Israeli fire kills 18 in Gaza after truce collapse

Israeli fire kills 18 in Gaza after truce collapse

GAZA CITY - Agence France-Presse
Israeli fire kills 18 in Gaza after truce collapse

Palestinian rescuers clear the rubble of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 19. AFP Photo / Mohammed Abed

Eighteen Palestinians have been killed and 120 wounded by Israeli strikes across Gaza since the collapse of a temporary truce, medics said on Aug. 20.        

Among the dead were the wife and infant son of Hamas military chief Mohammed Deif, who died in a strike late on Aug. 19 which levelled a six-storey house in northern Gaza City, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.        

"The wife of the great leader was martyred with his daughter," in a strike, Hamas's exiled deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuk wrote on Facebook while saying nothing about the fate of Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades commander Mohammed Deif himself.

The latest violence raised the overall death toll in Gaza to more than 2,030, with at least 10,300 people wounded, Qudra said.  

The Israeli military said it hit "more than 25 targets" in Gaza Tuesday but would not elaborate. Tuesday's deaths of the woman and a two-year-old girl were the first as a result of Israeli air raids in Gaza since August 10.

Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said Israel had "opened the gates of hell on itself" by the killings and warned that the Jewish state would "pay the price for its crimes."       

A 24-hour truce due to last until midnight (2100 GMT) collapsed late Aug. 19 afternoon, with each side blaming the other. The al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement that it fired 34 rockets into Israel throughout Tuesday, hitting Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheva.        

An Israeli military statement put the number fired at "about 50"  but reported no casualties. "A rocket hit an open area in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area," it said and confirmed that  two rockets landed near Beersheva, which is home to around 200,000 Israelis.

Air raid sirens were also heard in Jerusalem, with Hamas claiming a rocket attack on the city.

Police said it appeared that a rocket fell on empty ground in the occupied West Bank, outside Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a new round of air strikes on Gaza and recalled his negotiators from Egyptian-mediated ceasefire talks in Cairo.

"The rocket fire which broke the ceasefire also destroyed the foundation on which the talks in Cairo were based," Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev told AFP early Aug. 20. "The Egyptian initiative is based on a total and unconditional cessation of hostilities, which was clearly broken when rockets were fired into Israel."

Palestinians wait for answer

Palestinian delegation head Azzam al-Ahmed said that his team would leave Cairo on Aug. 20. "We are leaving...but we have not pulled out of negotiations," he told AFP, adding the Palestinians were waiting for Israel to respond to their truce proposal.

"We will not come back (to Cairo) until Israel responds," he said. The fighting shattered nine days of relative quiet in the skies over Gaza.

A senior Hamas official, Ezzat al-Rishq, warned Israel it would "not enjoy security so long as the Palestinian people do not." 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. "As of right now, with today's developments, we are very concerned and it is our understanding the ceasefire has broken down." The renewal of Israeli air strikes spread panic among Gaza residents.

An AFP reporter saw hundreds of Palestinians streaming out of Shejaiya, an eastern area of Gaza City which has been devastated by more than a month of fighting between Israel and the militant Islamist Hamas movement. More poured out of the Zeitun and Shaaf areas, alarmed by a series of explosions and heading to shelter in U.N. schools, local witnesses said.

In Israel the army said that it ordered that public bomb shelters within 80 kilometres of the Gaza border, be opened ready for use.  That includes Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel has vowed not to negotiate under fire, and Netanyahu has pledged  "a very strong response" to any resumption of rocket attacks.

The Cairo talks centre on an Egyptian proposal that meets some Palestinian demands, such as easing Israel's eight-year blockade on Gaza, but puts off debate on other thorny issues until later. Amnesty International renewed an appeal for access to Gaza. "Valuable time has already been lost," it said.

Egypt's proposal calls for both sides to immediately stop shooting and includes provisions relating to opening the borders to allow for free movement of people, goods and construction materials, as well as a clause on regulating the economic crisis within the impoverished enclave.

But crucially, it postpones discussions on issues such as a port and airport for another month, until "after calm and stability returns," along with talks over exchanging the remains of two Israeli soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners.