By Max Blumenthal, Allison Deger
A beleaguered looking President Barack Obama appeared before the Washington press corps Friday to lash into Hamas for supposedly violating the 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire that his Secretary of State John Kerry and the United Nations had labored so tirelessly to secure.
“I have unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third minutes after a cease-fire was announced,” Obama said.
But evidence supporting Obama’s claim of Hamas responsibility has been difficult to come by. Indeed, even the Israeli Army news desk was unable to provide AlterNet with a clear narrative or substantial evidence regarding the incident in question. Moreover, accounts published in Arabic by Hamas’s military wing along with details provided by the PLO indicate that the killing of two soldiers and disappearance of another actually occurred before the cease-fire went into effect — when Israel was assaulting Rafah.
“Today at 9:30, terrorists executed an attack from which two soldiers were killed and an additional is now missing and therefore he is suspected to have been abducted,” an Israeli army spokesperson told AlterNet. The army spokesperson went on to state that Hamas and the army “exchanged shelling,” yet they were unable to provide details on the source of the Palestinian fire. “They used several forms of fire simultaneously,” was all the spokesperson could divulge.
“I cannot confirm at the moment as we are still looking into it, but it may have been live bullets and a suicide belt,” which killed the soldiers, the army spokesperson said.
When asked why the army did not have a solid account of the events that broke the promised 72-hour cease-fire, the army spokesperson maintained, “There were terrorists and they attacked the soldiers, two soldiers didn’t just drop dead.”
Tweets from Gaza contradict official US-Israeli claims
The PLO and Palestinian Authority both insisted to AlterNet that Hamas fighters engaged Israeli soldiers inside Gaza well before the cease-fire took effect – and during an Israeli assault on Rafah leading up to the 8am cease-fire.
“They aborted the cease-fire from the beginning,” said Nabil Shaath from the PLO’s Central Committee.
A veteran negotiator, Shaath has become the de facto liaison between the PLO and Hamas. He confirmed to AlterNet that PA President Mahmoud Abbas received a briefing from Hamas this morning on the incident near Rafah. Shaath’s account reflects details provided directly by Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip.
According to Shaath, at 6am Hamas fighters engaged Israeli forces in Rafah. He maintained that it was then — almost two hours before the cease-fire went into effect — that the two Israeli soldiers were killed and the other went missing.
Shaath’s account was supported by dispatches published before the cease-fire went into effect by the official Twitter account of Hamas’s Qassam Brigades military wing. In a tweet published at 7:34 a.m. on August 1, the Qassam Brigades stated, “At 7 a.m. a group [of Hamas fighters] clashed with [Israeli] forces east of Rafah and caused many injuries and death to them.”
In a separate tweet published at 6:22 a.m. on the say day, the Qassam Brigades declared, “At 6:30 a.m., a group of the Qassam infiltrated behind enemy lines at east Rafah and bombed a house that the enemy had taken as a stronghold with a Tandem missile after the enemies bombed the whole area.”
The following day, Qassam Brigades reiterated its description of the incident in an official statement: “The clashes began at 7.00am, before the proposed truce was in effect, while the enemy launched its attack on civilians at 10 a.m, blatantly violating the truce in aims of finding a missing soldier.”