Date: August 20, 2014 – 3:45AM
By: Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller
Smoke billows from an Israeli air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP
Gaza: Three rockets fired from Gaza struck southern Israel on Tuesday, breaking a ceasefire, drawing Israeli retaliation and prompting Israel to recall its delegation from already fraught Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo for an agreement to end the conflict.
The three rockets struck southern Israel, near the city of Beersheba, the Israeli military said, nearly eight hours before a ceasefire – extended by one day on Monday – was due to expire. Two other rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system over the southern town of Netivot.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks, which the military said caused no casualties or damage. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, the dominant movement in the Gaza Strip, said it had no knowledge of any rockets being fired.
A Palestinian boy points up to the sky as he spots two Israeli drones. Photo: AFP
“This rocket attack was a grave and direct violation of the ceasefire,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after Beersheba was targeted. A military spokesman said that in response to the salvoes, “terror targets across the Gaza Strip” were attacked.
Witnesses said Israeli aircraft carried out at least 25 strikes, and hospital officials reported that five Palestinians, two of them children, were wounded. The attacks spurred a new exodus of dozens of Palestinian families who had fled previous fighting and returned home only days ago.
On Mr Netanyahu’s order, Israeli delegates to the indirect talks with the Palestinians, on ending the Gaza war and charting the territory’s future, flew home.
Israel has said repeatedly that it would not negotiate under fire, and Egyptian mediators have been struggling to end the five-week-old Gaza conflict and seal a deal that would open the way for reconstruction aid to flow to the territory of 1.8 million, where thousands of homes have been destroyed.
The Palestinians want Egypt and Israel to lift their blockades of the economically-crippled Gaza Strip that predated the Israeli offensive launched on July 8 after a surge in cross-border rocket fire by Hamas.
The Palestinian Health Ministry put the Gaza death toll at 2,016 and said most were civilians in the small, densely populated coastal territory. Israel said it has killed hundreds of Gaza gunmen in the fighting. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed.
Before the latest flare-up, Azzam al-Ahmad, senior leader of President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement, said there had been “no progress on any point” in the negotiations, in which Israel has said ensuring its security was its paramount concern.
Earlier, in Cairo the chief Palestinian delegate to the indirect negotiations with Israel cautioned that violence could erupt anew if the talks failed.
Israel, like Egypt, views Hamas as a security threat and wants guarantees any removal of border restrictions will not result in militant groups obtaining weapons.
“We hope that every minute of the coming 24 hours will be used to reach an agreement, and if not (successful), the circle of violence will continue,” Ahmad said before hostilities resumed.
Reuters, The New York Times