Cairo negotiators plead for return to ceasefire as Gaza hostilities resume

Hamas refuses to extend three-day truce due to lack of progress on lifting siege

A Palestinian man in the remains of his livingroom after an Israeli air strike in Zaitun, Gaza City, yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Oliver Weiken

A Palestinian man in the remains of his livingroom after an Israeli air strike in Zaitun, Gaza City, yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Oliver Weiken


Militant rocket fire into Israel, minutes after the end of the three-day truce, led to the resumption of Israeli strikes yesterday, leaving a huge question mark over prospects of peace in Gaza.

With the Hamas military wing making it clear it would reject an extension of the truce without progress on lifting the siege, residents on both sides of the border had been bracing themselves for a resumption of hostilities.

More than a dozen rockets were fired into Israel during the first hour after the ceasefire expired yesterday morning, and more than 50 throughout the day. Israel’s Iron Dome defence system intercepted rockets over the southern cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon and the town of Sderot. A number of civilians were hurt, one seriously, and residents of southern Israel were once again ordered to stay close to bomb shelters.

“The renewed rocket attacks by terrorists at Israel are unacceptable, intolerable and shortsighted,” said Lt Col Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman. “Hamas’s bad decision to breach the ceasefire will be pursued by the IDF. We will continue to strike Hamas, its infrastructure, its operatives and restore security for the state of Israel.”

Air strikes resumed

A few hours later, Israel resumed air strikes across the Gaza Strip and navy boats and tanks shelled suspected militant targets. Even though a large number of troops remain on the border, there was no indication that ground troops would be ordered back into Gaza at this juncture.

At least five people were killed in attacks in Gaza yesterday. In Gaza City, Ibrahim Dawawsa (10) was killed in a strike from an Israeli drone as he played in the yard of a mosque in the Sheik Radwan neighbourhood, according to his brother, Zuheir (19).

Thousands of civilians fled their homes in eastern areas of Gaza City; some had only returned over the last few days, taking advantage of the three-day lull.

Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Jewish Home party, accused the militants of using rocket fire on civilians as a method of applying pressure.

“This is the moment of truth for Israel’s power of deterrence in the coming years. Our response needs to be forceful,” he said. “I would like to remind the Israeli public: Operation Protective Edge is not over. Hamas has not been defeated yet.”

A similar message of defiance came from the Palestinian side. Mushir al-Masri, a top Hamas official, made it clear the war was not over yet. “Our fighters are still in the field, in their frontline positions,” he said. “Our tunnels still exist, and they reach into Israeli territory. If Israel doesn’t agree to our demands, we will come there.”

Some 1,900 Palestinians have been killed since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8th, most of them civilians. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers were killed, along with three civilians.

Talks interrupted

The renewed hostilities interrupted the indirect talks in Cairo, brokered by Egypt and backed by the United States, for a more durable ceasefire deal.

The Israeli delegation to the Cairo talks, which has been travelling back and forth from Egypt, returned to Israel at 7am on Friday. The Palestinian delegation remained in Cairo and held talks with the Egyptians.

The Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement that the negotiations so far had yielded agreement on “the great majority of topics of interest to the Palestinians” and that differences remained only around a “few, limited points.”

The statement called for the parties to “immediately return to the ceasefire commitment and to use the current opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited points still pending in the fastest possible time”.

The Israeli government statement said Israel had informed the Egyptians that it was ready to extend the ceasefire by another 72 hours before the rocket fire resumed.

“Israel will continue to act by all means to defend its citizens, while making an effort not to harm civilians in Gaza,” it said. “Hamas, which violated the ceasefire, is responsible for the harm to Gaza’s citizens.”

– (Additional reporting by the New York Times)