Renewed rocket fire at Israel from the Gaza Strip ruptured a shaky cease-fire, triggering Israeli military strikes across the Hamas-controlled territory and the yanking of Israel’s negotiators from truce talks.
No group in Gaza took responsibility for attacks today, which came just hours before a 24-hour truce extension was to expire. The army said at least six rockets fell near the southern cities of Beersheba, Ashdod and Netivot without causing injuries or damage. Two were intercepted by Israeli anti-missile defenses. At least 14 targets in Gaza were hit in Israeli air raids, according to local media and eyewitnesses.
The rockets struck as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo were trying to reach a more enduring cease-fire. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue, said the Israeli team was ordered to return home.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, denied having targeted Israel and has “no knowledge of rocket fire from the territory of the Gaza Strip,” according to spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. He blamed Israel for an “escalation in violence,” which he said was “intended to topple the negotiations in Cairo.”
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev called the rocket fire a “grave and direct violation of the cease-fire to which Hamas committed itself.” The U.S also condemned the attacks, saying it was “very concerned” about violations to the cease-fire, according to Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department.
Negotiators have been trying for more than a week to reach an agreement hostilities that began July 8. The fighting killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, according to Gaza officials, and 67 people on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers. Israel said the offensive was meant to quash rocket fire and destroy underground tunnels militants built to carry out cross-border raids and kill soldiers and civilians.
Even with the loss of life and damage from Israeli air raids, Hamas may emerge politically stronger from the confrontation with Israel, said Youssef Munayyer, executive director of the Washington-based Palestine Center, a research group.
“They might actually benefit politically from the war because they were able to inflict unprecedented losses on the Israeli military,” Munayyer said in an e-mail.
Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, has demanded an end to the blockade on the coastal territory that Israel, citing security considerations, initiated after the militant group won Palestinian elections in 2006. Israel has sought assurances that militants won’t resume their rocket attacks and cross-border raids.
The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s benchmark TA-25 Index was little changed in Tel Aviv, while the shekel dropped 0.4 percent. The yield on Israel’s benchmark government bond fell 2 basis points, or 0.02 percentage point, to 2.64 percent.
Egypt had proposed an 11-point truce plan that includes halting hostilities, easing the Israeli blockade and giving the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority a role in rebuilding the territory, according to a report in Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper.
Israel withdrew ground troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 after criticism from the US and elsewhere for the number of civilians its military killed. Israel accuses Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way.