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Gaza Update: Fate Of Israeli Soldier Unknown; Death Toll Surpasses 2009 Level

A Palestinian youth carries a bicycle from the wreckage of a building hit in an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip Saturday. New violence killed dozens in Gaza after the collapse of a UN- and US- backed cease-fire, officials said.
Said Khatib AFP/Getty Images
A Palestinian youth carries a bicycle from the wreckage of a building hit in an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip Saturday. New violence killed dozens in Gaza after the collapse of a UN- and US- backed cease-fire, officials said.

A day after they were to begin a cease-fire, Israel and Hamas are still firing at one another, in a conflict that has killed at least 1,650 Gazans, 63 Israeli soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians, according to tallies from the respective sides.

Those numbers surpass the estimated fatalities from the last major Gaza conflict, which raged for around three weeks from 2008-2009.

Hamas, which has been condemned for breaking a temporary peace and capturing an Israeli soldier, said Saturday that it has lost contact with the group that conducted the ambush that killed two soldiers and resulted in Lt. Hadar Goldin's capture.

The military wing of Hamas released a statement today, NPR's Emily Harris reports, in which it said that after an Israeli bombardment, "the Hamas fighters are believed to be dead and if there was a soldier with them, he probably is too."

The claim hasn't yet been verified; we'll update this post as news requires.

Here's more of what you need to know about the conflict today:

-- Peace Talks On Hold

The broken peace deal has prompted Israel to cancel plans to send a delegation to negotiate in Cairo, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which cites a "senior official."

"We're not talking about cease-fires anymore," the official said. "Israel will act in its own interest."

-- The Fighting

The Israeli military says it struck 200 targets in Gaza in the past 24 hours, including several mosques that it says were being used to store weapons, according to the AP. The news agency says the Israel Defense Forces also struck part of Islamic University that they said was a Hamas research and development facility for weapons manufacturing.

Elsewhere, much of the other fighting centered on Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where Goldin was captured.

-- U.S. Response

President Obama said Friday that the U.S. will keep trying to find a way to broker a lasting peace, searching for a balance that allows Israel to protect itself from attacks and also spares the lives of Palestinian civilians.

"Obama calls the situation in Gaza heartbreaking," NPR's Michele Kelemen reports. "He's been urging Israel to do more to prevent civilian casualties."

The president has also condemned Friday's attack by Hamas, noting that it removes the element of trust need to reach a truce.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aired his frustrations with U.S. efforts to forge a peace with Hamas, with the AP quoting sources who say Netanyahu has told the Obama administration "not to ever second guess me again" when it comes to dealing with Hamas.

-- Hamas And Egypt

Egypt's role as a potential – and traditional – peacemaker between Israel and Hamas is complicated by the mutual distrust between that country's new leadership and Hamas, as NPR's

Leila Fadel reports from Cairo for today's Weekend Edition Saturday.

Leila reports that in Egypt, which signed a treaty with Israel more than 35 years ago, news media have sometimes praised Israel's military operations targeting Hamas. And she notes that Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi associates Hamas with Morsi, the president he helped topple, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood.

-- Free Speech In Israel

And in Israel, where there's been strong support for the military operation against Hamas and for Netanyahu, vocal critics have faced repercussions that "are testing the country's tradition for free speech," as Daniel Estrin reports for Weekend Edition.

Estrin spoke to human rights activist Avi Blecherman, who was beaten and called a traitor after attending an anti-war protest in Tel Aviv last weekend.

"Something really, really bad is happening to Israeli society," Blecherman tells Daniel. "It will stay with us even after the war is ending."

-- Congress OKs Iron Dome Funds

A bill providing $225 million to help fortify Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system has been approved by the House and Senate, clearing the way for President Obama's signature.

"Israel had requested the funds from the Pentagon, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told congressional leaders last week he supported the additional funds 'in light of the ongoing conflict,' The Los Angeles Times reports.

The Iron Dome system has been hailed as a success in Israel, intercepting most of the rockets that militants have fired at densely populated areas. But as NPR's Ari Shapiro reported last month, "these interceptor rockets cost millions of dollars each."

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