An Israeli officer missing in Gaza was likely killed in an IDF strike, Hamas said early on Saturday as Israel's Operation Protective Edge entered its 26th day.
The Israeli military on Friday cited indications that the officer, Second Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, was taken captive in Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip's south. Two other soldiers were killed in the attack, raising the number of Israeli military fatalities to 63. The announcement came not long after a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire agreed upon by Israel and Hamas collapsed within two hours of being launched.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. President Barack Obama condemned Hamas for the abduction.
At least 70 people were killed and 100 were wounded in subsequent Israeli bombardments of Rafah, Palestinian medical officials said. The Palestinian death toll in the current round of fighting has exceeded 1,600, according Gaza health ministry figures.
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Live updates [Saturday]:
A statement issued by the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said that a special panel led by IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz arrived to the conclusion, based on evidence found at the scene of the attack. It added that prior to the decision, religious, medical and other relevant issues were taken under consideration.
The IDF said that the soldier's family was notified of the decision by the Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai and the Chief Military Rabbi, Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz. (Gili Cohen)
1:40 A.M. Britain believes the situation in the Gaza Strip has become intolerable and could lead to an increase in anti-Semitic attacks on British Jews, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in an interview to be published on Sunday.
"The British public has a strong sense that the situation of the civilian population in Gaza is intolerable and must be addressed - and we agree with them," Hammond said. "We understand that Israel has concerns, we understand that Hamas has concerns. We are not saying we're not interested in those," he told the paper in an interview conducted on Thursday. "But we cannot allow them to stand in the way of a humanitarian ceasefire. We have to get the killing to stop."
Asked if the fighting in Gaza could lead to more attacks on British Jews, Hammond told the Telegraph: "Of course it's a concern and we have already seen certainly an upturn in anti-Semitic rhetoric."
12:52 A.M. A similar delegation of IDF officers arrived at the home of Givati Brigade staff sergeant Oron Shaul last week, on the day the IDF decided to define Oron as a soldier killed in action, whose burial site is unknown. (Amos Harel)
12:18 A.M. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, head of personnel directorate, and Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz, the chief military rabbi, arrive at the home of 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was captured on Friday by Hamas in Gaza. (Ofer Aderet)
11:06 P.M. Hamas' political bureau chief Khaled Meshal told CNN that his organization has refused an offer that IDF forces will remain in the Gaza Strip during the humanitarian truce agreed upon on Friday, and continue to raze the tunnels. "We've refused their offer, and relayed the message to Kerry through the Qatari foreign minister," Meshal said.
"The Israeli offer was unacceptable. Israeli army presence in the Strip and razing the tunnels are aggressive actions, and we told Kerry the Palestinian factions have the right to defend itself, and confront the Israeli forces' invasion in the Strip," Meshal said. According to him, Hamas did not "deceive Kerry or the Israelis." "We told everyone up front that this is our stance, so the Israelis and the Americans must bear the responsibility for the developments."
10:40 P.M. Over the last 24 hours, 86 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel , 58 of which landed in Israeli territory and six were intercepted, the IDF stated. The IDF made 150 attacks in the Strip on Saturday. (Gili Cohen)
10:29 P.M. A senior official in the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tells Haaretz that since an Israeli delegation will not be arriving in Cairo, the Palestinian Authority can't press Hamas to accept the cease-fire terms. "We're back at the starting point with regards to the diplomatic situation, on the eve of the military action in Gaza," said the official. The official added that the matter of the reopening of the Rafah Crossing is not on the agenda of the Palestinian Authority delegation to Cairo. (Jack Khoury)
10:13 P.M. Israel Air Force strike kills four militants in southern Gaza Strip, IDF says (Gili Cohen)
10:07 P.M. Hamas' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, said that "a unilateral withdrawal or redeployment by Israel in the Strip will be answered by a fitting response by the Hamas' military arm." Abu Zuhri also told the Palestinian news agency Ma'an that "the forces of occupation must choose between remaining in Gaza and paying the price or retreating and paying the price or holding negotiations and paying the price." According to him, Israel will be morally defeated in the coming hours. (Jack Khoury)
9:28 P.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says in a press conference that IDF forces have "destroyed thousands of terror targets," and that after the tunnels inside the Gaza Strip are destroyed, the IDF will continue in its mission to restore security to Israel's citizens. "All the options are on the table to restore security," he said.
