Share This Page

Ban of flights to and from Israel feared to bolster Hamas

| Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 9:57 p.m.

JERUSALEM — A missing Israeli soldier and the cancellation of international flights to and from Israel on Tuesday could aid Hamas, potentially shifting the dynamics of diplomatic efforts to bring about a cease-fire in the two-week-old Gaza Strip conflict.

If Hamas is holding the 21-year-old soldier, whom Israel on Tuesday identified as Sgt. Oron Shaul, or his remains, it could give the Palestinian militant group leverage for its political demands — or it could incite Israel to push deeper into the coastal enclave.

The suspension of flights by all American and some major European carriers reflected the group's ability to affect Israel's economy with its rockets, one of which struck within a mile of the international airport near Tel Aviv on Tuesday, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration's flight ban.

By night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had phoned Secretary of State John Kerry to appeal for a resumption of American-based flights to Israel, underscoring fears here that the country might be labeled a war zone and suffer damage to its tourism, high-tech and investment sectors. A State Department statement said the ban was meant only to protect citizens, in an apparent effort to prevent the measure from being viewed as U.S. pressure on Israel to agree to Hamas demands.

But despite a diplomatic push by Kerry and other world leaders, there was no trace of progress toward reviving an Egyptian truce proposal rejected by Hamas a week ago or amending it to make it more attractive to Hamas, as the United States is quietly urging. Israel accepted the proposal, but Hamas said it met none of the group's demands.

Those demands, Hamas leaders conveyed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday in Doha, Qatar, include the end of Israel's naval blockade of Gaza and the release of several hundred Hamas prisoners.

“We are continuing to work, and there is more work to be done,” Kerry said after meetings at Egypt's presidential palace.

The Palestinian death toll had risen to more than 630 since the conflict erupted on July 8, according to officials with the Gaza health ministry, with more than half the deaths occurring since Israel began its ground incursion on Thursday night. The United Nations says more than 70 percent of the casualties are civilians, including children. Israel says it has killed as many as 180 militants.

Overnight, Israel's military announced that two more Israeli soldiers had been killed on Monday, bringing the Israeli armed forces' death toll to 27 since Thursday — the largest number of Israeli troop deaths since the 2006 war with Lebanon. Two Israeli civilians have been killed by Hamas mortar and rocket attacks into Israel.

Israel continued to pound Hamas targets in Gaza with airstrikes and from naval vessels off the coast, while Hamas sent a steady barrage of rockets into Israel. One projectile struck a house in Yehud, in central Israel near Ben Gurion International.

The attack injured one person, but it persuaded the FAA to ban U.S. flights to and from Ben Gurion for a 24-hour period starting Tuesday afternoon. Airlines including Delta, US Airways, United, Air France and Lufthansa suspended their Israel flights.

A senior Israeli military official, speaking to journalists in Tel Aviv, suggested that there was a possibility that Shaul, the missing soldier, could have been captured alive by Hamas or another militant faction in Gaza.

Shaul was one of seven Israelis inside an aging armored personnel carrier pushing Sunday into the Shijaiyah enclave of East Gaza, a Hamas stronghold peppered with some of the tunnel networks that Israel says it entered Gaza to destroy.

Hamas militants struck the vehicle with an anti-tank missile. The bodies of the soldiers were burned beyond recognition, and tests identified only six of the seven soldiers inside, the military said. “No parts of his (Shaul's) body have been found among the ruins of the APC,” the senior Israeli military official said.

A Hamas spokesman said that a soldier named Shaul Aron is “a prisoner now.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.