Israel Strikes Gaza Amid Rocket Fire With No Sign of TruceSaud Abu Ramadan and Yaacov Benmeleh
Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip killed at least five people today and Palestinian militants renewed their rocket fire, with no sign the two sides are near to reinstating a cease-fire a day after it collapsed.
Israel’s military said it had bombed about 30 targets in the territory, which is run by the Hamas militant group, overnight and this morning, the latest barrage in more than a month of fighting. The strikes intensified after midnight, Gaza’s Health Ministry said, with raids on two refugees camps and a series of mosques. Seven rockets from Gaza hit Israel, the country’s army said on its Twitter page. No injuries were reported.
Last-ditch talks in Cairo mediated by Egyptian officials failed to extend a three-day truce that expired at 8 a.m. yesterday, as Hamas said Israel hadn’t responded to its demands, which include the end of an Israeli blockade on Gaza. Rockets from Gaza followed -- attacks that were claimed by two other Islamist groups operating in the territory -- triggering Israeli airstrikes. Israel said it wouldn’t negotiate while under fire.
Along with the U.S. and European Union, the Jewish state considers Hamas a terrorist organization and holds it responsible for controlling other militants in Gaza.
Egypt’s foreign ministry called on all sides to reaffirm their commitment to talks to enable progress on the “very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time” in a statement carried by the state-run Middle East News Agency.
Today’s Israeli strikes killed two Palestinian men riding a motorbike in the Al-Mughazi refugee camp, Ashraf al-Qedra, a spokesman for Gaza’s health ministry, told reporters. An attack on a mosque in the Nuseirat camp killed another two people, he said. Ten others were wounded in the territory.
The deadliest conflict in Gaza since Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005, has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, according to its Health Ministry, the majority of them civilians. Israel says militants account for between 750 and 1,000 of the Palestinian dead.
Sixty-seven people have died on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers. Talks in Cairo sought a lasting cease-fire accord that accommodates Hamas’s demand for an end to the economic curbs on Gaza and Israel’s desire to end attacks from the territory.
“We will continue to strike Hamas, its infrastructure, its operatives and restore security,” Army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said yesterday. Israel’s Channel 2 today quoted Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri as saying in an interview that the group is “giving talks a chance,” but it couldn’t accept the “siege on the Gaza Strip and its residents.” The network gave no details of who Zuhri spoke to.
The blockade of Gaza, also enforced by Egypt, tightly controls movement of goods and people into the impoverished territory of 1.8 million people. Israel imposed the restrictions to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and diverting materials for military use.
Israel withdrew troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 following a four-week offensive that it said aimed to end the rocket fire and destroy tunnels militants used to stage cross-border attacks. Soldiers haven’t been sent back into Gaza, an army spokeswoman said yesterday.
Gazans had begun to head home during the truce, often to find their houses destroyed. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said the number of displaced people in its 89 shelters fell from a peak of almost 273,000 to 171,240 as of yesterday. Israel’s artillery and air strikes razed more than 10,000 Palestinian homes and damaged hospitals, UN shelters housing the displaced, and power and water infrastructure.
An estimated 65,000 people have had their homes destroyed, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement today. “That is likely to rise. A man-made homelessness crisis on an epic scale is unfolding,” he said.
The past month’s fighting followed the breakdown of U.S.- brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in April. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded by ending his seven-year rift with Hamas, a move condemned by Israel.
The killing of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, which Israeli blamed on Hamas militants, and the suspected revenge murder of a Palestinian youth added to tensions, and weeks of rocket fire and Israeli air strikes escalated into war. Hamas and other Islamists have fired thousands of rockets into Israel since early July.
Fending off condemnation from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders about Israel’s use of military might in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel used appropriate force given the rocket and tunnel attacks. Israel accuses Hamas fighters of using Gazans as human shields, striking from densely inhabited neighborhoods.