IDF planes struck more than 20 targets Saturday in the Gaza Strip, killing five Palestinians including a senior Hamas member, as rocket fire continued following the end of a three-day truce aimed at ending the war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group.
The Palestinian interior ministry said Israeli jets launched 21 strikes after midnight, destroying three mosques, one in the Zeitoun area, one in Jabaliya in the north and Nuseirat in the middle of the enclave. At least two of the mosques were considered close to Hamas.
Hamas officials claimed Israeli airstrikes hit houses, mosques, warehouses and training sites. Three bodies were found under the ruins of the al-Qassam mosque in Gaza, including that of senior Hamas official Moaaz Zaid, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Qudra. He said two other men were killed in a strike that “targeted a motorbike in the al-Maghazi camp.”
Over 10 rockets were fired from Gaza Saturday toward Israel, for a total of 75 since Hamas ended the truce Friday morning. Israel targeted more than 30 sites in the Strip on Saturday, the IDF said.
The Islamic terror groups resumed rocket attacks Friday shortly before the 72-hour truce expired, injuring two Israelis and drawing a wave of retaliatory airstrikes. Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, were killed in Israeli air strikes on Friday.
The fighting shattered a brief calm in the month-long war and dealt a blow to Egyptian-led efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire between the bitter enemies.
In southern Israel, the army has banned gatherings larger than 500 people within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza, and said kindergartens and summer camps could only operate if there was a bomb shelter nearby.
Health officials in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip say at least 1,898 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting began, most of them civilians and many of them children. The UN and Gaza human rights groups monitoring the death toll have said that more than 75 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians. However, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said last week that about 900 members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian terror groups had been killed by Israeli forces during the war. Lerner said the figure was an approximation, based on reporting from individual Israeli units, but provided no further details. Later, in an official press release, the army said between 750 and 1,000 militants had been killed.
On the Israeli side, the war in Gaza has claimed the lives of 64 soldiers, 11 of whom were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from tunnels dug under the Gaza-Israel border, and three civilians. Over 3,300 rockets have been launched at Israeli cities in the month-long conflict, according to IDF figures. The war grew out of the killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June. Israel blamed the killings on Hamas and launched a massive arrest campaign, rounding up hundreds of its members in the West Bank, as Hamas and other terror operatives unleashed rocket fire from Gaza.
On July 8, Israel launched an air campaign on the coastal territory, sending in ground troops nine days later to target rocket launchers and cross-border tunnels built by Hamas for attacks inside Israel. Hamas, which violently seized control of Gaza in 2007, rejected several ceasefire offers throughout the fighting.
Its primary demand is the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after it seized power. The group had warned it would resume fighting after the ceasefire expired unless there was a deal to ease the restrictions.
The blockade, which Israel says is needed to prevent weapons from reaching Gaza, has led to widespread hardship. Movement in and out of Gaza is limited, and the economy has ground to a standstill and unemployment is over 50 percent.
Israel has said that it would consider lifting the blockade if terror groups in Gaza were to disarm first, a demand dismissed by Hamas.
Hamas entered the Cairo talks from a position of military weakness, as Israel has said Hamas has lost hundreds of fighters, two-thirds of its rocket arsenal and all of its tunnels under the border with Israel during the war. Egypt also has destroyed a network of smuggling tunnels that was once Hamas’s economic and military lifeline.
A delegation of Palestinian negotiators remained in Cairo Saturday in hopes of salvaging the talks, but participants said the negotiations were not going well. The Palestinian delegation met again late Friday with Egyptian mediators. Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Palestinian delegation, said the delegation would stay in Egypt until it reaches an agreement that “ensures” the rights of the Palestinian people. “We told Egyptians we are staying,” he told reporters.
The Israeli delegation to the Cairo talks left Egypt on Friday morning, and it was not clear if it would return. “There will not be negotiations under fire,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry urged restraint by both sides and called for a new ceasefire to resume negotiations. The ministry said progress had been made in the talks but did not explain.
“There had been an agreement on the vast majority of matters that are important to the Palestinian people, but some limited points remained undecided, a matter that should have led to an acceptance to renew the ceasefire,” the Egyptian foreign ministry said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed “deep disappointment” at the failure to extend the ceasefire and urged the parties to swiftly find a way back to the negotiating table, UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
The Israeli government has blamed Hamas for the death and destruction in Gaza, since it placed its rockets, rocket launchers, cross-border tunnel openings and other military infrastructure in homes, schools and mosques.