Middle East

Gaza crisis: Israel 'unlikely to go to talks in Egypt'

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Media captionThe BBC's Jon Donnison in Gaza: "Nobody's smiling now"

Israel is unlikely to send a delegation to truce talks in Cairo as it presses on with its offensive in Gaza, reports quoting senior officials say.

The officials say Israel will finish destroying tunnels used by Palestinian militants and consider a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza.

The Israeli military said Israel was already close to its objective.

Egypt was set to host talks, with President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi saying its plan was a chance to end bloodshed.

Exchanges are continuing in Gaza, as Israel continues to hunt for a soldier, Hadar Goldin, who went missing on Friday.

Hamas' military wing, the Qassam Brigades, said it had no information about the fate of 2nd Lt Goldin, but that he may have been killed along with his captors in an Israeli bombardment.

Some 1,655 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 65 Israelis, all but two soldiers, have died in the conflict.

A Thai worker was also killed in Israel. Some 8,900 Palestinians have also been injured, the health ministry in Gaza says.

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Media captionThere is an "enormous sense of solidarity" with soldiers on the front line as the hunt for Lt Goldin continues, Bethany Bell reports from Israel

Senior Israeli officials, quoted by the Israeli media, indicated no delegation would travel to Cairo for ceasefire talks until further notice.

In the meantime, Israel would continue its operations until Hamas was unable to pose a threat.

"If we feel that deterrence has been achieved we'll leave the Strip based on the principle of calm for calm," one official told Haaretz newspaper.

'Psychological defeat'

Meanwhile, military spokesman Lt-Col Peter Lerner told Reuters: "Our understanding is that our objectives, most importantly the destruction of the tunnels, are close to completion."

Hamas said it was indifferent to any Israeli decision to withdraw unilaterally.

"The occupation has to choose how it wishes to pay - it can stay in Gaza and pay the price, withdraw unilaterally and pay the price, or negotiate, and pay another price," Palestinian media quoted spokesman Sami Abu-Zuhri as saying.

"In the coming hours we will be surprised to see the magnitude of the occupation's psychological defeat."

Analysis: Mark Lowen, BBC News, Cairo

Image copyright Reuters

The Cairo talks had been billed as the best chance yet to bring warring parties in Gaza to the table for a sustainable solution. But in the end, Israel will not send a delegation to Cairo.

Even without Israel's attendance, talks will be complicated by a host of conflicting sympathies and regional tensions.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown and Mohammed Morsi deposed last year, the Egyptian government of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi sees Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, as a terrorist organisation.

Turkey and Qatar, the two regional negotiators, now have poor relations with Egypt due to their support for the Brotherhood.

And of course the US refuses to talk directly to Hamas. Amidst this complex atmosphere full of animosity, it's unsurprising that there's little optimism here about a diplomatic end to this crisis.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Several people have been killed in air strikes around the southern town of Rafah
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Israeli tanks are involved in ground incursions along the eastern border of Gaza where Hamas has built tunnels
Image copyright AFP
Image caption A Palestinian man inspects damage from an Israeli air strike in Jabalia, northern Gaza

Palestinian and US delegations had been expected to arrive in Cairo on Saturday.

The Palestinian delegation was reported to include Hamas, which controls Gaza, Fatah and other factions.

The US team was expected to be led by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

Saturday clashes

Palestinian officials said that there had been a series of Israeli air strikes around Rafah since midnight, killing at least 35 people, and hitting homes, mosques and a university.

The IDF said the university housed a "weapons development centre" and that five mosques containing Hamas command and training facilities had been targeted.

Israeli media said that after a relatively quiet night, a number of rockets had been fired on Saturday morning, including at Tel Aviv.

Egypt's state-run news agency Mena reported on Saturday that Egypt's Rafah border crossing with Gaza had been reopened for humanitarian reasons, to help the casualties.

Israel began an aerial campaign on 8 July with the intention of halting rocket attacks from Gaza, and later launched ground operations to target rocket launching sites and tunnels use by militants to infiltrate Israel.

There have been numerous attempts to hold ceasefires but none have lasted, with both sides accusing each other of breaking the truces.

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