Gaza cease-fire efforts collapse in heavy fighting
August 20, 2014, 1:48 pm TWN
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Egyptian attempts to broker an end to a monthlong war between Israel and Hamas collapsed in heavy fighting Tuesday, with Palestinian militants firing dozens of rockets and Israel responding with airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. At least three Palestinians were killed.
The burst of violence, which erupted in the hours before a temporary truce was set to expire, left the Egyptian mediation efforts in tatters and raised the likelihood of a new round of fighting in a war that has already claimed more than 2,000 lives, most of them Palestinians.
The fighting broke out when Gaza militants fired several rockets into Israel Tuesday afternoon. Israel quickly withdrew its delegation from the Cairo cease-fire talks and resumed its campaign of airstrikes, and fighting continued into the night.
Three people — two women and a 2-year-old girl — were killed in an airstrike on a house in Gaza City, Palestinian medical official Ashraf al-Kidra said. The target of the airstrike wasn't immediately known.
However, in Cairo, Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas leader, said the dead included the wife and a child of Mohammed Deif, the Islamic militant group's elusive military chief, who has escaped numerous Israeli assassination attempts in the past. There was no immediate confirmation from Hamas leaders in Gaza.
Twenty-one people were wounded in a separate airstrike that hit a building that houses offices of Hamas' Al Aqsa TV station, al-Kidra said. The fatalities were the first since a temporary truce was reached last Wednesday.
Israeli officials reported at least 50 rockets were fired late Tuesday, setting off air raid sirens throughout southern Israel and as far away as the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. There were no reports of injuries, though a piece of a rocket that was intercepted near Tel Aviv fell on a busy road.
Israel's civil defense authority, the Home Front Command, ordered authorities to reopen public bomb shelters within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of Gaza.
In Cairo, Palestinian negotiators declared the cease-fire talks over, and said they would leave Egypt on Wednesday.
Azzam al-Ahmad, leader of the delegation, blamed Israel for the failure, but held out hope that the talks could be resumed.
"We told the Egyptians we are ready to return to the talks once they find the proper atmosphere," he said, adding that the Palestinians had submitted a final cease-fire proposal.
"It's clear the Israelis are not interested in the cease-fire. We did not hear from them. We were willing to, but we did not hear from them," he said.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the blame lay with Hamas. "When Hamas broke the cease-fire and fired rockets into Israel, they also violated the premise of the talks, which were based on an unconditional and total cease-fire," he said.
He would not say whether Israel would resume cease-fire talks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "condemns in the strongest terms" the break in the cease-fire and reminded both sides of their responsibility to not let the situation worsen, spokesman Stefane Dejarric said in a statement.
Egyptian security officials said Egypt was still pressing the two sides to agree on a cease-fire. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The breakdown marked a bitter ending to nearly a week of Egyptian-led diplomacy meant to end the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.
More than 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, and tens of thousands of people are homeless.
Israel has claimed the number of militants killed was much higher, and it blames Hamas for causing civilian casualties by staging attacks from residential areas. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a guest worker have also been killed.