All the Gaza Strip reverberated Monday with the relentless booming sound of Israeli shelling. Throughout much of the day and into the night, Israeli ships, aircraft and tanks pounded communities throughout the territory, helping to drive the number of Gazans killed in this two-week conflict to nearly 600.
At one point, for five full hours, naval guns could be heard shelling the middle of the territory, including the refugee camps of Nuseirat, Bureij, Maghazi and Deir al Balah.
The air strikes and shelling killed 56 people across Gaza, according to the Gaza emergency services spokesman, fewer people than one would have expected from such a barrage. Yet when the guns drew silent, the next sound to be heard was that of a number of Hamas rockets being fired, with their loud whoosh as they headed toward Israel. It was as if to say: We can handle anything you throw at us. And by the end of the day, more than 100 rockets had been fired, at least 84 of them landing in Israel, including one in the Tel Aviv area.
With all the destruction of a number of the group’s tunnels, the pummelling of its areas of support and the deaths of scores of its fighters, Hamas is showing, as it did in the wars of 2009 and 2012, that it cannot easily be subdued, let alone crushed, as many Israeli political figures demand.
Certainly the only way to bring it to heel is through a ground invasion, but the militants have shown that way comes at a cost. The killing Monday of seven more Israeli soldiers brought the total number of Israel Defence Force fatalities to 25, all coming in the four days of the ground operation.
Four of those who died Monday perished before dawn when Hamas fighters emerged from yet another of the tunnels beneath the Israeli border. In a gun battle that ensued outside the beleaguered Israeli town of Sderot, the four soldiers were killed along with at least 10 militants, the IDF said.
At dawn, Israeli soldiers turned their attention to advancing further into Gaza, at the expense of the community of Beit Hanoun in the northwestern corner of the territory. Hundreds of families fled the advancing troops, taking refuge largely with relatives in the area, as the Israelis looked to ferret out Palestinian militants and the openings to the tunnels they have constructed.
As this was taking place, militants in the adjacent community of Beit Lahiya were unleashing a torrent of rockets in the direction of Israel. Many came in salvos of six or eight at a time. One such cluster, aimed at Sderot, eluded the so-called Iron Dome defence system and scored a direct hit on a house, setting it on fire. No one was injured.
Contributing to the soaring death total in Gaza were the discoveries Monday of 68 more bodies from Israel’s ground advance Sunday. Thirteen of them were found in the ruins of Shejaia, a community east of Gaza City, where a massive bombardment took place, and 23 were uncovered in a family home in Khan Yunis, bringing to 28 the number of family members killed in just one blast Sunday.
Even at midnight Monday night, the sound of solitary strikes could be heard in and around Gaza City; so too the sounds of Hamas rockets fighting back.
Meanwhile, diplomacy intensified as the United States took a direct role in efforts to secure a ceasefire. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo on Monday to try to forge a plan to end hostilities.
During talks with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the United States would provide $47-million in humanitarian aid for Gaza. Mr. Ban was scheduled to fly to Israel on Tuesday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and also to meet Palestinian officials in the West Bank.
Speaking in Washington, President Barack Obama said he was increasingly worried by the conflict. “We have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, and that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a ceasefire,” he said at the White House.
In Gaza on Sunday, Hamas had been celebrating what its spokesman said was the capture of a 21-year-old soldier, Shaul Aron. The IDF announced it was investigating the matter and nothing was said Monday to confirm or deny the claim.
The silence may mean, as many Israelis suggest, that Hamas does not hold a living prisoner, but may have his body or perhaps just his identity tags and card. It may also mean, however, that the group holds such a living prisoner and already is in negotiation with Israeli officials.
For all the bravado that Israel never negotiates with terrorists, the reality is that it always negotiates. Indeed, the willingness to release large numbers of prisoners in exchange even for one Israeli has forced the country to rethink its practices.
That re-examination began three years ago when 1,027 Palestinian prisoners convicted of violent nationalist crimes were released in exchange for the return of an Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit.
Mr. Shalit had been held in Gaza by Hamas for more than five years. He was abducted when militants tunnelled under the Israeli border to the site of an army outpost. They killed two other soldiers before making their getaway with Mr. Shalit in tow.
A massive, five-year-long publicity campaign led the majority of Israelis to adopt him as their own son, putting pressure on the Benjamin Netanyahu government to pay an exorbitant price for the young man’s release. Since then, a new political consensus has emerged that says Israel should never again pay so high a price, not only because it frees prisoners who may attack Israel again, but because it encourages those, such as Hamas, to abduct more soldiers. One conclusion reached by a national inquiry into the issue was that negotiations should never be made public – that only drives higher the price of gaining a soldier’s release. Silence, from the start, should be the order of the day. That sound of silence after the shelling and rockets have subsided in Gaza, just might be the sound of fervent negotiation.
With a report from ReutersReport Typo/Error