The prime minister said Operation Protective Edge is complex, due to fighting in densely populated areas, and said Israel regrets the death of every Palestinian civilian. Netanyahu also said the operation has the support of the United States and of Europe. "The U.S. has been terrific and has given us tremendous support during the Gaza crisis," Netanyahu said during the question time of the press conference.
Regarding reports that Netanyahu told U.S. ambassador to Israel that the Obama administration was "not to ever second-guess me again" in the wake of the last cease-fire's collapse, Netanyahu said the media is full of distortions, and that the "right substance is the U.S. support we're getting."
Netanyahu's press conference was held shortly after the family of 2nd. Lt. Hadar Goldin, believed captured by Hamas, demanded Israel will not leave their son behind. "Israel will continue to do everything it can to bring its missing soldiers home," Netanyahu said. (Haaretz)
8:54 P.M. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members did not leave for truce talks in Cairo. (Jack Khoury)
8:46 P.M. Police are forcibly dispersing demonstrators in central Tel Aviv, and 14 have been arrested. Police stated that the demonstrators, who gathered to protest the Gaza operation, started blocking a nearby street. (Zafrir Rinat, Yaniv Kubovich)
8:41 P.M. The family of 2nd. Lieut. Hadar Goldin, thought to have been captured by Hamas, held a press conference Saturday evening, and demanded the IDF not withdraw from Gaza without him.
Goldin's father, Dr. Simcha Goldin, said: "I'm a battalion commander, I've been in the reserves until I was 50, and can't imagine the IDF to forsake its fighter. My commander in Northern Command was Benny Gantz (the chief of staff), and I know he will not order the IDF to leave anywhere, when there's a soldier inside."
Goldin's mother said: "I demand the state of Israel not to leave Gaza until it brings my boy back home. Hadar is Zur's twin, Zur's second half. They both serve in the same place. I demand the state of Israel not to forsake my child, and not to forsake any child who went out to defend Israel." (Haaretz)
8:40 P.M. Police disperse several hundred demonstrators in central Tel Aviv, who stage a protest against the Gaza operation. (Zafrir Rinat)
8:30 P.M. UNRWA spokesperson says an employee of the organization has been killed Friday night in an Israeli Air Force strike in Rafah. Nine UNRWA employees have been killed in the Gaza Strip since fighting began. (Haaretz)
8:20 P.M. Egypt has increased the amount of electricity it provides to Gaza and urged Israel to repair power lines damaged during Israeli bombardment that has left at least one million people without electricity, an Egyptian official said.
The official told Reuters that Egypt has added an extra seven megawatts to the 27 it feeds into Gaza and plans to increase that by 15 megawatts more in an effort to alleviate the electricity crisis. (Reuters)
7:50 P.M. Some IDF forces pulled back to several hundred meters away from border inside Strip. Some forces were redeployed inside Israel. Forces still in Strip are demolishing remaining tunnels. (Gili Cohen)
7:42 P.M. Motorbikes found in tunnel in Nahal Oz, believed to be meant to aid Palestinian gunmen in kidnapping mission. (Gili Cohen)
7:18 P.M. In the next 24 hours the IDF will announce that all known tunnels reaching from Gaza into Israel have been demolished. The Israeli army has been demolishing tunnels over the weekend, and several additional tunnels will be demolished in the coming hours.
By then, the IDF believe, the mission of destroying Hamas' "attack tunnels" will be accomplished. The defense establishment knew of 31 such tunnels before the operation, and additional tunnels were uncovered during the ground offensive.
Following the destruction of the tunnels, the IDF intends to withdraw the troops from the Strip's built-up areas, and re-deploy them several hundred meters beyond the border fence, inside Gaza's territory. The re-deployment is meant to secure Israel's Gaza vicinity communities in case of breaches, and in readiness of possible future missions. Some troops will withdraw from Gaza into Israel, and will be redeployed in staging areas several kilometers outside the Strip. (Gili Cohen)
7:15 P.M. The Gaza Health Ministry reported 78 Palestinians were killed since Saturday morning. (Jack Khoury)
7:10 P.M. A 70-year-old Israeli civilian was seriously wounded by mortar fire in a town in Eshkol Regional Council. He was evacuated to a hospital, and is currently conscious. (Shirly Seidler)
6:40 P.M. At least 296 children have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the operation began until 11 A.M. on Saturday, about 30% of the operation's fatalities, AFP cites UNICEF as stating.
