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Israel ready to wind down Gaza war, not to attend negotiations for truce
03-08-2014

JERUSALEM: Israel on Saturday signalled it was winding down the 25-day-old Gaza war unilaterally, and said it would not attend Egyptian-hosted negotiations for a new truce and giving Palestinians who had fled fighting in one northern town the all-clear to return.

But shelling exchanges continued, with Palestinian officials saying Gaza’s mostly civilian death toll rose to 1,669 and Israel saying its Iron Dome interceptor shot down rockets launched at the cities of Tel Aviv and Beersheba.

Several ceasefires between Israel and the Gaza Strip’s dominant Islamist Hamas faction had failed to take hold or quickly collapsed, most recently on Friday after two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third went missing in an ambush.

Israel accused Hamas of seizing lieutenant Hadar Goldin and the United States blamed the group for a “barbaric” breach of the truce. The United Nations was more guarded in its censure of Hamas but urged Goldin’s immediate release.

Seeking to shift responsibility, Hamas said it believed its gunmen had struck before Friday’s ceasefire began and that if they captured Goldin, he probably died with his captors in heavy Israeli barrages that followed.

A Palestinian delegation was to fly to Cairo for new truce negotiations, which would include Hamas's demand that Egypt ease movement across its border with blockaded Gaza. But Israel said it would not send its own envoys as scheduled on Saturday.

“They (Hamas) cannot be trusted to keep their word. They cannot stop (firing) because, for them, a ceasefire at this stage, whether by arrangement or not by arrangement, would mean acknowledging the worst possible defeat,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel's Channel Two television.

With US backing, Israel had said that with or without a truce its forces would pursue their main mission of hunting tunnels used by Hamas for several cross-border attacks. More than 30 of these, and dozens of access shafts, have already been unearthed and were being blown up, the military said. "Our understanding is that our objectives, most importantly the destruction of the tunnels, are close to completion," a military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, said.