Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Renewed truce between Israel and Hamas holds despite shaky start

Fresh cease-fire begins as White House says it has tightened control of arms transfers to Israel’s military

A renewed temporary truce between Israel and Hamas appeared to be holding on Thursday despite a shaky start, as reports revealed the White House has tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel.

After both sides agreed to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, the Israeli military said Gaza armed groups breached the truce and fired eight rockets at Israel and that in response, an Israeli aircraft targeted multiple "rocket launchers and terror sites" across the besieged Palestinian territory.

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Hamas official Izzat Reshiq denied that Palestinians had breached the truce and denounced Israel's airstrikes as "a violation of the calm." No casualties were reported in any of the incidents, and hostilities ended by dawn.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama's administration said it learned last month, during Israel’s military offensive on Gaza, that Israel was quietly securing munitions from the Pentagon without White House approval, The Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday.

Since that revelation, the White House says it has moved to mandate a final sign-off on any arms transfers to Israel, saying it should not be up to the Defense Department alone.

In more than a month of fighting in Gaza, at least 1,945 Palestinians and 67 Israelis have been killed; the violence is the deadliest since the two sides fought a three-week war in the winter of 2008 and ’09 — which Israel termed Operation Cast Lead.

A truce in the current round of fighting was set to expire Wednesday night, but at the last minute, the Palestinian delegation announced in Cairo that a five-day extension was agreed upon, during which the sides will again attempt to work out a long-term cease-fire, mediated by Egypt.

But bridging the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians in order to secure a permanent truce has proved difficult.

Hamas and its allies in Gaza want an end to the seven-year Israeli blockade on the territory. But Israel harbors deep security concerns about Hamas, complicating any deal on easing border restrictions.

The blockade has economically strangled Gaza, and about 80 percent of residents are dependent on international aid. Fishermen are prevented from going more than three miles offshore by the Israeli navy, and the movement of goods and people through Gaza's borders is severely restricted by Israel and Egypt.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told Al-Aqsa television on Wednesday that the group would insist on "lifting the Gaza blockade" and reducing movement restrictions on the territory's 1.8 million residents as a prerequisite for a "permanent calm." 

Egyptian and Palestinian sources said Israel tentatively agreed to allow some supplies into Gaza and relax curbs on the cross-border movement of people and goods, subject to certain conditions.

A Palestinian demand for a Gaza seaport and reconstruction of an airport destroyed in previous conflicts with Israel has also been a stumbling block, with Israel citing security reasons for opposing their operation.

The Egyptian cease-fire plan also reportedly calls for reducing the size of an Israeli security buffer zone on the Gaza side of the border from 300 meters (328 yards) to 100 meters so that local farmers can recover plots of land lost during security crackdowns. Much of Gaza's agricultural land is in so-called no-go zones.

Israel launched its military campaign in Gaza on July 8 and declared its aim was to quell cross-border rocket fire and destroy tunnels used by armed groups. Hamas has accused Israel of provoking the conflict through its weeks-long crackdown on the group's members in the West Bank before the offensive began.

Most of the nearly 2,000 Palestinian dead have been civilians, hospital officials in the small, densely populated enclave said. The heavy civilian losses and the destruction of thousands of homes in Gaza — where the United Nations said 425,000 of a population of 1.8 million have been displaced by the war — have stoked international alarm.

Though Israel's military has pulled ground forces back to Gaza's northern border, its leaders have been clear that they are prepared to extend the conflict if they deem it necessary.

Thousands of Israelis who live near the border with Gaza have planned a protest in Tel Aviv on Thursday, calling on the government to continue the offensive on Gaza until rocket fire ends forever.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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