Of these, 187 are boys and 109 are girls, with at least 203 under the age of 12, Unicef says. (Haaretz)
6:08 P.M. Three rockets explode in open areas in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council. Another rocket was intercepted by Iron Dome in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council area, and another exploded near a town in the Sdot Negev Regional Council. Earlier, rocket sirens were sounded in the area. (Shirly Seidler)
6:00 P.M. Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, says a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip doesn't commit Hamas to anything, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported. (Jack Khoury)
5:52 P.M. Egypt's president says a cease-fire plan proposed by his country offers the chance to end the Gaza conflict between Israel and Hamas, but warns that lost time further complicates matters.
"The Egyptian initiative is a real chance to find a real solution to the crisis taking place in the Gaza Strip," Abdel Fattah al-Sissi told a joint press conference in Cairo with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, adding: "Lost time ...complicates the situation more and more." (Reuters)
5:14 P.M. Thousands march in an Islamic Movement protest of the Gaza operation in Tamra, northern Israel. (Jack Khoury)
4:28 P.M. Rocket sirens sounded in Sdot Negev and Sha'ar Hanegev regional councils. Earlier, a rocket exploded in Sdot Negev. (Shirly Seidler)
4:15 P.M. The security cabinet decided after a five-hour meeting Friday night that Israel will no longer attempt to reach a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip via negotiations with Hamas, senior Israeli officials said, adding that Israel does not intent to send a delegation to the Cairo truce talks as previously agreed in the course of the last cease-fire, before it was violated by Hamas.
The cabinet also agreed that instead of seeking a cease-fire, Israel will consider ending the operation and retreating from the Gaza Strip unilaterally, relying on the restored deterrence.
"If we feel that deterrence has been achieved we'll leave the Strip based on the principle of calm for calm," a senior official said. "If we feel deterrence has not yet been achieved, we'll continue the operation in the Gaza Strip, or leave and press on with aerial strikes."
Israel will also seek to reach understandings with Egypt, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the international community regarding the reconstruction of the Strip, demilitarizing Hamas and the supervision of goods entering the Strip. (Barak Ravid)
2:44 P.M. Residents of the northern district of the Gaza Strip will be allowed to return to their homes, starting at 2 P.M., Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, chief of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), tells the Palestinian news agency Ma'an. This potentially paves the way for tens of thousands of Palestinians to return to their homes, after fleeing them due to the fighting. Mordechai also warned the residents not to approach the border fence along the Strip. (Jacky Khoury)
2:30 P.M. A Palestinian delegation has nevertheless left for Cairo, without representation from Gaza due to the security situation in Rafah, Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zuhri said. (Jacky Khoury)
1:30 P.M. Two rockets explode in open areas in Sdot Negev Regional Council. (Shirley Seidler)
12:55 P.M. An Israeli soldier sustains moderate wounds from sniper fire in the Gaza Strip's south. (Gili Cohen)
12:45 P.M. A mortar shell barrage is fired on Eshkol Regional Council.
12:41 P.M. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi said at a press conference in Cairo that his country's initiative is the only way to reach a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
"The initiative can bring the current situation to an end," he said. "It can open doors without encountering obstacles, bring to a cease-fire and allow aid workers in.
"There is no alternative," he added.
12:40 P.M. A rocket explodes near a town in Sdot Negev Regional Council. Earlier, a mortar hit an open area in Eshkol Regional Council. (Shirley Seidler)
12:20 P.M. Rocket alerts sound in Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council.
11:06 A.M. A senior Israel Defense Forces officer said Saturday morning that the army is “very close to completing” the mission of destroying tunnels in the Gaza Strip. According to the IDF, four tunnels have been destroyed in Gaza in the past 24 hours.
“We are very close to completing the mission of dealing with the tunnels,” the officer said.
