Renewed fighting broke out Friday between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip after a three-day cease-fire expired, as mediator Egypt and the United Nations urged the two sides to resume indirect talks.
The day began with rocket and mortar fire from Gaza even before the truce formally ended. Hours later, Israel hit what it called “terror” targets in the coastal enclave, killing at least five people, including three children, Palestinian officials said.
On both sides of the frontier, war-weary civilians again sought havens from the fighting. Many Palestinians went back to U.N.-designated shelters, leaving homes they had tried to reclaim during the truce, while some Israelis who had returned to homes lying close to Gaza again sought safety in the country’s north.
Egypt has been brokering talks aimed at achieving an extended cease-fire and laying the groundwork for a broader accord. A contentious all-night session not only failed to bolster the temporary truce, but laid bare the deep differences between the two sides’ positions.
International pressure for an end to the monthlong battle has been growing. Through a spokesman, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged the parties to refrain from further fighting and take all necessary steps to reach a “durable” cease-fire.
Egypt is not only trying to mediate the dispute; it is a party to it. Hamas has demanded a lifting of the seven-year blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt, but the Cairo government wants Hamas to give up its weapons and not be allowed to obtain more. Israel, for its part, said it would not negotiate under fire.
Israel’s delegation left Egypt early Friday, but the Palestinian negotiators set more meetings with Egyptian mediators. The latest deadlock, and renewed fighting, followed what had been the longest lull since the start of the conflict on July 8.
The three-day pause in hostilities had been punctuated by bellicose rhetoric from Hamas, and by warnings from Israel that it would hit back hard if attacked.
“The renewed rocket attacks by terrorists at Israel are unacceptable, intolerable and shortsighted,” army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said after Israel resumed its strikes. He blamed “Hamas’ bad decision to breach the cease-fire.”
Hamas and its allies have fired more than 3,300 rockets and missiles into Israel during the last month, and Israel has raked the seaside strip with airstrikes and artillery fire aimed at destroying rocket launchers and infiltration tunnels.
Israel had said previously it would have no objection to continuing an unconditional cease-fire while indirect talks in the Egyptian capital continued. But Hamas refused to extend the truce before it achieves political concessions from Israel.
Israel launched its aerial campaign against militants in Gaza after weeks of rocket fire and launched a ground incursion into the narrow coastal strip on July 17. During four weeks of fighting, some 1,900 Palestinians have died -- the majority of them civilians, according to the U.N. -- and 64 Israeli troops were killed.
Israel unilaterally withdrew its ground forces just before the three-day truce took effect Tuesday morning, but its troops remained deployed outside the border fence.
Sobelman is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.
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