moke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air
strike in Gaza. Photo by Reuters
Israel said militants fired rockets from Gaza in
violation of a truce and that it struck back with attacks in
the Palestinian enclave, fighting that put talks in Cairo on a
long-term ceasefire in jeopardy.
An Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
ordered his negotiating team in Egypt to return home. But
there was no word from Israel whether the move spelled the
collapse of indirect talks with the Palestinians on ending
the Gaza war and charting the territory's future.
Three rockets struck southern Israel, near the city of
Beersheba, the military said, nearly eight hours before a
ceasefire - extended by a day on Monday - was due to expire.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the
attack, 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.
"This rocket attack was a grave and direct violation of the
ceasefire," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu.
A military spokesman said that in response to the salvoes,
"terror targets across the Gaza Strip" were attacked.
A Reuters correspondent saw an Israeli aircraft fire a
missile east of Gaza City and smoke rising from the area.
Other witnesses said there were several air strikes in the
Two children were wounded, hospital officials said, and the
Israeli attacks spurred a new exodus of dozens of Palestinian
families who had fled previous fighting and returned home
only days ago.
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
2016 and said most were civilians in the small, densely
populated coastal territory. Israel has said it killed
hundreds of Gaza gunmen in the fighting. Sixty-four Israeli
soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed.
Before the latest flareup, Azzam al-Ahmad, senior leader of
President Mahmoud Abbas's 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
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
A senior Palestinian official in Gaza said sticking points to
an agreement in the Cairo talks have been Hamas's demands to
build a seaport and an airport, which Israel wants to discuss
only at a later stage.
Israel has called for the disarming of militant groups in the
enclave. Hamas has said that laying down its weapons is not
an option and has blamed Israel for talks faltering.
Punctuated by several temporary ceasefires, the scale of
fighting had diminished greatly since Israel pulled its
ground troops out of Gaza two weeks ago and had seemed there
was little appetite on either side for the war to drag on.
However, Netanyahu said on Monday the Israeli military was
prepared to take "very aggressive action" if shooting against
Israel and Hamas have not met face-to-face in Cairo, where
the talks are being held in a branch of the intelligence
agency, with Egyptian mediators shuttling between the parties
in separate rooms. Israel regards Hamas, which advocates its
destruction, as a terrorist group.