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US ‘outrage’ at soldier’s capture as over 1,500 Palestinians perish Saudi condemns ‘collective massacre’

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories, Aug 1, (Agencies): A humanitarian truce in Gaza collapsed only hours after it began Friday amid a deadly new wave of violence and the apparent capture by Hamas of an Israeli soldier. Intensive shelling killed dozens of people in southern Gaza hours into the truce, which began at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) and was due to last 72 hours. But the ceasefire was short-lived, with Hamas accusing Israel of breaking it and the Jewish state saying it was responding to militant rocket fire. With Israel’s security cabinet reported to be meeting later Friday, the chances of a durable truce seemed as remote as ever after the probable capture of Israeli Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23. The military also announced that two soldiers had been killed in the same incident near the southern city of Rafah. “Our initial indications suggest a soldier has been abducted by terrorists in an incident where terrorists breached the ceasefire,” according to army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner. He said a suicide bomber blew himself up, adding that first reports “indicate that a soldier was seized”. In 2006, militants from Gaza captured Israeli conscript Gilad Shalit and held him for five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Friday’s short truce gave brief respite to people in the battered Strip from fighting that has killed more than 1,500 on the Palestinian side, mostly civilians, and 63 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the other. Within hours, air raid sirens were heard on the Israeli side, and heavy shelling resumed in Rafah, killing at least 62 people and wounding more than 350, medics said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office accused Hamas and other Gaza militants of “flagrantly violating” the ceasefire. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum riposted that “it is the (Israeli) occupation which violated the ceasefire. The Palestinian resistance acted based on ... the right to self defence.”

Netanyahu’s office said the premier spoke to Kerry by phone and said the Palestinians “unilaterally and grossly violated the humanitarian ceasefire and attacked our soldiers after 09:00”. It said Netanyahu warned that Hamas and “the other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip will bear the consequences of their actions”. Washington blamed Hamas for the breakdown of the ceasefire and accused it of launching a “barbaric” attack to capture the Israeli soldier. “This is an outrageous action and we look to the rest of the world to join us in condemning it,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told MSNBC television. Kerry demanded that Hamas “immediately and unconditionally release the missing Israeli soldier”, as did UN chief Ban Ki-moon. The army warned people in Gaza to remain at home, saying in voice messages to mobile phones that it was “pursuing terrorist elements in Rafah.” Kerry had said that once the ceasefire was under way, Israeli and Palestinian representatives, including from Hamas, would begin talks in Cairo on a more durable truce. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah condemned the war in Gaza Friday as a “collective massacre” and a crime against humanity, but stopped short of directly condemning Israel for its ground campaign against Hamas. Unlike past Gaza wars, including the devastating 2008 offensive, the Saudi monarch did not condemn Israel outright for the conflict, which officials say has killed at least 1,500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, since it began on July 8. Israel says 63 of its soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been also killed. Instead King Abdullah appeared to suggest that both Israel and Hamas were responsible, saying that the violence in Gaza has led to “various forms” of terrorism whether from groups, organizations or states. “All of this is happening while the international community is watching silently with all its institutions and organizations, including human rights organizations,” he said in prepared remarks read out by a presenter on state television. “This silence has no justification.” But the king did not call for any specific action to be taken against Israel in his remarks.

The 90 year-old monarch’s apparent balancing act was indicative of the recent shift in regional politics, where Egypt’s leadership and other states opposed to Islamist parties have cracked down on groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which spawned Hamas. They have also warned their citizens against joining radical Jihadi groups running rampant in places like Iraq and Syria. In his remarks, the king pressed Muslim leaders to unite against extremism, saying terrorists are wrongfully carrying out deadly acts in the name of Islam and tarnishing the religion’s “purity and humanity.” His remarks appeared to be directed at groups like the Islamic State and its allies, which have taken over territory in Iraq and Syria and whose fighters view the Westernallied Saudi ruling family as enemies. “It is shameful and disgraceful that these terrorists are doing this in the name of religion, killing the people whose killing Allah has forbidden, and mutilating their bodies and feeling proud in publishing this,” the statement said. “They have distorted the image of Islam with its purity and humanity and smeared it with all sorts of bad qualities by their actions, injustice and crimes.” The swing in Saudi rhetoric, particularly toward Israel, is rooted in the turmoil that swept through Egypt and saw the ousting of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi from power last year and the branding of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group — in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Regional divisions run deep.

Many countries in the region see the Brotherhood and its affiliated Islamist movements like Hamas as a direct threat to their rule. The two countries that had good ties with the Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey, have strained ties with Egypt and oil-rich Gulf states. Egypt has in the past blamed Hamas for supporting the Brotherhood and of trying to destabilize the country when the group was ousted from power by the military. Egypt’s recent cease-fire initiative was accepted by Israel, and supported by Saudi Arabia and other states — but rejected outright by Hamas. US Secretary of State John Kerry tried to bring in Qatar and Turkey, but that effort made little headway with the most of the Middle East, and Israel, still solidly behind the Egyptian plan. King Abdullah has been deeply involved in attempted cease-fire talks, siding with Egypt and other Gulf countries opposed to Hamas rule in Gaza.

He has held meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Qatar’s emir, who is acting as a conduit for Hamas demands that Egypt and Israel lift a more than seven-year-old siege on the Gaza Strip. Saudi Arabia has so far pledged nearly $80 million in aid for the Palestinian people since the Gaza war began. Abdullah warned that the fighting in Gaza will lead to a generation of children who will grow up knowing nothing but the language of violence “We all see the blood of our brothers in Palestine bleeding out in collective massacres that do not spare anyone, and war crimes against humanity without humane or moral reservations,” said the brief five-minute statement read on state TV.

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