With Egypt calling on Israel and Palestinian militants to agree to an open-ended cease-fire, Israeli forces pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Saturday, one day after an Israeli child was killed by a mortar strike.
Rockets continued to hit Israel, with most intercepted or falling harmlessly in open areas, though one projectile struck a dining hall in a farming community near Gaza, not far from where a 4-year-old Israeli boy was killed Friday. No injuries were reported in Saturday’s rocket attacks.
Palestinian officials reported at least eight new deaths in Saturday’s Israeli strikes, bringing the death toll in six weeks of Gaza fighting to nearly 2,100, the majority of them civilians. The Israeli military warned Gazans via voice and text messages that any structure used to carry out attacks against Israel would be targeted, and urged people to flee areas from which rockets were being launched.
“The mission is still ongoing,” the messages said. “Beware.”
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have already been displaced by fighting, with many fearing there is no safe place to flee. The renewed Israeli warnings, and the fresh escalation in fighting, posed a quandary for Amjad Shakhsa, a 26-year-old father of two, from the heavily bombed Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya.
“I want to go home,” he said. “I never thought the war would start all over again.”
The Egyptian call for a renewed truce came after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met Saturday with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Sisi. Indirect talks in the Egyptian capital broke down earlier this week, but Egypt has been trying to get the two sides back to the bargaining table.
Abbas had traveled a day earlier to the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, where he met the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshaal. Hamas was represented in the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo talks, but took a harder line than most of the other Palestinian factions, including Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.
Meshaal, meanwhile, acknowledged in an interview with Yahoo News on Saturday that the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens in June was carried out by Hamas members, but reiterated his contention that the organization’s leadership did not know of the kidnap plot in advance.
Earlier this week, another Hamas official said in Turkey that Hamas’ military wing had carried out the abductions and killing of the three teens, one of whom was a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. Hamas has previously praised the attack but disavowed knowledge of it.
The deaths of the three Israeli teens, all studying at Jewish seminaries in the West Bank, set the stage for the fighting that erupted in Gaza on July 8. Following the teens’ disappearance near the town of Hebron, Israel cracked down on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting about 1,000 in a series of sweeps.
Hamas then pelted Israel with rockets, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a campaign of airstrikes that escalated later in July into a ground offensive.
A series of cease-fires brokered by Egypt brought about two weeks of relative calm, but the fighting flared up again this week. Israel withdrew its ground forces more than two weeks ago, but has since called up 10,000 military reservists and hinted that another ground offensive was possible.
Special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank and special correspondent Abeer Ayyoub in Gaza City contributed to this report.