Gaza cease-fire broken as militants’ rocket attacks spark retaliatory Israeli airstrikes

August 19

Militants in Gaza broke a temporary cease-fire by launching rockets at Israel on Tuesday, and Israel responded with airstrikes. The resumption of hostilities shut down talks in Cairo that seek a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas after more than a month of war.

The two sides, though exhausted by the conflict, vowed to continue fighting. Each side, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gaza’s Hamas leadership, insists on demands that the other rejects.

Amid the renewed rocket fire and airstrikes, the chances of a lasting truce appear dim. Instead, it seems likely that Israel may make some unilateral concessions, such as easing restrictions on imports of building materials to the Gaza Strip, as long as Hamas refrains from rocket attacks.

Hamas and the other militant factions in Gaza fired more than 50 rockets at Israel on Tuesday. Sirens sounded in Jerusalem, and a rocket hit a highway near Tel Aviv. No injuries were reported.

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said the future may be marked by fragile, informal cease-fires that are broken by rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli responses.

“But we won’t go back to a full-fledged war, because the cost is too high,” he said.

Hamas and Israel have fought two previous small-scale wars. In 2009, hostilities ended without a formal truce. In 2012, Egypt brokered a cease-fire, but it was repeatedly breached.

Leaders of Hamas and other militant factions in Gaza blame Israel for the collapse of the Cairo talks. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, “Israel’s foot-dragging proves it has no will to reach a truce deal,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh told the Palestinian news agency Maan that the Israelis were refusing to make concessions and were trying to break the Palestinians’ will.

A senior spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said militants in Gaza broke the latest 24-hour cease-fire by first launching rockets at southern Israel. Later, he said, Hamas fired longer-range rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Israeli forces struck 25 sites in Gaza. The Gaza Health Ministry said that a woman and a child were killed in the attacks and that 25 were injured.

“The situation between Israel and the Palestinians is in very deep and dangerous crisis, which has gone from bad to worse in the last two months,” said Yoram Mei­tal, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

Hamas fighters in Gaza said they are ready to resume attacks on Israel from tunnels, which they said have survived Israeli bombardment. (Reuters)

“I think the chance of a comprehensive agreement is incredibly low, because the sides, Israel and Hamas, prefer a cease-fire without an agreement, rather than an agreement that requires compromise on core demands,” Meital said.

In the negotiations in Cairo, Israel was seeking guarantees of “peace and quiet,” a cessation of all rocket fire and tunnel operations, and, ultimately, the disarming of Hamas and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

For their part, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank want an end to “the siege” on Gaza, an opening of all border crossings, and the lifting of trade and travel restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt that have turned the coastal enclave into what the Palestinians call “an open-air prison.”

The Palestinians also want to rehabilitate Gaza’s Yasser Arafat International Airport, which has been closed for 13 years, and build a seaport, so they do not have to depend on Israel and Egypt for gateways to the world.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio that a seaport without demilitarization would essentially mean “duty-free rockets” for Hamas.

Hamas is in a difficult position. The Islamist resistance movement has fought the most powerful military in the Middle East for more than a month. Its rockets have reached Tel Aviv and shut down Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport for 24 hours.

But Hamas is diplomatically isolated and cut off from its sources of money and arms. Gaza’s economy is in ruins. Tens of thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict. Hamas believes it must show something to the people of Gaza for their suffering. But Israel — alongside silent ally Egypt — is not in the mood to give the militant group anything that resembles a victory.

Israel says Hamas started the war, threatened Israeli civilians with its “terror tunnels” and hid behind “human shields” in densely populated Gaza.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu told the Israeli delegation in Cairo to return to Jerusalem. The Palestinians were reported to be packing their bags, too.

The Palestinian death toll reached 1,976 on Tuesday, according to the United Nations. The dead included 459 younger than 18, the ministry said.

Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed in the conflict, along with two Israeli civilians and one guest worker.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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