By George Whitten, BosNewsLife Chief Middle East Correspondent reporting from Israel
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife)– A fragile ceasefire between Israel and the militant group Hamas was threatened Tuesday, January 27, when a bomb exploded on the Israeli side of the Gaza border killing an Israeli soldier and injuring three others, the Israeli army said.
The attack occurred after United States President Barack Obama said on Arabic television that the “moment is ripe” to achieve a “lasting peace”, and his Middle East envoy Senator George Mitchell arrived in the region.
In the interview, recorded Monday, January 26, Obama told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya Television that, “We cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions.” However he added, “I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people.”
The day after the interview aired, Palestinian militants reportedly exploded the bomb at the Kissufim crossing while targeting an Israeli patrol.
Witnesses in the Gaza Strip also said Israeli helicopter gun ships fired on targets inside Gaza. Palestinian medics told reporters that an Arab farmer was killed.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak called an emergency meeting of security chiefs, and said Israel would retaliate for what he called “a painful attack.”
Hamas, which controls Gaza did not claim responsibility for Tuesday’s bomb blast, but one of its officials blamed Israel for the hostilities, news reports said. Hamas, along with Israel, has halted attacks, but it calls it a “lull” in the fighting and not a full cease-fire.
The group wants Israel to lift its blockade of all border crossings to the Strip, including one with Egypt. Israel first demands full guarantees that militants in Gaza will not re-arm and will stop firing rockets into Israel – which it claims was the reason why Israel launched its 22-day offensive.
Palestinian medical officials say the Israeli assault killed nearly 1,300 people, many of them women and children.
Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza last week, but has kept them posted along the border. Israeli officials have said they are ready to attack Gaza again if Palestinian militants resume the firing of rockets or other hostilities.
Referring to the crisis, Obama said on told Al-Arabiya that he supports the Saudi Middle East Peace initiative, which would create a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also calls for Israel to withdraw from all areas prior to 1967 including the Golan Heights, as well as a final resolution of the current refugee situation. In return, Arab nations would establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.
“Middle East peace is a priority, a very high priority, for this Administration,” explained U.S. Department of State spokesman Robert Wood in a press conference Monday, January 26.
However in a move that was expected to raise eyebrows in Israel, Obama said the United States would be willing to engage in diplomatic relations with Iran if it was “willing to unclench its fist.” He promised to address the Muslim world from a Muslim capital soon, but did not elaborate.
Former Senator Mitchell arrived with directions from President Obama to listen to all sides and investigate growing divisions between Hamas and its rival Fatah.
Hamas and Fatah leaders met in Egypt for the first time in ten months as Egyptian officials reportedly warned Palestinian officials to form a unity government and achieve a deal with Israel as soon as possible before Israeli elections take place, February 10.
Egypt has warned both factions that if the Likud Party led by Benjamin Netanyahu will win the elections, Islamists may “lose everything”.
Both groups have been bitterly engaged in an intense rivalry, with reports that Hamas “brutally tortured and killed” Fatah members accusing them of collaborating with Israel.
The rival Palestinian parties are also contending for control of $2 billion in promised reconstruction money for rebuilding the Gaza Strip following the recent three week war.