Yaakov Lappin — Jerusalem Post July 30, 2014
Three IDF soldiers were killed in a booby-trapped tunnel shaft in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
St.-Sgt. Matan Gotlib, 21, from Rishon Lezion and St.-Sgt. Omer Hay, 21, of Savyon, were named as two of the three soldiers killed Wednesday. Both soldiers served in the elite Maglan infantry unit.The identity of the third soldier was not yet released.
The latest fatalities brought Israel’s military death toll in Operation Protective Edge to 56.
The IDF stated that an additional 27 soldiers were injured in Gaza on Wednesday.
Operation Protective Edge intensified after the deaths of 10 soldiers in Palestinian cross-border attacks on Monday; Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned of a long conflict ahead.
OC Southern Command Major-Gen. Sami Turgeman said Wednesday evening that regarding destruction of Hamas’s terror tunnels, the IDF’s “mission will be completed within a number of days.”
In a bid to boost Palestinian spirits and demoralize Israel, Hamas TV aired footage it said showed the group’s fighters using a tunnel to reach an Israeli army watchtower on Monday. They are seen surprising an Israeli sentry, opening fire and storming the watchtower compound to surround a fallen soldier.
Mohammad Deif , the shadowy leader of Hamas’s armed wing, said in a recorded message in a television broadcast that Palestinians would continue confronting Israel until its blockade on Gaza – which is supported by neighboring Egypt – was lifted.
“The occupying entity will not enjoy security unless our people live in freedom and dignity,” Deif said. “There will be no cease-fire before the (Israeli) aggression is stopped and the blockade is lifted. We will not accept interim solutions.”
Israel has balked at freeing up Gaza’s borders under any de-escalation deal unless Hamas’s disarmament is also guaranteed.
Egypt said on Tuesday it was revising an unconditional truce proposal that Israel had originally accepted but Hamas rejected, and that the new offer would be presented to a Palestinian delegation expected in Cairo. An Israeli official said Israel might send its own envoy to Cairo.
“We are hearing that Israel has approved a cease-fire but Hamas has not,” an Egyptian official told Reuters, an account that the Netanyahu government neither confirmed nor denied.
The government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas voiced support on Tuesday for a 24-72 hour ceasefire. It said it was also speaking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri disputed that statement but confirmed there were “intensive, ongoing contacts” on a truce.
Outside pressure has been building on Netanyahu to rein in his forces, while few Israelis want the operation to end now.
The Gazan health ministry has said 1,287 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Israel began its offensive in the Hamas-controlled enclave on July 8 with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket fire.
Reuters contributed to this report.