OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/GAZA CITY: Israel resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza Tuesday and warned that Hamas “would pay the price” after the Islamic militant group rejected an Egyptian truce plan and instead unleashed more rocket barrages at the Jewish state, causing the first Israeli death in eight days of fighting.
In Gaza, 197 people were killed and more than 1,400 wounded so far, Palestinian health officials said, making it the deadliest confrontation between Israel and Hamas in just over five years.
Under a blueprint by Egypt, whose government has been at odds with Hamas, a mutual “de-escalation” was to have begun at 9 a.m. with hostilities ceasing within 12 hours.
Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the proposal as it only made vague references to some of its key demands and said its battle with Israel would “increase in ferocity and intensity.”
Moussa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas political official who was in Cairo, said the movement, which is seeking a deal that would ease the Egyptian and Israeli border restrictions throttling Gaza’s economy, had made no final decision on the proposal.
The Israeli military said that after the cease-fire was to have gone into effect, Hamas had fired 123 rockets at Israel, one killing a civilian, the first Israeli fatality in the fighting.
A Palestinian civilian was killed in an airstrike in Khan Younes, raising the death toll in the Gaza Strip in eight days of fighting to 197, including at least 150 civilians, among them 31 children, Gaza medical officials said.
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted 20 of the Hamas projectiles, including two over the Tel Aviv area, and the rest caused no damage or casualties.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack against Israel’s commercial capital, as well as for the rocket that killed the Israeli man on the border.
Six hours after the truce was to have begun, and citing the persistent salvoes, Israel resumed attacks.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel had no choice but to “expand and intensify” its campaign, but did not mention the possibility of a ground incursion.
The Iron Dome has shot down most projectiles liable to hit Israeli towns and cities.
The surge in hostilities over the week was prompted by the murder last month of three Jewish seminary students in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the revenge killing July 2 of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem.Speaking in Vienna, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry supported Israel: “I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas in so brazenly firing rockets, in multiple numbers, in the face of a goodwill effort [to secure] a cease-fire.”
Netanyahu, whose security Cabinet voted 6-2 earlier in the day to accept the truce, had cautioned that Israel would respond strongly if rockets continued to fly.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said Israel had to meet the movement’s demands before it lays down its weapons.
Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine also said they had not yet agreed to the Egyptian offer.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who reached an agreement with Hamas in April that led to the formation of a unity government last month, called for acceptance of the proposal, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said. Abbas was due in Cairo Wednesday for talks with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi.
Under the proposal announced by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, high-level delegations from Israel and the Palestinian factions would hold separate talks in Cairo within 48 hours to consolidate the cease-fire with “confidence-building measures.”
Hamas leaders have said any deal must include an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and a recommitment to a truce reached in an eight-day war there in 2012. Hamas also wants Egypt to ease curbs at its Rafah crossing with Gaza imposed after the military ousted President Mohammad Morsi a year ago.
The Egyptian proposal made no mention of Rafah or when restrictions might be eased. Hamas has said it also wants the release of hundreds of its activists arrested in the West Bank while Israel searched for the three missing teens. The proposed truce also made no mention of the detainees.
Netanyahu also fired a deputy defense minister for publicly criticizing government decisions. Danny Danon, a young member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, attacked a decision to accept the cease-fire, saying: “Once again Hamas is setting the tone for this operation. We must retake the initiative and correct the mistake made in this morning’s Cabinet meeting.”
Netanyahu said Danon’s comments showed a “great degree of irresponsibility” at the height of a military campaign. “In light of these declarations that express a lack of confidence in the government and its leader, personally ... I have decided to remove him from his post.”