Israel Launches Fresh Air Strikes in Gaza in Response to Rocket Fire
The temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was in jeopardy on Tuesday after rockets were fired from Gaza, triggering a swift military and political response from Israel.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it was targeting "terror sites across the Gaza Strip" in retaliation, and the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, ordered his negotiating team to pull out of talks on finding a durable ceasefire agreement in Cairo.
Gaza has been relatively quiet for the past eight days as two successive ceasefires have been in place to allow negotiations to be conducted. A further 24-hour ceasefire – due to expire at midnight on Tuesday – was agreed in Cairo late on Monday night.
Israel accused Hamas of breaching the ceasefire after three rockets fell near the city of Beersheba in southern Israel. There were no reports of casualties or damage.
Lt Col Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesperson, said: "Yet again, terrorists breach the ceasefire and renew fire at Israeli civilians from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. This continued aggression will be addressed accordingly by the IDF; we will continue striking terror infrastructure, pursuing terrorists, and eliminating terror capabilities in the Gaza Strip, in order to restore security for the state of Israel."
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, hinted at more rocket fire. "If Netanyahu doesn't understand … the language of politics in Cairo, we know how to make him understand," he said according to the Israeli news website Ynet.
However, it was not clear whether a significant return to hostilities was imminent, or if the renewed military exchanges would prove to be short-lived.
The negotiations in Cairo have struggled to secure a long-term deal to end the six-week conflict. On Monday, the Palestinian delegation claimed the two sides were still some way from an agreement, and hinted that the ceasefire would not be extended again if a lasting truce still could not be finalised on Tuesday.
"Until now there is no progress," said Azzam al-Ahmad, the chief Palestinian negotiator. "There are hidden voices who are trying to put obstacles in our way. We have agreed on an extension for another day – just one day. Whether we agree or not, just one day."
Negotiators spent Sunday and Monday conducting indirect talks mediated by Egyptian intelligence officers, but failed to reach agreement about a draft treaty proposed by Egyptian officials on Sunday.
According to leaks, the outline agreement included the opening of crossings between Israel and Gaza, the importation of construction materials under international supervision, and the expansion of the permitted fishing zone to 12 miles over a period of six months.
The demand for a seaport was reportedly agreed in principle, but detailed discussions have been deferred for at least a month. There was no mention of a parallel Palestinian demand to rebuild and reopen an international airport in Gaza.
A Palestinian demand for the release of dozens of Hamas members arrested by Israel over the past few months was also deferred.
Israel wants the disarmament of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza as well as the return of the remains of two soldiers killed in fighting, which Hamas is believed to be holding. All Palestinian factions say the demilitarisation of Gaza is not up for negotiation. But Hamas publicly claims it is ready to share power in Gaza with the Palestinian Authority, which currently runs the West Bank.
The war in Gaza, which began on 8 July, is the most intense of three conflicts in the past five and a half years, with massive destruction of homes, mosques, schools and hospitals, and the shelling of six UN premises being used to shelter people who had fled the fighting.
The Palestinian death toll on Monday stood at 2,016, including 541 children. More than 10,000 people have been injured and about 17,000 homes destroyed or severely damaged.
Israel has lost 64 soldiers in fighting, including five killed by friendly fire. Three civilians – two Israelis and a Thai agricultural worker – were killed by rockets launched from Gaza.
Robert Serry, the United Nation's most senior official for the Middle East, told the UN security council on Monday that "the volume of reconstruction will be about three times" what it was after the 2008â€‘09 Gaza conflict. The scale of destruction and corresponding humanitarian needs were unprecedented, he said.
"Reconstruction of the magnitude which is now needed can only be addressed with the involvement at scale of the Palestinian Authority and the private sector in Gaza, meaning larger quantities of materials are required to enter Gaza."
On Monday, Egypt promised to host a donors' conference in Cairo to help raise money for Gaza's reconstruction, once a lasting ceasefire is eventually brokered.