After less than an hour of relative calm that allowed residents of Gaza to venture out for supplies, streets have once again emptied and bombing has resumed after another humanitarian ceasefire collapsed shortly after it began.
Hamas and Israel blamed each other for the rapid collapse of today's ceasefire, which was negotiated by US Secretary of State John Kerry and the United Nations and was intended to last three days. Initial reports indicated that Israel resumed shelling less than two hours after the ceasefire started in response to Hamas militants who emerged from a tunnel in the south, killing two Israeli soldiers and apparently capturing a third.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied Israel was responsible for the collapse and said in a call to Kerry, “Palestinians had blatantly breached the humanitarian ceasefire and attacked our soldiers.”
He added that, “Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza would bear the consequences of their acts.”
Hamas, in turn, blamed Israel for the collapse of the truce. “We, in Hamas, hold the (Israeli) occupation fully responsible for the breach of the 72-hour ceasefire agreed on,” read a statement from the group.
Most of today’s fighting has taken place in the southern border of the Gaza strip, near Rafah and Khan Younis, and has killed at least 62 Palestinians, according to a Gaza health official. Hamas called the bombardment on Rafah “a barbaric massacre” and vowed to continue fighting.
The Israeli soldier reportedly captured by Hamas militants was 2nd Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23, who disappeared after Israel attacked a tunnel near Rafah. Israeli spokesman Peter Lerner said that there was an "extensive effort" underway to find him. Friday morning, Kerry called on Hamas to "immediately and unconditionally release the missing Israeli soldier," adding that the attack from Hamas was "an outrageous violation of the ceasefire.”
A Facebook page was set up in response to the missing soldier on Friday, called “Hadar Goldin come home safely.”
But other Israelis expressed relative indifference toward the news of the soldier's capture, pointing out the parallels to when Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was captured in 2006 and held by militants for five years. "This is war, this happens," one Jerusalem resident told VICE News. "You know of Gilad Shalit? It will be the same, he will be freed after the war."
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to mount. Nearly four weeks of fighting has left at least 1,500 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, and displaced as many as 400,000 more. Sixty-three Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have been killed.
There is little electricity or fresh water available to the 1.8 million residents of the besieged Gaza strip; Gaza’s only power plant was shelled earlier this week. Health officials have also reported that Gaza is running out of food and medical supplies.
Due to the blockade, Gazans who have fled their homes have nowhere to go, with many seeking refuge in ill-equipped UN shelters and schools that have little to no sanitation available as a result of the lack of electricity and clean water. According to local reports, maladies such as scabies have begun to break out in the shelters. The main hospitals in Gaza are overwhelmed with casualties from fighting.
Despite being considered as some of the few "safe zones" available for those seeking refuge, six of these UN facilities have been shelled, in addition to several hospitals, further adding to the humanitarian crisis. Bodies are still being pulled out from under rubble, some of which have been sitting for up to ten days.
Israel has also expanded the “buffer zone” in which its tanks are firing from along the border, to nearly 40 percent of the entire Gaza Strip. This has led to the complete flattening of entire neighborhoods such as Khuza’a, in the south.
Kerry said he remains “hopeful” that a solution can be reached. Many fear that Israel will escalate operations further in response to Goldin's capture, leading to more casualties. Yesterday, the United States resupplied Israel’s munitions supplies shortly after it issued a strong condemnation of Israel's shelling of a UN school.
In an unusually strong statement Friday, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz called for a stand against "terrorism" committed in the name of Islam while at the same time criticized what he characterized as worldwide indifference toward events in Gaza and other predominantly Muslim countries.
“It is shameful and disgraceful that these terrorists are doing this in the name of religion,” Abdullah said, adding that “this will bring forth a generation that does not believe in dialogue but in a clash of civilizations.”
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928
All photos by Lazar Simeonov