December 21, 2014
Netanyahu: 'Israel will not negotiate under fire'
Israel said today it was prepared for protracted military action in Gaza and would not return to Egyptian-mediated ceasefire talks as long as Palestinians kept up cross-border rocket and mortar fire.
The head of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo had said it would leave unless Israeli negotiators, who flew home on Friday hours before a three-day truce expired, came back to the talks. But Egypt's state news agency, MENA, said the Palestinians would remain for an urgent meeting with the Arab League on Monday.
Israeli air strikes and shelling killed three Palestinians in Gaza today, including a boy of 14 and a woman, medics said, in a third day of renewed fighting that has jeopardised international efforts to end a more-than-month-old conflict.
Since the last truce expired, Palestinian rocket and mortar salvoes have focused on Israeli kibbutzim, or collective farms, just across the fortified border in what appeared to be a strategy of sapping the Jewish state's morale without triggering another ground invasion of the tiny Gaza Strip.
The violence has become less intense than at the war's outset, down from more than 100 rocket bursts a day including at major cities like Tel Aviv, which have not come under attack since Israel withdrew ground forces from Gaza on Tuesday.
Before the truce ran out on Friday, Israel said it was ready to agree to an extension. Gaza's ruling Hamas did not agree, demanding an end to an economically stifling blockade of the coastal enclave that both Israel and Egypt, which regards the Islamist movement as a security threat, have imposed.
Israel has resisted easing access to Gaza, suspecting Hamas could then restock with weapons from abroad.
A sticking point has been Israel's demand for guarantees that Hamas would not use any reconstruction supplies sent to Gaza to build more tunnels of the sort that Palestinian fighters have used to infiltrate the Jewish state.
"Israel will not negotiate under fire," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in public remarks at the weekly meeting of his cabinet in Tel Aviv.
"At no stage did we declare [Israel's military offensive] was over. The operation will continue until its objective - the restoration of quiet over a protracted period - is achieved. I said at the beginning and throughout the operation - it will take time, and stamina is required."
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Netanyahu, by threatening to press on with Israel's military offensive, would be "fully responsible for the failure of the Cairo negotiations and for all the consequences that may result".
The Palestinian negotiating team represents Hamas as well as the party of US-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, who governs in parts of the West Bank not occupied by Israel.
Egypt is meeting separately with each party, given that Hamas rejects Israel's right to exist and Israel regards the group as a terrorist organisation.
Palestinian hospital officials said 1,893 people, most of them civilians, have been killed since the July 8 launch of Israel's military campaign to quell rocket fire from Gaza. Israeli bombardment has caused widespread devastation in the densely populated, largely urban territory.
Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians to the war, whose toll on non-combatants in impoverished Gaza, where thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed, has drawn international alarm and condemnation.