Rockets shatter cease-fire for Hamas, Israel

Exchange of fire ensues; prospect for talks dims

JERUSALEM — Another Gaza cease-fire collapsed Tuesday when Palestinian militants fired rockets into southern Israel, drawing retaliatory airstrikes from Israel and prompting the Israeli government to withdraw its delegation from Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo for an agreement to end the latest conflict.

At least six rockets landed near the cities of Ashdod, Beersheba, and Netivot, causing no damage or injuries, and two more were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, the Israeli military said. The military added in a statement it was “targeting terror sites across the Gaza Strip.”

The airstrikes targeted open spaces, but Palestinian medical official Ashraf al-Kidra told the Associated Press that two people — a 40-year-old woman and a 2-year-old girl — were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City. Twenty-one people were wounded in a separate airstrike that hit a building that houses offices of Hamas’s Al Aqsa TV station, he said.


Israel has repeatedly said it will not negotiate under fire. As a five-day cease-fire expired at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Israeli and Palestinian officials had announced a 24-hour extension to allow the negotiations in Cairo to continue.

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“Today’s rocket attack on Beersheba is a grave and direct violation of the cease-fire to which Hamas committed itself,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government. “This is the 11th cease-fire that Hamas has either rejected or violated.”

Within minutes of the first rockets landing, Israel instructed its negotiators to leave Cairo. The Palestinian delegation to the talks planned to leave Wednesday. The Palestinian negotiators said they had given Egypt their final offer and were waiting for Israel to accept or reject it by 11:59 p.m. But Israel appeared unlikely to accept the draft, which it had rejected in the past, and the talks appeared on the verge of collapse.

Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, denied responsibility for the latest rocket fire and blamed Israel for the escalation.

“Hamas does not have any information about the launching of any rockets from Gaza,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the group. “The Israeli occupation is aiming through this escalation in the region to abort the talks in Cairo.”


Smaller groups in Gaza might have been behind the rocket fire, with or without Hamas’s blessing.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have engaged in indirect talks in Egypt for about two weeks in an effort to find more durable solutions to end the hostilities, in which more than 1,900 Palestinians have been killed as well as 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians.

The resumption of fighting came as the talks in Cairo reached a critical phase. A Palestinian official with knowledge of the negotiations said that there was no possibility of reaching a comprehensive agreement but that there had been talk of a partial agreement for gradual measures and a monthlong cease-fire, followed by talks on more difficult issues for both sides.

The initial accord was expected to allow for an easing of movement of goods through the crossings into Gaza to aid in reconstruction. Thousands of homes were destroyed in the latest fighting.

It has become clear to both sides that their maximal demands are not likely to be met in the foreseeable future. Hamas has demanded a complete lifting of the economic blockade on the Palestinian coastal enclave, allowing the free movement of people and goods in and out, the creation of a seaport, and the reconstruction of a long-defunct airport. Israel wants mechanisms to prevent the rearmament of Hamas and eventually, the full demilitarization of Gaza.


Many analysts view the goals of the two sides as irreconcilable and have suggested that the war might end without formal agreements.