Israel on Tuesday carried out a series of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip in response to renewed rocket fire from Palestinian militants — a burst of violence that broke a brief cease-fire and endangered negotiations in Egypt aimed at ending the monthlong conflict.
The Israeli military issued a statement accusing Palestinian fighters of violating an extension to the truce agreed to yesterday and said it maintained “both defense and striking capabilities in order to address the renewed aggression.”
Palestinian officials, meanwhile, reported Israeli airstrikes in Gaza that gained intensity throughout the evening. Palestinian medical official Ashraf al-Qidra said a total of 21 people were wounded in an airstrike that hit a building that houses offices of Hamas' Al Aqsa TV station. He said two people, including a 40-year-old woman and a young girl, were killed in a separate airstrike in Gaza City that also injured 16. The fatalities were the first since a temporary truce was reached last Wednesday.
After the renewed violence on Tuesday, Israel announced that it was recalling its negotiating team that was in Cairo participating in Egyptian-mediated indirect negotiations.
“There are no talks if the cease-fire is violated,” an Israeli official told Al Jazeera. “The Egyptian process has a clear sequence. A complete and absolute cessation of hostilities. If that first part is not held, there’s nothing to talk about.”
Israeli officials, on Tuesday evening, reported more than 20 rockets were fired on Israel, including two that hit the greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area. The armed wing of Hamasg, Al-Qassam Brigades later said on Twitter that it had fired rockets towards Tel Aviv. It said the rockets were targeting David Ben-Gurion Airport. No one was injured in the attack on the city, the Israeli army said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Agence France-Presse news agency that Israel's earlier allegation of rocket fire was a ruse to sabotage talks in Cairo aimed at a longer-term cease-fire.
"We don't have any information about firing rockets from Gaza," he said. "The Israeli raids are intended to abort the negotiations in Cairo."
But shortly before the launch, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum hinted of more such attacks, saying, “If [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu doesn’t understand … the language of politics in Cairo, we know how to make him understand.”
Israeli officials said Netanyahu ordered an unspecified response. “This rocket attack on Beersheba is a grave and direct violation of the cease-fire,” government spokesman Mark Regev said.
Earlier Tuesday, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators had resumed their indirect talks after agreeing to a 24-hour extension of the cease-fire to allow more time for negotiations.
The talks are aimed at working out a long-term arrangement between Israel and Hamas after weeks of fighting, which has killed at least 2,019 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and left tens of thousands more homeless. Sixty-seven Israelis have died, all but three of them soldiers.
Hamas is seeking an end to a seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has ravaged Gaza’s economy. Israel wants Hamas to disarm. A proposed Egyptian compromise calls for easing the blockade but not lifting it. While Hamas would not be required to give up its arsenal, the Egyptian plan would give Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — whose Fatah forces were ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007 — a foothold back in Gaza, running border crossings and overseeing internationally backed reconstruction.
In an apparent attempt to pressure Hamas, Egypt said early Monday it would co-host an international fundraising conference for Gaza — but only if a deal is reached first.
That appears to play into the hands of the West Bank–based Palestinian Authority, which is eager to regain control of Gaza.
Hamas finds itself pressured by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to accept a less than ideal compromise with Israel but it needs to show the 1.8 million people of Gaza that the enormous sacrifices they have endured in the fighting have not been in vain.
The Gaza blockade, imposed after Hamas seized control there, has greatly limited residents’ movement in and out of the territory, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.
Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent arms smuggling, but critics say the measures have amounted to collective punishment.
The latest round of Gaza fighting was precipitated by Israel's mass arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank in the aftermath of the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June. Their deaths were followed by the slaying of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem in what was a likely revenge attack.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press