Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today called for the international community to hold Hamas accountable for its continued rejection of cease-fire offers, amid ongoing and intense fighting along the Gaza Strip that has left more than 600 Palestinians, 27 Israeli troops, and two Israeli civilians dead. Netanyahu compared Hamas to al-Qaeda and has repeatedly criticized its attacks on Israeli citizens.
As the fighting shows no sign of abating, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered a 24-hour moratorium on all U.S. flights to Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. The decision came after Delta Airlines and U.S. Airlines announced they had canceled their flights because of Hamas rocket fire in the area. Air France and Lufthansa quickly followed suit. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system stopped the rockets, and Israeli officials insist the airport is safe. But international passengers are especially nervous about flying near conflict zones after Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over rebel-held territory in Ukraine on Thursday.
Earlier today, an Israeli defense official announced an Israeli soldier has gone missing following a battle in the Gaza Strip. The soldier, identified as Sgt. Oron Shaul, disappeared after his vehicle was attacked and the six other troops on board were killed. Hamas claimed earlier this week that its fighters captured an Israeli soldier. Israel’s UN ambassador denied those claims, but the military has refrained from responding. The possibility of a captured soldier is a nightmare for Israel, which has paid high prices in lopsided trades for captured soldiers in the past. Military deaths and hostages take on great significance in a country where every citizen is required to serve in the armed forces.
U.S. and Egyptian officials are working today to find a resolution to end the two weeks of fighting, raising the possibility of restarting peace talks. During a meeting in Egypt, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did not directly advocate for peace talks but left open the possibility for negotiations if a cease-fire could be reached.
But on Sunday, Hamas leaders signaled they would not agree to an unconditional cease-fire and Netanyahu said he would do whatever was necessary to keep Israelis safe from Hamas rockets, despite an emergency UN Security Council meeting called to find a resolution to the conflict.
Hamas first rejected a cease-fire agreement a few weeks ago. Egypt crafted the agreement and the United States backed it. No credible mediator has come forward since then. Hamas leaders don’t trust Egypt as a mediator after it deposed a Hamas-friendly government and tightened restrictions along its border with Gaza. Hamas’ stated objective is to force Israel and Egypt to lift blockades on both sides of the territory, a stranglehold that has created a significant setback to Gaza’s economy.
Israel launched its air campaign against Gaza on July 8 in response to constant Hamas rocket fire. The campaign exploded into a ground war on July 18 after Hamas rejected the cease-fire. Israeli officials say they are trying to destroy tunnels Hamas has constructed from Gaza into Israel. The military said it has uncovered at least 66 access shafts to 23 tunnels.
While Israel’s allies, including the United States, say the Jewish nation has a right to defend itself, the international community has pressured both sides to come to the negotiating table to end the bloodshed. Of the 600 Palestinians who have been killed, an estimated 75 percent have been civilians. Israeli aircraft have hit more than 70 targets in Gaza, including the home of a former Hamas military leader, mosques, and hospitals. Israeli military leaders have said they are aiming for hidden control centers and rockets, and Netanyahu has blamed the rising civilian casualties on Hamas using human shields. Most of the 2,000 rockets Israel estimates Hamas has fired since the war began have been launched from densely populated areas.
The war in Gaza is the third outbreak of violence between Hamas and Israel since 2009. The last ceasefire was negotiated in 2012. The most recent peace talks failed in April after attempted negotiations destroyed any trust built up between the sides. Israel ended the talks when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas concluded a deal to create a reconciliation government with Hamas.
Considered a terrorist organization by the United States, EU, and other countries, Hamas has called repeatedly for the destruction of Israel.