Bombs and bloodshed return to Gaza

An explosion rocks Gaza City yesterday after Israel launched air strikes in the wake of Egyptian'led talks breaking down. Picture: AP
An explosion rocks Gaza City yesterday after Israel launched air strikes in the wake of Egyptian'led talks breaking down. Picture: AP
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ISRAEL launched air strikes across the Gaza Strip yesterday in response to Palestinian ­rockets after Egyptian-mediated talks failed to extend a 72-hour truce in a month-long war.

Egypt called for a resumption of the ceasefire, saying only a few points remained to be agreed.

Palestinian factions said they would meet Egyptian mediators, but yesterday there was no sign of any imminent deal.

An Israeli government official said Israel would not negotiate with Palestinians while militants continued to fire missiles.

As warning sirens sounded in southern Israel, the military said “Gaza terrorists” had fired more than 45 rockets yesterday morning and the “Iron Dome” interceptor system had brought down two.

Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the salvoes from the Hamas-dominated ­enclave.

Accusing Hamas of breaking the ceasefire, Israel said several of the rockets had been launched about four hours before the truce was due to end at 8am local time. Heavier barrages followed shortly after the ceasefire period expired.

By resuming the attacks, Gaza militants appeared to be trying to put pressure on Israel, making it clear they were ready to fight on to end a blockade of the coastal territory that both Israel and neighbouring Egypt have imposed.

In the first casualties since hostilities resumed yesterday, Palestinian medical officials said a ten-year-old boy was killed in an Israeli strike near a mosque in Gaza City. An Islamic Jihad militant was killed in a later hit, local officials said.

In Israel, police said two people were injured by mortar fire from Gaza.

After a huge explosion in Gaza City, apparently from an air raid, a military spokesman said Israel had responded to Hamas rocket fire by launching air strikes at “terror sites” across the Gaza Strip.

“We will continue to strike Hamas, its infrastructure, its ­operatives, and restore security for the state of Israel,” Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.

Heavy civilian casualties and destruction during Israel’s campaign against militants in packed residential areas of the Gaza Strip have raised international alarm over the past month.

Israel had earlier said it would agree to an extension in the ceasefire as Egypt pursued negotiations with Israeli and Palestinian delegates.

A Hamas spokesman said Israel had rejected most Palestinian demands. He added: “However, we did not close the door and will continue with the ­negotiations.”

His comments came in response to a statement from the Egyptian foreign ministry, which indirectly blamed the Palestinians for refusing to end the truce.

Egypt said an agreement had been reached on the major ­issues of concern to the Palestinian people and only a few sticking points ­remained.

The Palestinians had wanted Israel to agree in principle to demands which include lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the release of prisoners and the opening of a sea port, but this had been rebuffed, the spokesman said.

Israel has shown little interest in easing its naval blockade of Gaza and controls on overland traffic and airspace, suspecting Hamas could restock with weapons from abroad.

In Cairo, the foreign ministry called on both sides to return immediately to the talks.