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Gaza cease-fire efforts collapse

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 11:50 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Adel Hana)
Smoke and debris rise after an Israeli strike hit Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. The Israeli military said it carried out a series of airstrikes Tuesday across the Gaza Strip in response to renewed rocket fire, a burst of violence that broke a temporary cease-fire and endangered negotiations in Egypt over ending the month long war between Israel and Hamas. The fighting occurred some eight hours before a temporary truce was set to expire. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Egyptian attempts to broker an end to a monthlong war between Israel and Hamas militants collapsed in heavy fighting Tuesday, with Palestinian militants firing dozens of rockets and Israel responding with airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. At least two Palestinians were killed.

The burst of violence erupted in the hours before a temporary truce was set to expire. It left the Egyptian mediation efforts in tatters, and raised the likelihood of a new round of violence.

Israel withdrew its delegation from the Cairo cease-fire talks following a sudden burst of rocket fire on Tuesday afternoon, and quickly resumed its campaign of airstrikes.

Palestinian officials reported Israeli airstrikes throughout Gaza that gained intensity throughout the evening.

Palestinian medical official Ashraf al-Kidra said two people – a 40-year-old woman and a 2-year-old girl – were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City. A total of 21 people were wounded in a separate airstrike that hit a building that houses offices of Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV station, he said.

The fatalities were the first since a temporary truce was reached last Wednesday.

Israeli officials reported at least 20 rockets fired late Tuesday, including one that set off air raid sirens in the metropolis of Tel Aviv. There were no reports of injuries.

Israel’s civil defense authority, the Home Front Command, ordered authorities to reopen public bomb shelters within 50 miles of Gaza.

In announcing the withdrawal of the Israeli team, government spokesman Mark Regev said the rocket fire violated the terms of the negotiations.

“The Cairo talks were based on an agreed premise of a total cessation of hostilities,” he said. “When Hamas breaks the cease-fire, they also break the premise for the Cairo talks. Accordingly, the Israeli team has been called back as a result of today’s rocket fire.”

He would not say whether the team would return to Cairo, or whether Israel would resume cease-fire talks.

Egyptian security officials said Egypt was still pressing the two sides to agree on a cease-fire. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The breakdown dealt a tough blow to nearly a week of Egyptian-led diplomacy meant to end the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

More than 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, and tens of thousands of people are homeless. Israel has claimed the number of militants killed was much higher, and it blames Hamas for causing civilian casualties by staging attacks from residential areas. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a guest worker have also been killed.

Hamas is seeking an end to a seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has ravaged Gaza’s economy, while Israel wants guarantees that Hamas will disarm.

In nearly a week of indirect talks, Egypt appears to have made little headway in resolving the differences. Late Monday, it secured a 24-hour extension to a temporary truce to allow more time for a last-ditch attempt to reach a longer-term deal.

An Egyptian compromise proposal calls for easing the blockade, but not lifting it altogether and opening the territory’s air and seaports as Hamas has demanded.

While the plan does not require Hamas to give up its weapons, it would give Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces were ousted by Hamas in 2007, a foothold back in Gaza running border crossings and overseeing internationally-backed reconstruction.

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