the battered Palestinian enclave's dominant Hamas Islamists endorsing a U.N. call for a 24-hour halt ahead of Monday's Eid al-Fitr festival.
Yet Israel balked, having abandoned its own offer to extend a 12-hour truce from Saturday as Palestinian rocket launches persisted. Netanyahu's security cabinet met into the early hours of Monday to debate proposals including for an escalation of the Gaza offensive in which almost 1,100 people have died.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region last week to try to stem the bloodshed, his contacts with Hamas - which Washington formally shuns - facilitated by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel wants Egypt, which also borders the Gaza Strip and views Hamas as a security threat, to take the lead in curbing the Palestinian Islamists. It worries about Doha and Ankara championing Hamas demands to open up the blockaded territory.
A flurry of media leaks by unnamed Israeli officials damning a draft agreement attributed to Kerry as too accommodating of Hamas was challenged by a U.S. official who, also anonymously, told reporters the top diplomat's efforts had been mischaracterised.
But U.S. President Barack Obama, phoning Netanyahu on Sunday, put pressure on Israel to hold fire unconditionally and appeared to link its core demand for Hamas to be stripped of cross-border rockets and infiltration tunnels to a peace accord with the Palestinians that is nowhere on the diplomatic horizon.
"The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza," the White House said.
It added that while Obama wanted any truce to be along the lines of an Egyptian deal that ended the last Gaza war, in November 2012, the United States also supported "regional and international coordination to end hostilities".
Israel did not immediately respond nor publish what, if anything, was decided at the overnight security cabinet session.
But Israel Radio quoted an unidentified government official as saying: "There is no need for any more ceasefires. Let Hamas stop firing first."
ISRAEL LINKS GAZA RELIEF TO DISARMING HAMAS
That signaled preference for a de facto mutual halt to fighting rather than any agreement preserving Hamas's arsenals and shoring up its status by improving Gaza's crippled economy.
Two decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have made little progress and been frequently interrupted, most recently in April when Netanyahu called off talks overseen by Kerry in response to Abbas's surprise power-share with Hamas.
Speaking earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu sounded open to easing conditions for the Gaza Strip's 1.8 million Palestinians but said this must be "intertwined" with disarming Hamas.
"I think you can't get social and economic relief for the people of Gaza without having an assured demilitarization," he told CNN.
Israeli air, sea and ground attacks have killed some 1,031 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, Gaza officials say. Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.
A poll published by Israel's Channel 10 television on Sunday said some 87 percent of respondents wanted Israel to continue the operation until Hamas was toppled. Another poll, published in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, found that 86.5 percent of Israel's majority Jews opposed calling a truce while rocket fire continued and Gaza retained any of the cross-border tunnels.
Israel says the Palestinians have lost around half of their rockets during the fighting - an account disputed by Hamas - and that army engineers have located and destroyed most of the tunnels from the territory. Those excavations will continue under any short-term truce, Israel says.
The main U.N. agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said 167,269 displaced Palestinians have taken shelter in its schools and buildings, following repeated calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighborhoods ahead of military operations.
But residents of villages near the southern town of Khan Younis on Sunday attacked offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, torching furniture and causing damage. They said the organization had not done enough to help them.
During the lull in fighting inside Gaza on Sunday, residents flooded into the streets to discover scenes of massive destruction in some areas, including Beit Hanoun in the north and Shejaia in the east.
An Israeli official said the army hoped the widespread desolation would persuade Gazans to put pressure on Hamas to stop the fighting for fear of yet more devastation.
The Gaza turmoil has stoked tensions amongst Palestinians in mainly Arab East Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank, which Abbas governs in uneasy coordination with the Israelis.
Medics said eight Palestinians were killed on Friday in incidents near the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron - the sort of death toll reminiscent of previous anti-Israel revolts. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Paul Simao)
BEFORE YOU GO
08/08/2014 2:47 PM EDT
White House Concerned By Renewed Fighting
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.
08/08/2014 1:42 PM EDT
Official: 5 Palestinians Killed In Gaza
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.
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)
08/08/2014 9:23 AM EDT
Palestinian Delegation Says Gaza Talks Will Continue
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.
08/08/2014 9:13 AM EDT
Egypt: Agreement Close In Gaza Talks
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.
08/08/2014 3:58 AM EDT
Israeli Airstrikes On Gaza Resume
BREAKING: Israel says it's resumed strikes on Gaza in response to rocket fire, after end of 3-day truce.— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2014
08/08/2014 3:02 AM EDT
Cease-Fire Ends With New Rocket Attacks
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.
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08/06/2014 2:46 PM EDT
Official: Israel Agrees To Extend Ceasefire
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.
08/06/2014 2:12 PM EDT
IDF: Rocket Sirens Were False Alarm
IDF confirms rocket sirens in southern Israel were false alarm http://t.co/QN677jtlXE— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 6, 2014
08/06/2014 1:18 PM EDT
Report: Rocket Sirens Sound At Gaza Border
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.
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.