JERUSALEM – Plans for a truce devolved into threats of a wider war Tuesday as the first significant attempt to end more than a week’s worth of round-the-clock fire between Israel and Hamas ended before it had even begun.
The unraveling of an Egyptian cease-fire proposal offered little immediate hope for a diplomatic solution to a conflict that has left more than 190 Palestinians in Gaza dead and that on Tuesday claimed its first Israeli fatality.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave the military authorization to use full force against militants in Gaza and vowed that Hamas and its allies would suffer for their decision not to halt their rocket fire into Israel.
Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision, Netanyahu said in a televised address Tuesday evening. When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire.
Netanyahu was under pressure from his right flank late Tuesday to authorize a risky ground invasion of Gaza aimed at ending Hamas’ reign as the de facto power in the coastal strip. Reflecting tensions within his government, Netanyahu fired his deputy defense minister for publicly accusing the cabinet of not moving aggressively enough against Hamas.
The Islamist militant group also showed signs of internal strain, with its military wing vowing to escalate the conflict even as a top political leader said the group was considering Egypt’s cease-fire plan.
The proposal called for Israel and Hamas to stop firing Tuesday without pre-conditions, and then launch talks in Cairo within 48 hours. Israel’s security cabinet approved the deal, and Israel stopped firing into Gaza. But Hamas officials balked at the proposal, saying they had never been consulted. Rocket fire from Gaza continued unabated, and Israel resumed military operations in the territory.
Egypt’s military-backed government is deeply hostile to Hamas, an Islamist militant offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which Cairo authorities consider a terrorist organization.
The United States has done little to push Israel toward ending its operations in Gaza, and Tuesday, the White House made clear the onus is on Hamas to end its fight.
Israeli authorities believe Hamas is far weaker than it was the past two times the two combatants engaged in major combat and are reluctant to give the group anything that could be perceived as a reward for its militancy.