The army cautiously estimates that in the next two days it will be able to announce that it has exploded all the tunnels it has found. “In the next 48 hours, we will continue in our efforts to do everything necessary to block the tunnels, and more decisions will be made as we progress,” the officer added.
Israeli forces are continuing to operate in the Rafah area in an effort to gain more information on 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, who appears to have been captured. Troops are sweeping houses and suspicious sites in the area, accompanied by massive shelling.
The IDF says it cannot say anything about Goldin’s state, but according to information at the army’s disposal, he was together with Major Benaya Sarel and Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni during the attack, both of whom died. The IDF says Sarel and Gidoni are believed to have been killed in an attack by a suicide bomber and that fire was exchanged during the incident.
The senior officer also said there are no more soldiers left to question about the incident, except for those who were dozens of meters away from the site at the time.
Among 55 sites struck by the IDF overnight Friday were five mosques, which the army says stored rockets and were used as terrorist command centers, and a site at the Islamic University that was used, according to the army, for military activity. (Gili Cohen)
10:00 A.M. The IDF has struck 55 targets in Gaza since midnight. (Gili Cohen)
9:50 A.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed frustration with U.S. efforts to forge a truce in Gaza in the aftermath of the humanitarian cease-fire's collapse, the Associated Press reports.
Netanyahu said in a phone conversation with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that the Obama administration was "not to ever second-guess me again" and that Washington should trust his judgment on how to deal with Hamas, according to people familiar with the conversation.
Netanyahu added that he now "expected" the U.S. and other countries to fully support Israel's offensive in Gaza, according to those familiar with the call. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name. (AP and Barak Ravid)
9:38 A.M. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says that a Palestinian delegation will travel to Cairo this evening despite the collapse of the humanitarian cease-fire.
He expresses hope that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will convince Israel to send negotiators to Egypt as well to relay its demands, "including the matter of the missing soldier."
According to Erekat, this is the only way to advance a truce. (Jack Khoury)
9:12 A.M. At least 30 people killed in an intensive Israeli aerial, naval and ground offensive were brought to a Gaza hospital this morning, according to Palestinian reports. Most of the fatalities came from Rafah. Seven were members of the Abu Suleiman family, whose home was struck around 3 A.M.
Some of the bodies recovered overnight were casualties of Friday's strikes.
According to the Palestinian health ministry, the death toll in the Israeli operation currently stands at 1,624, including 315 children. Some 8,750 have been wounded, including 2,307 children. (Jack Khoury)
6:21 A.M. Iron dome intercepts rocket over Be'er Sheva. (Gili Cohen)
6:14 A.M. Rocket sirens sound in Be'er Sheva and other towns in southern Israel.
6:08 A.M. Iron Dome intercepts two rockets over central Israel. (Gili Cohen)
6:02 A.M. Rocket sirens sound throughout central Israel including Tel-Aviv, Ra'anana, and Petah Tikva.
5:30 A.M. The U.S. Congress approved $225 million in emergency funding for Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defense system on Friday, sending the measure to President Barack Obama to be signed into law. The House of Representatives approved the funding by a 395-8 vote late on Friday, several hours after the Senate passed it unanimously. (Reuters)
4:49 A.M. Israel Air Force bombing in Jabalia, north Gaza.
2:30 A.M. Hamas' military wing issues a statement saying that they believe that the missing Israeli officer was killed in an Israeli bombardment. "We lost contact with the group of combatants that took part in the ambush, and we believe they were all killed in the bombardment. Assuming that they managed to abduct the soldier during combat, we assess that he was also killed in the incident."
According to the statement the group told mediators that they were ready for a humanitarian cease-fire and that they would not shoot rockets into Israel. (Jack Khoury)
2:20 A.M. The Anti-Defamation League calls on the international community to "unequivocally condemn Hamas’ flagrant and ruthless violation of a humanitarian ceasefire and to fully support all efforts to ensure the unconditional safe and immediate return of kidnapped Israel Defense Force officer Hadar Goldin."
2:10 A.M. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza attack on Rafah over the last few hours has gone up to 70. The number of people injured has surpassed 100. Witnesses told the New York Times that IDF tanks are shelling east Rafah while civilians that evacuated their homes returned to see if they survived the attack.
1:10 A.M. Israeli security cabinet meeting ends after five hours of discussions.(Barak Ravid)
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