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Gaza Update: Netanyahu Hails Military's Success; IDF Declares Soldier Dead

A Palestinian youth carries a bicycle from the wreckage of a building hit in an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip Saturday. New violence killed dozens in Gaza after the collapse of a UN- and U.S.- backed cease-fire, officials said.
Said Khatib
AFP/Getty Images
A Palestinian youth carries a bicycle from the wreckage of a building hit in an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip Saturday. New violence killed dozens in Gaza after the collapse of a UN- and U.S.- backed cease-fire, officials said.

A day after they were to begin a cease-fire, Israel and Hamas are still firing at one another, in a conflict that has killed at least 1,650 Gazans, 63 Israeli soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians, according to tallies from the respective sides.

Those numbers surpass the estimated fatalities from the last major Gaza conflict, which raged for around three weeks from 2008-2009.

Hamas, which has been condemned for breaking a temporary peace and capturing an Israeli soldier, said Saturday that it has lost contact with the group that conducted the ambush that killed two soldiers and resulted in Lt. Hadar Goldin's capture.

The military wing of Hamas released a statement today, NPR's Emily Harris reports, in which it said that after an Israeli bombardment, "the Hamas fighters are believed to be dead and if there was a soldier with them, he probably is too."

We'll update this post as news requires.

Update at 7:20 p.m. ET: IDF Declares Captured Soldier Dead

In a statement on Saturday, the Israeli Defense Forces said that a special committee had declared that Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was believed to be captured by Hamas, was killed in battle on Friday.

The statement said that "prior to the decision, all medical considerations, religious observances, as well as additional relevant issues were taken into consideration."

Update at 2:44 p.m. ET: Netanyahu Says Mission Will Continue

Saying Israel has accomplished many of its goals with its 26-day military offensive targeting Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the country's military will "regroup" after it completes the job of destroying tunnels Hamas has used to carry out attacks.

Netanyahu said "tens" of those tunnels have been destroyed, and Israel's military had also crippled Hamas' ability to launch rockets.

In a TV address that aired in prime-time in Israel Saturday night, Netanyahu said he'll work to restore calm and peace. But he also reiterated his distrust of Hamas, noting the group had broken its word to respect a cease-fire Friday.

Noting the wider effects of the violence in Gaza, Netanyahu said, "We are very sorry for every citizen who was hurt or killed in this operation." And he promised Israel would help rebuild parts of Gaza that had been destroyed in the fighting, calling on other countries to help that effort, as well.

Discussing the fate of Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was reportedly captured shortly after Hamas violated the terms of a planned 3-day truce Friday, Netanyahu said he empathized with his parents, who have urged Israel not to stop searching for their son — and not to withdraw until he is found.

The prime minister spoke after reports emerged that the Israel Defense Forces were on track to destroy all known "attack tunnels" that had been built by Hamas by the end of the weekend, Haaretzreports.

Earlier Saturday, the Israeli military had told citizens of the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya they were clear to return to their homes. That message, to residents who had fled heavy shelling, was seen as a sign that Israel might soon begin winding down its military offensive.

As the AP notes, "Israel ended a previous major military operation in Gaza more than five years ago with a unilateral pullback."

Our original post continues:

Here's more of what you need to know about the conflict today:

-- Peace Talks On Hold

The broken peace deal has prompted Israel to cancel plans to send a delegation to negotiate in Cairo, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which cites a "senior official."

"We're not talking about cease-fires anymore," the official said. "Israel will act in its own interest."

-- The Fighting

The Israeli military says it struck 200 targets in Gaza in the past 24 hours, including several mosques that it says were being used to store weapons, according to the AP. The news agency says the Israel Defense Forces also struck part of Islamic University that they said was a Hamas research and development facility for weapons manufacturing.

Elsewhere, much of the other fighting centered on Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where Goldin was captured.

-- U.S. Response

President Obama said Friday that the U.S. will keep trying to find a way to broker a lasting peace, searching for a balance that allows Israel to protect itself from attacks and also spares the lives of Palestinian civilians.

"Obama calls the situation in Gaza heartbreaking," NPR's Michele Kelemen reports. "He's been urging Israel to do more to prevent civilian casualties."

The president has also condemned Friday's attack by Hamas, noting that it removes the element of trust need to reach a truce.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aired his frustrations with U.S. efforts to forge a peace with Hamas, with the AP quoting sources who say Netanyahu has told the Obama administration "not to ever second guess me again" when it comes to dealing with Hamas.

-- Hamas And Egypt

Egypt's role as a potential — and traditional — peacemaker between Israel and Hamas is complicated by the mutual distrust between that country's new leadership and Hamas, as NPR's Leila Fadel reports from Cairo for today's Weekend Edition Saturday.

Leila reports that in Egypt, which signed a treaty with Israel more than 35 years ago, news media have sometimes praised Israel's military operations targeting Hamas. And she notes that Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi associates Hamas with Morsi, the president he helped topple, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood.

-- Free Speech In Israel

And in Israel, where there's been strong support for the military operation against Hamas and for Netanyahu, vocal critics have faced repercussions that "are testing the country's tradition for free speech," as Daniel Estrin reports for Weekend Edition.

Estrin spoke to human rights activist Avi Blecherman, who was beaten and called a traitor after attending an anti-war protest in Tel Aviv last weekend.

"Something really, really bad is happening to Israeli society," Blecherman tells Daniel. "It will stay with us even after the war is ending."

-- Congress OKs Iron Dome Funds

A bill providing $225 million to help fortify Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system has been approved by the House and Senate, clearing the way for President Obama's signature.

"Israel had requested the funds from the Pentagon, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told congressional leaders last week he supported the additional funds 'in light of the ongoing conflict,' The Los Angeles Times reports.

The Iron Dome system has been hailed as a success in Israel, intercepting most of the rockets that militants have fired at densely populated areas. But as NPR's Ari Shapiro reported last month, "these interceptor rockets cost millions of dollars each."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.