Sirens howl, drones fly, Israel and Gaza brace for more hostilities
GAZA CITY — Medical workers fought through the rubble of the Qassam Mosque in Gaza on Saturday to retrieve three bodies, some of the latest victims of war between Israel and Gaza, which continues after negotiations to extend a cease-fire failed this week.
The mosque in central Gaza was hit in an Israeli airstrike, said Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Ashraf el-Qedra.
Less than a mile away, a strike killed two men riding on a motorbike, he said. Israel’s military confirmed the strike, saying the two men were militants.
A three-day truce ended a day earlier with the thud of rockets crashing in Israel and the thunder of bombs and mortars rumbling Gaza, the Israeli military said.
Israeli war planes struck at least 70 militant targets in Gaza in response to rockets fired by militants, the Israel Defense Forces said. More than 60 flew at Israel; most hit open ground, but one wounded a civilian and slightly wounded a soldier.
In Gaza City, residents heard blasts as Israeli fighter jets flew overhead. A 10-year-old boy died while playing with friends, said the Palestinian Ministry of Health, as the death toll crept toward 1,900.
Overnight into Saturday, the IDF struck more than 20 targets in Gaza, but the ground incursion there is over, as Israeli forces say that they have completed their mission of destroying Hamas tunnels.
And with it, the death toll’s climb has slowed.
Who’s to blame
Gazan Islamic militant group and political party Hamas traded accusations with the Israeli government over who was at fault for the resumption of hostilities.
Militants started it, the IDF said.
“It’s not right to say the cease-fire somehow fell apart. Hamas broke the cease-fire,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN. Hours before the cease-fire was supposed to run out, “there was already fire on Israel,” targeting “communities across the frontier” — as was the case Friday morning, he said.
Asked whether Hamas militants fired the rockets, he said Hamas runs Gaza and “can’t outsource terrorism to the other groups. When they want to enforce a cease-fire, they do it very well.” Hamas has been in charge of the Palestinian government in Gaza for years, while the Palestinian faction Fatah has run the government in the West Bank. The two groups have fought but also made repeated efforts at a unity government, including one earlier this year.
Hamas denied responsibility for firing rockets Friday.
Militants from Islamic Jihad and the Al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades said they fired rockets on Friday, but they blamed Israel for the truce’s end, saying it died during negotiations, when Israel refused to accept their demands.
On the West Bank, riots broke out, Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces, and an Israeli soldier shot a 19-year-old Palestinian man, killing him, as a dozen youths threw rocks.
Dozens were injured in clashes during a pro-Gaza rally in Hebron, according to an official Palestinian news report. And on Saturday, a man succumbed to his wounds, el-Qedra said. He had been struck in the chest by a bullet.
During the truce, Israeli and Palestinian delegations held indirect talks in Cairo through Egyptian go-betweens.
When they ended without result, the Egyptian foreign ministry, which brokered the talks, said it felt the cease-fire could have easily been extended. The parties had agreed on most issues, and those not agreed upon were few and limited, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry bemoaned the outlook of further civilian bloodshed in Gaza.
More than 1,900 Gazans have died in nearly a month’s fighting, according to the Palestinian health ministry. The figure includes 446 children.
Details on the number of killed Islamist fighters vary with the source.
The United Nations estimates that at least 70% of the dead were civilians. The Israel Defense Forces says it believes roughly half of the dead — about 900 people — were militants.
Israeli officials say 64 Israeli soldiers have died, and three civilians were killed in Israel. The Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted many of the rockets Gazan militants have fired at populated areas of the country.
Palestinian and Israeli officials also pointed the finger at each other over the failed negotiations.
Israel said Thursday it was willing to extend the cease-fire unconditionally, but on Friday, Hamas said that Palestinian officials would not agree to it but would continue negotiations.
After Gazan rocket fire on Friday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the country “will not conduct negotiations while under fire.”
Abu Zuhri gave Israel the responsibility for the talks’ failure for not sending a response to its demands.
But another Palestinian negotiator said the two sides disagreed on the wording of a cease-fire extension that included the Palestinian demand for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza and re-open the air and seaports. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Israeli negotiators also refused to set free Palestinian prisoners who had been released and rearrested in June, the official said.
Palestinians also wanted Israel to extend Gaza’s fishing zone in the Mediterranean from three miles off the coast to 20. Fishing is a keystone of Gazan livelihoods. But Israel was willing to extend fishing rights to only six miles off the coast, said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
Israeli authorities fear Hamas could import weapons by sea and maintains a ship blockade off Gaza’s shores.
Jab at Ban Ki-moon
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday expressed his “deep disappointment that the parties were unable to agree to an extension of the cease-fire.”
Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, responded with a message on the U.N. Facebook page, saying: “If I wasn’t familiar with the UN, I would think this is a parody. But because I am familiar with the UN, I know this is a tragedy.”
The message added, “I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t mention one of the parties, which happens to be the party that violated the cease-fire. This party has a name — they are called Hamas.”