by Emad Drimly, Saud Abu Ramadan
JERUSALEM/GAZA, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- Both Israel and Hamas have vowed to keep fighting until their goals are achieved, even as the Gaza conflict has already killed more than 1,700 people since July 8.
DEATH TOLL KEEPS CLIMBING
The Israeli military announced Sunday that one of its soldiers, who was feared captured by Hamas militants, has been killed in action during Israel's operation in the Gaza Strip.
A special committee led by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief Rabbi announced the death of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, who was killed in battle in the Gaza Strip on Friday, it said in a statement.
Hamas admitted an earlier Friday attack that killed two other Israeli soldiers, but denied holding Goldin.
Goldin's death brought the Israeli army death toll to 64 since the conflict started on July 8, the heaviest since the 2006 war against the Lebanese Hezbollah. Palestinian shelling has also killed three civilians in Israel.
The human price for the Palestinian side was much heftier as its health officials and rights groups said Sunday at least 1,719 Palestinians have been killed and more than 9,000 others were wounded during the past 26 days. A quarter of Gaza's population has been displaced.
Palestinian officials said that seven Palestinians were killed and 15 others injured in Israeli military offensive on Sunday.
Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman of health ministry in Gaza, told reporters that four Palestinians were killed in a fresh airstrike on a house in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, including a 4-year-old girl.
He also said that a young man and two women were killed in a similar airstrike on a house in the town of Jabalia in northern Gaza Strip, adding that 10 more people were injured, two others critically.
After midnight, the residents said the Israeli war jets intensively struck on various areas in Gaza, and destroyed several empty houses.
NO END IN SIGHT
As the Gaza crisis continued, both sides vowed to go on fighting, shunning international efforts to broker an end to the bloodshed.
A Palestinian delegation, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives, flew to Cairo on Saturday to discuss a long-term truce, while Israel refused to attend the talks.
Egypt had proposed a truce deal last month, which was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas, which deemed the proposal unacceptable as many of its key concerns, such as the lift of years of blockade on Gaza, were not recognized.
Earlier on Saturday, Israel withdrew troops from parts of Gaza, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said military operation would continue even as his troops have almost completed the goal of destroying the cross-border tunnels used by Hamas militants against his country.
"After completing the anti-tunnel operation, the IDF will act and continue to act, in accordance with our security needs and only according to our defence needs, until we achieve our objective of restoring security to you, Israel's citizens," he said in a late-night speech on Saturday.
"From the beginning, we promised to return the quiet to Israel's citizens and we will continue to act until that aim is achieved...We will take as much time as necessary, and will exert as much force as needed," said the prime minister.
The Israeli security cabinet decided late on Friday night not to send a delegation to the Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo, a part of the U.S./UN backed truce deal, on Saturday as planned, charging there is "no point" in trying to achieve an agreement with Hamas.
Israel launched on July 8 a military offensive to stop Hamas' rocket firing on its southern communities. Tel Aviv later said the bigger threat menacing Israel's security is cross-border tunnels, through which Gaza militants could use to launch attacks and carry out kidnappings of Israeli nationals.
An Israeli officer has told Ynet news website that they were "very close to complete" the destruction of some 30 trans-border tunnels.
In response to Netanyahu's remark, Hamas said it reflected that the Israeli military is "in trouble" in Gaza.
"Netanyahu's statements are confused...he is trying to make an elusive victory," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a press statement, adding that the "armed resistance" will continue until achieving its goals.
RETURN GAZA HOME
Dozens of Palestinians, including women and children, gathered on Saturday afternoon on the outskirts of the northern Gaza Strip towns of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun, preparing to go home after the Israeli army officially agreed their return.
Israel Radio quoted high-ranking Israeli army officials as saying that the families, who left their houses when Israel's Gaza offensive began early last month, can go home, yet warned them not to approach the border fences.
The radio also said that the Israeli army ground operations into the Gaza Strip, which aims at destroying tunnels, are almost done, adding that within the coming two days, the Israeli army will announce an end to the ground operation.
Meanwhile, a Xinhua reporter in Gaza said he saw dozens of families, who fled their homes and took a refuge to schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), returning to their homes in northern Gaza Strip, right after Israel signaled the green light.
Still, dozens of families remained hesitant, fearing that they might be targeted again by the ground forces, which have yet to withdraw.
A 43-year-old woman, a hair dresser, said that she left her house 20 days ago and stayed at a UNRWA school, adding "I don't know whether to go home or wait for another two days."
Another woman collecting some stuff she managed to take with her said "I collected our stuff, and now we are going home together with my husband and my children," adding "we are glad and we hope that this tragedy will end peacefully." Her family ran away from their house three weeks ago.
Eyewitnesses said they have managed to reach their homes in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia after the Israeli army ground forces pulled back.
However, Mushir al-Masri, a senior Hamas movement official, called on the fleeing families to be patient and to wait for a while before home-coming.
"The Palestinian resistance will confront any Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip if the Israeli occupation rejects to meet the Palestinian demands," said al-Masri, adding "This scenario will never bring clam or security to the occupation and this expresses that this occupation is confused."
According to the UN estimates, a quarter of Gaza's total population are now displaced, while the homes of almost 60,000 were destroyed in the Israeli bombardments, apart from those who lost lives or were wounded in the conflict.