GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP - Israel moved troops to the Gaza Strip border, Israeli newspapers reported, as the midnight expiry of a three-day truce drew near without word of an extension.
The Ha’aretz newspaper reported that the Israeli military also called up additional reserves troops, hours after officials warned of a harsh response should rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled territory resume. The Ynet website cited unidentified military officials as saying troops were reinforced as a contingency in case truce talks failed to yield a deal. The military declined comment on the reports.
“Israeli forces are ready for any development,” Israeli Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told reporters in Jerusalem earlier today. “Quiet will be answered by quiet on our side, but if Hamas will resume the bombardment of Israeli citizens and towns, their rocket and mortar bombardments, our counterstrike will be very strong.”
Israeli and Hamas leaders have sounded pessimistic about turning the 72-hour pause in hostilities into a more permanent truce after four weeks of violence that killed more than 1,900 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side. Hamas said this would be its last cease-fire effort.
The two sides, pressed by Egyptian mediators, have reported no breakthrough in two days of attempts to bridge their bargaining positions. Israel insists on demilitarizing Hamas and other Gaza militias that fired more than 3,300 rockets into its territory during the last round of fighting. Hamas wants to ease border restrictions, free prisoners in Israeli jails and build a seaport on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said today if fighting resumes his nation’s military must “get rid of” Hamas.
War of Attrition
“Israel can’t withstand a war of attrition,” Liberman said in comments broadcast on Channel 2 television Wednesday. “Unless we get rid of Hamas, we can’t progress toward any reasonable settlement, either on the security front or the diplomatic front.” The foreign minister is a member of the inner security Cabinet that must ratify any truce deal.
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 stock index, which has remained largely unaffected by the conflict, rose 0.1 percent at 4:36 p.m. in Tel Aviv. The shekel was little changed against the dollar, after weakening Tuesday to its lowest since May 28, in part because the economy is seen slowing on account of the fighting.
Six people were killed in Gaza and six others wounded when unexploded ordnance blew up as Palestinian sappers tried to defuse it, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the Hamas-run Health Ministry. Among the dead was Associated Press video journalist Simone Camilli.
Even with negotiations stalled, Israel and Gaza militant groups have maintained the truce that began Aug. 11, with no reports of rockets fired from Gaza or Israeli air strikes. The cease-fire, the second over the past week, is intended to give the sides time to settle issues unresolved by pacts ending previous conflicts.
“The first cease-fire passed with no progress, and this is the second and final cease-fire,” Hamas official Musa Abu Marzouk said in a post on his Facebook page Tuesday.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York Tuesday that both Israel and the Palestinians need to summon greater political will to reach an agreement. “Without losing any time, they have to agree to a more durable and sustainable cease-fire,” he said.
The U.N. has estimated it will take $6 billion to repair the damage the fighting has wrought in Gaza. Israeli strikes rendered 10,000 homes uninhabitable, the U.N. says, and damaged schools, medical centers, mosques and utilities.
Israel opened its military campaign in Gaza on July 8 with the stated aims of quashing rocket fire and destroying dozens of infiltration tunnels militants built to carry out cross-border raids. It says armed men account for 750 to 1,000 of the Palestinian dead and accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in danger by operating within built-up areas and in and around schools, hospitals and mosques. The U.S. and the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist group.
The U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday announced the formation of a panel of inquiry for the Gaza conflict, naming William Schabas of Canada, an international law professor at Middlesex University in London, as chairman. Israel has assailed the Schabas appointment, citing his criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor told Army Radio his country was unlikely to cooperate with the investigation. Israel didn’t testify to a U.N. inquiry into its 2008-2009 war in Gaza.
Schabas said Tuesday that some of his past criticism of Israel was taken out of context. “I can promise you that I am not anti-Israel,” he told Israel Radio, “but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own opinions about some of the people in Israeli governments over the years.”