BEIRUT

Middle East

Rockets hit Tel Aviv as truce collapses

Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza August 19, 2014. REUTERS/Ahmed Zakot

GAZA: A cease-fire in the Gaza Strip collapsed Tuesday as an Israeli airstrike killed a 2-year-old girl and rockets landed around Tel Aviv, leaving the Cairo truce talks in tatters.

Palestinian and Israeli officials traded blame for who was responsible for breaching the cease-fire first. Israelis said a burst of rocket fire hit Israel Tuesday afternoon, but Hamas’ military wing denied any knowledge of the rockets and said it only fired in response to an Israeli barrage that left at least three dead.

The exchange of fire prompted Israel to withdraw its delegation from the Cairo cease-fire talks.

Palestinian officials reported Israeli airstrikes in 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 third unidentified person also died in the strike, officials said.

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. At least 45 airstrikes hit the enclave, officials said.

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

Israeli officials, meanwhile, reported at least 20 rockets fired late Tuesday, including one that set off air raid sirens in the city of Tel Aviv. There were no reports of injuries. Hamas’ military wing said it fired 34 rockets into Israel, hitting Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheva.

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 from Cairo, government spokesman Mark Regev said 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.”

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

“The cease-fire has collapsed and Israel is responsible,” said Azzam al-Ahmed, the head of a joint-Palestinian delegation in Cairo.

A statement from Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of deliberately obstructing truce efforts and said that the movement would now “examine all options in the light of developments in the situation ... and facts on the ground.”

Shortly after the midnight cease-fire deadline, senior Hamas official Ezzat al-Rishq warned: “ Israel will not enjoy security so long as the Palestinian people do not, and it started it.”

But Israel’s U.S. ally put the blame squarely on the group itself.

“ Hamas has security responsibility for Gaza ... Rocket fire came from Gaza,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The renewal of Israeli airstrikes spread panic among Gaza residents.

An AFP reporter saw hundreds of Palestinians streaming out of Shujaiyah, an eastern area of Gaza City which has been devastated by more than a month of fighting.

More poured out of the Zeitoun and Shaaf areas, alarmed by a series of explosions and heading to shelter in U.N. schools, local witnesses said.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says over 2,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the small, densely populated coastal territory since fighting started July 8.

Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have also been killed during the offensive.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 20, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

A cease-fire in the Gaza Strip collapsed Tuesday as an Israeli airstrike killed a 2-year-old girl and rockets landed around Tel Aviv, leaving the Cairo truce talks in tatters.

Palestinian and Israeli officials traded blame for who was responsible for breaching the cease-fire first. Israelis said a burst of rocket fire hit Israel Tuesday afternoon, but Hamas' military wing denied any knowledge of the rockets and said it only fired in response to an Israeli barrage that left at least three dead.

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.

Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have also been killed during the offensive.


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