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Airstrikes level Gaza homes as Israel rejects new ceasefire talks

Aug. 2, 2014 4:46 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 4, 2014 2:16 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Fifteen Palestinians, including six members of one family, were killed Saturday afternoon in a series of Israeli airstrikes on homes in Gaza as Israeli officials said a new ceasefire agreement was off the table.

"We're not talking about ceasefires anymore," a senior official told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

"Israel will act in its own interest. We will take action against attacks from Gaza, and will finish dealing with the tunnels."

The official said Israel would not negotiate with Hamas, even through a mediator.

"The issue of the Rafah Crossing is Egyptian-Palestinian Authority matter, and the issue of the rest of the crossings is between us and the PA and the international community."

He said the goal was now to end the offensive unilaterally.

"If we feel deterrence has not yet been achieved, we will continue the operation inside the Gaza Strip or exit and continue with the aerial bombardment."

Despite the Israeli delegation's refusal to participate, a Palestinian delegation left the West Bank en route to the Cairo talks around noon.

Meanwhile, Gaza medical authorities said Saturday's death toll had risen to 84, as Israeli forces continued their bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave by air, land, and sea.

Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said on Saturday that an airstrike on a house in al-Nuseirat refugee camp killed Yousef Madi and three of his children -- Hassan, Amin, and Abd al-Rahman.

Soon afterwards, another airstrike targeted a home in Rafah, killing four members of the Abu Taha family, identified as Saadiyeh Abu Taha, 40, Mahmoud Abu Taha, 27, Youssef Abu Taha, and Rizq Abu Taha.

A third airstrike on the Salim family home in al-Qarara northern Khan Younis left another Palestinian dead and several injured.

Six family members were killed in another Israeli airstrike that targeted their home in Rafah, and four of the victims were identified as Suhaib, Jumaa, Ahmad, and Fawwaz al-Bahabsa.

The 84 Palestinians killed in strikes on Saturday brought the death toll in Israel's offensive on Gaza past 1,670, with nearly 9,000 injured.

Little hope for new ceasefire

Cairo ceasefire talks were originally to scheduled for Friday but were canceled after a previously-agreed upon 72-hour ceasefire agreement fell apart, with Hamas blaming Israeli for expanding its operations in the lead up while Israel said Hamas launched an operation after the ceasefire had begun.

The delegation representing PLO factions was to meet in Cairo in the evening with Hamas leaders traveling to Egypt from outside Gaza.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said there would be no Hamas leaders immediately joining the delegation from Gaza, as Israel's bombardment of Rafah currently made it impossible to leave the Strip for Egypt.

Meanwhile, according to Israeli media, Israeli officials had decided they would not be sending sending a delegation in Cairo for talks.

"There's no point in promoting an agreement," a Israeli official told Haaretz.

"The inclination is to establish deterrence" and end the fighting by providing "quiet for quiet," the official said.

Israel and Hamas blame each other for the collapse of the ceasefire Friday, with Hamas saying Israeli forces attacked civilian homes in eastern Rafah after the ceasefire had come into effect and Israel claiming militants killed two soldiers and captured another an hour and a half into the ceasefire.

Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades released a statement early Saturday denying knowledge of the capture. It said a group of its fighters clashed with Israeli forces at 7:00 a.m. and that the fighters could possibly have captured a soldier at that time, but that it had since lost contact with the fighters and assumed them to have been killed by Israeli shelling, along with any prisoners they may have taken.

Israel begins search for soldier

Israel said it was focusing its search for its missing soldier on the outskirts of the sprawling city of Rafah, an area home to some 210,000 Palestinians.

Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said "our understanding is that the force was attacked by a suicide bomber, (but it) seems there were several other gunmen who carried out this attack," and that a soldier had been "snatched into a tunnel."

Israel considers the capture of its soldiers a casus belli.

In 2006, Gaza militants captured conscript Gilad Shalit and held him for five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Weeks after Shalit's capture, Israel launched a 34-day war on the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon after it seized two soldiers, whose remains were later returned in another swap deal.

US President Barack Obama "unequivocally condemned" the killing of two soldiers and another soldier's alleged capture, saying that if those responsible wanted an end to the bloodshed, the soldier would need to be "unconditionally released, as soon as possible."

"I think it's going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if Israelis and the international community can't feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a ceasefire commitment," he said.

AFP contributed to this report.
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