Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza overnight Wednesday-Thursday, in response to a new rash of rocket fire, even as Palestinian and Egyptian officials announced a new, five-day truce.
Minutes before the previous, 72-hour truce was set to expire at midnight, the Palestinian delegation in Cairo announced that it had agreed to extend the truce by five days to continue the Egyptian-mediated negotiations toward a permanent deal with Israel. It said progress had been made, including on issues relating to the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt to prevent Hamas from importing weaponry.
The head of the Palestinian delegation, Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed, told AFP: “We have agreed to give more time for the negotiations.”
The lull will be extended by five days, he said. He said the Palestinian delegation would return Thursday to Ramallah to consult with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israeli officials later confirmed the extension of the truce.
However, despite the announced extension, rocket-fire from the Gaza Strip had resumed minutes earlier. Sirens rang out in southern Israel, several rockets fell in open areas and one was intercepted over Netivot.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied Hamas was behind the rocket fire.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the IDF to hit back at terrorist targets, and Israeli strikes were reported in northern Gaza and Gaza City after midnight. Soon after, further rockets were fired at southern Israel.
Israel’s negotiating team was reportedly updating Netanyahu on the Cairo talks when the rocket fire resumed.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum later accused Israel of breaking the truce, and said: “Israel will suffer the consequences.”
Earlier, an Israeli official said Jerusalem was seeking to extend the truce beyond its present deadline.
“Israel agreed to an Egyptian proposal to extend the truce by 72 hours,” the official told AFP shortly after the Israeli negotiating team returned from Cairo late Wednesday following a third intensive day of talks. “We agreed to extend the truce and continue the negotiations but (the Palestinians) are digging their heels in,” the Israeli official said.
“The way things stand now, it doesn’t look like it’s going to stay quiet,” he said.
The renewed rocket fire was confirmed by a reservist soldier stationed on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. “At 9:47 I saw a couple of rockets shoot out towards Ashkelon,” he told The Times of Israel.
Egypt presented a proposed ceasefire to Israel and Hamas aimed at ending the monthlong war, Palestinian officials said early Wednesday, after negotiators huddled for a second day of Egyptian-mediated talks aimed at ending the crisis and bringing relief to the embattled Gaza Strip.
Earlier reports Wednesday said that Egypt’s long-term ceasefire proposal calls for easing parts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, bringing some relief to the territory. But it leaves the key areas of disagreement, including the Hamas demand for a full lifting of the blockade and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm, to later negotiations.
A Palestinian official who spoke to AP said that according to the Egyptian proposal the blockade would be gradually lifted over time. He said it would stipulate that Israel would end airstrikes on militants, and a 500-meter (547-yard) buffer zone next to the Gaza and Israel frontier would be reduced over time.
Hamas is seeking an end to the crippling blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007. The blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people. It has also restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.
Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent arms smuggling, and officials are reluctant to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.
Israel wants Hamas to disarm, or at least be prevented from re-arming. Hamas has recovered from previous rounds of violence with Israel, including a major three-week ground operation in January 2009 and another weeklong air offensive in 2012. It now controls an arsenal of thousands of rockets, some with long ranges and powerful. Gaza terrorists fired more than 3,000 rockets toward Israel during the war.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in Gaza on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire, carrying out hundreds of airstrikes across the crowded seaside territory. It then sent in ground forces on July 17 in a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks inside Israel. Eleven soldiers were killed in such attacks in July.
Gaza-based sources claim that Operation Protective Edge, now in its sixth week, has left some 2,000 Palestinians dead. Israel has said that 750-1,000 of those killed were armed combatants. While expressing regret at the loss of life, Israel has said the world should hold Hamas responsible for the civilian deaths in Gaza, because it has emplaced its rocket and tunnel infrastructure in the heart of residential areas, using Gazans as “human shields.” Sixty-four IDF soldiers have been killed in the conflict, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai national.