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Fighting Resumes as Gaza Truce Expires

  • VOA News

Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Aug. 8, 2014.

Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Aug. 8, 2014.

Israel pounded Gaza with a series of airstrikes Friday after Hamas resumed rocket attacks against Israel when talks broke down on extending a three-day truce.

Smoke rose above Gaza as Israeli warplanes retaliated against dozens of rockets fired by Hamas into Israel, restarting a month-long conflict that has already left almost 2,000 people dead. The latest fighting killed at least five Palestinians and injured two Israelis.

Israel held its fire for about three hours, but military spokesman Peter Lerner later confirmed airstrikes were being carried out "against terrorist infrastructure" in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed a "forceful" retaliation in response to the projectile launches.

A 10-year-old Palestinian boy was killed and five others critically wounded in the shelling.

Palestinian Naama Al Attar, 13, waits to collect water at a U.N. school in Gaza City on Aug. 8, 2014.

Palestinian Naama Al Attar, 13, waits to collect water at a U.N. school in Gaza City on Aug. 8, 2014.

Israeli police said two people were injured by attacks from Gaza, Reuters reported.

Government spokesman Mark Regev accused the Hamas-led fighters of indiscriminately targeting civilians.

"Israel wanted to see this cease-fire succeed,” Regev said. “We redeployed all our forces out of the Gaza Strip. We ceased all offensive operations against the terrorists in Gaza and we took up purely defensive positions.

"But Hamas this morning has opened fire on targets in Israel, on communities across the frontier."

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said it failed to reach a deal to extend the cease-fire during indirect talks with Israeli in Cairo.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was deeply disappointed that the parties were unable to agree to an extension of a three-day break in the violence in their talks in Cairo.

"The extension of the cease-fire is absolutely essential for talks to progress and to address the underlying issues of the crisis as soon as possible," Ban said in a statement.

On Friday, the Islamist group said it would continue with negotiations there, along with other Palestinian factions.

Gaza Conflict, death tolls, August 8, 2014

Gaza Conflict, death tolls, August 8, 2014

"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brother sin negotiating a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Fatah official Azzam Ahmed said, according to Reuters.

"I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza," continued Ahmed, who said Palestinians were scheduled to meet later Friday with Egyptian mediators.

The blockade has strangled the Gazan economy and kept Palestinians from leaving the coastal enclave.

But Israel said it will not loosen the blockade until Hamas, which it views as a terrorist group, is disarmed.

Israel had agreed to prolong the cease-fire but was not willing to continue negotiations once the attacks resumed. The Israeli delegation reportedly left Egypt shortly after Hamas resumed firing.

Hamas' rejection of an extended cease-fire could further antagonize Egypt. As Reuters pointed out, Egpyt, already hostile to the militant group, controls the vital Rafah border crossing.

Death and devastation

The cease-fire had ended four weeks of fighting that killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and devastated large sections of Gaza. Hamas on Thursday also "executed an unspecified number of Palestinians as Israeli spies," Reuters reported.

Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians also were killed. Most of the Israeli casualties occurred during a ground invasion by Israeli troops to destroy Hamas' cross-border tunnels.

Israel pulled out all of its soldiers from Gaza, saying all known tunnels have been destroyed, but many troops remain massed on the border.

In the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, some families that had returned to their homes during the cease-fire were departing again for United Nations shelters, Reuters reported.

"Today I am fleeing again, back to displacement," Yamen Mahmoud, a 35-year-old father of four, told Reuters. "I am not against resistance, but we need to know what to do. Is it war or peace?"

Humanitarian disaster

Relief groups say Gaza faces a humanitarian disaster. Hospitals are overflowing with wounded. Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed. And 250,000 of the seaside territory's 1.8 million residents have been displaced.

Some wounded Gazans have been taken to Egypt and Jordan for treatment. Several dozen have been treated at a field hospital in Israel.

Turkey has asked Israel and Egypt to allow an air bridge to transport wounded to Turkey.

A convoy of relief supplies from Jordan reportedly arrived in Gaza Friday. Several Western and Arab governments have pledged millions of dollars in aid to Gaza, but its effects have yet to arrive on the ground.

VOA Jerusalem bureau chief Scott Bobb contributed to this report, and some information comes from Reuters and AP.

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