Israel said a cease-fire with Hamas forces in Gaza was violated hours before it was due to expire, following a failure by negotiators from the two sides to reach a longer-term deal.
“Moments ago, 2 rockets fired from Gaza hit southern Israel,” Israel Defense Forces said in post on its Twitter feed. “Terrorists have violated the cease-fire.”
The charge followed threats from both sides before the end of a 72-hour truce that was scheduled to run until 8 a.m. local time today. A spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, told al-Jazeera there would be no extension unless Israel lifted an eight-year blockade of land crossings and its port. Hamas official Mushir al-Masri told a Gaza rally the “battle is not over yet” and “our fingers are on the trigger, and our rockets are trained at Tel Aviv.”
Yuval Steinitz, the intelligence and strategic affairs minister said in a BBC interview that in the event of further attacks Israel would have “no option except to take temporary control over Gaza in order to demilitarize the Gaza Strip from rockets and missiles.”
A resumption of hostilities would prolong a conflict that has claimed the lives of 1,868 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, and 67 people on the Israeli side. It would also mark a rebuff to U.S. President Barack Obama’s call for Palestinians and Israelis to extend the cease-fire.
Egyptian mediators met yesterday with a delegation that includes members of the Hamas movement that runs Gaza and officials representing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Voice of Palestine radio station reported. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, told Bloomberg Television that Israeli officials were also in Cairo and “negotiating through the Egyptians,” though Israel’s government hadn’t confirmed their presence.
Israel withdrew troops from Gaza on Aug. 5 after attempting to stop salvos of rockets fired by militants at Israel and destroy tunnels they used to stage attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem on Aug. 6 that the army remained outside Gaza, ready to deal with any cease-fire violation.
Obama, at a news conference in Washington, said that after the cease-fire was extended the U.S goal would be able to help Gaza begin rebuilding. For a sustained peace, “the people of Gaza need to feel some sense of hope and the people of Israel feel confident that they aren’t going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we’ve seen,” Obama said.
As a condition for peace, Hamas wants a lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade that heavily controls movement of goods and people into the territory. Israel is seeking to eliminate the threat of future attacks by demilitarizing the group.
Germany, France and the U.K. presented Israel with an initiative for the reconstruction of Gaza that includes international supervision to prevent the rearming of Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups, Israel’s Haaretz daily reported yesterday. Netanyahu has said any rebuilding effort in Gaza must be linked to the disarming of its militant organizations.
Ezzat al-Rashq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, told the Egyptian Al Shorouk newspaper that “disarming Gaza” is a “red line” that his organization won’t agree to.
While Hamas has insisted its conditions for a permanent deal be accepted as a single package, it agreed to delay talks on some issues -- including the reopening of Gaza’s port and airport, and a safe-passage for travel between Gaza and the West Bank -- an unidentified Palestinian official in Cairo told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.
The current Gaza conflict has been the most disruptive in the territory since Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005. About a quarter of Gaza’s 1.8 million people were displaced by the fighting, in some cases taking refuge in UN schools that were subsequently bombed by the Israeli military. They’ve begun returning to find homes damaged or destroyed in the fighting.
Foreign ministers from Arab countries including Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait will visit Gaza in the coming days to assess what’s needed to begin reconstruction of the coastal strip, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby said, according to the United Arab Emirates news agency WAM.