Monday 18 December 2017

Gaza violence resumes as truce ends

Smoke rises over Gaza City after an Israeli air strike as violence resumed following a ceasefire (AP)
Smoke rises over Gaza City after an Israeli air strike as violence resumed following a ceasefire (AP)

Israel and militants from Gaza have resumed cross-border attacks after a three-day truce expired and talks brokered by Egypt on a new border deal hit a deadlock.

Israel launched at least 10 air strikes in response to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza. One hit near a mosque and killed a 10-year-old boy, Palestinian officials said. In Israel, two people were hurt by rocket fire, police said.

It is not clear if the renewed fighting will derail the Cairo talks, which are aimed at reaching a sustainable truce, or if Egyptian mediators can find a way to prevent further escalation.

Hamas officials said that even though they refused to extend the three-day ceasefire, they were willing to continue negotiations.

An Israeli government official said Israel would not conduct negotiations under fire and would protect its citizens by all means.

The Israeli delegation left Cairo this morning, and it was not clear if it would return.

Minutes after the temporary truce expired at 8am local time, Gaza militants began firing rockets. By midday, 33 rockets had been fired. Twenty-six landed in Israel, three were intercepted and four fell short in Gaza, the army said.

Israel responded with what the military said were strikes "across Gaza".

Police in Gaza said most of the strikes hit empty fields, but one struck the grounds of the Nour al-Mohammadi Mosque in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Sheik Radwan.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said a 10-year-old boy was killed and five boys were wounded, one of them critically.

Police also reported fire from Israeli tanks on northern Gaza and from Israeli gunboats at the central area of the strip.

In Israel, the army said it was prohibiting gatherings of more than 1,000 people in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other areas within 50 miles of the Gaza border because of the rocket fire.

The resumption of violence cast doubt over the Cairo negotiations.

Both Israel and Hamas are under international pressure to reach a deal. As part of such an arrangement, Israel wants to see Hamas disarmed or prevented from re-arming, while Hamas demands Gaza's borders be opened. No progress was reported in all-night talks that ended before dawn today.

Hamas, which has seen its popularity boosted for confronting Israel, entered the Cairo talks from a point of military weakness after losing hundreds of fighters, two-thirds of its rockets arsenal and all of its attack tunnels.

With no definitive statement that it would return to open war, the group appeared to be keeping its options open while several smaller Gaza militant organisations claimed responsibility for today's rocket fire.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev blamed Gaza militants for breaking the ceasefire. "The ceasefire is over," he said. "They did that."

The three-day truce came after a month of Israel-Hamas fighting, the third cross-border confrontation in just over five years.

Israel launched an air campaign on the coastal territory on July 8, and nine days later sent in ground troops to target rocket launchers and cross-border tunnels built by Hamas for attacks inside Israel.

Since then, Israeli strikes on Gaza killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians, wounded more than 9,000, devastated large areas along Gaza's border with Israel and displaced tens of thousands of people.

Sixty-seven people, all but three of them soldiers, were killed on the Israeli side, and Gaza militants fired thousands of rockets at Israel over the past month.

Press Association

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