THE LEVANT – A two-year-old Gaza girl and a woman were killed in an Israeli air strike on Monday, making them the first Palestinian deaths in the conflict since the breakdown of a truce earlier in the day, Palestinian health officials said.
Charging that Israel had “opened a gateway to hell”, Hamas’s armed wing vowed to target Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport with rocket fire, possibly to retaliate for what Hamas was quoted by Israeli media as saying was an Israeli attempt to assassinate its top leader, Mohammed Deif, in a Gaza City strike.
It was not clear whether Deif, who has survived previous Israeli attacks, had survived the strike that killed a woman and a two-year-old girl who media reports said may have been his wife and daughter.
Palestinian health officials said the strike on a house in Gaza City killed three people but did not provide any details about the third victim.
The Israeli military would not specify any of the targets of some 30 attacks across Gaza it said was in response to rocket fire aimed at Israel.
Another air strike launched later on Wednesday morning killed seven members of a family in central Gaza, among them a woman and three children, Palestinian health officials said. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
In addition to the deaths, more than 50 people were wounded in the air strikes across Gaza, ordered after rockets were fired at Israel. Hamas denied firing any rockets during the truce, but after the Israeli strikes claimed responsibility for shooting dozens as far as the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas.
There were no reported casualties but falling shrapnel damaged a car in Tel Aviv, and a building was damaged in southern Israel. Some of the rockets were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor.
The Israeli military urged Israelis living as far as 80 kilometres (50 miles) away from Gaza, or beyond the Tel Aviv area, to open bomb shelters.
The violence shattered a 10-day period of calm since a first truce brokered by Egypt, about a month after the conflict flared on July 8.
Accusing Hamas of breaking the truce with rocket fire eight hours before it was to have expired,Israel recalled its negotiators from truce talks in Cairo on Tuesday, leaving the fate of the Egyptian-brokered efforts to secure a lasting peace hanging in the balance.
Palestinian negotiators walked out of the talks later, blaming Israel for their failure. “Israelthwarted the contacts that could have brought peace,” chief Palestinian negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed said.
The chief Palestinian delegate to truce talks with Israel warned earlier on Tuesday that Gaza violence could erupt anew unless progress is made toward a lasting deal ahead of a midnight deadline in Egyptian-brokered talks.
After a last-minute agreement was stuck to extend by 24 hours a deadline to reach a truce, Azzam al-Ahmad, senior leader of President Mahmoud Abbas’s mainstream Fatah movement, said there had been “no progress on any point” in talks aimed at resolving the Gaza conflict.
“We hope that every minute of the coming 24 hours will be used to reach an agreement, and if not (successful), the circle of violence will continue,” Ahmad said.
He accused Israel of “manoeuvring and stalling” as gaps on key issues continued to dog efforts to achieve a long-term deal between Israel and resistance groups in the Gaza Strip, dominated by Hamas, which would allow reconstruction aid to flow in after five weeks of fighting.
Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk accused Israel of stalling and insisted in a post on his Twitter account that his group “will never cede any” demands for a comprehensive deal.
A senior Palestinian official in Gaza said sticking points to an agreement were Hamas’s demands to build a seaport and an airport, which Israel wants to discuss only at a later stage.
Israel, which launched its offensive on July 8, has shown scant interest in making sweeping concessions, and has called for the disarming of fighters in the enclave of 1.8 million people.
Hamas has said that laying down its weapons is not an option.
Hamas also insists that Israel free Palestinian prisoners while Israel wants Hamas to hand over the remains of two soldiers killed during the fighting.
Israel has signalled agreement to open Gaza crossings, which would ease a blockade of the coastal territory and allow for a freer flow of goods, and to extend maritime limits in the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel and Hamas have not met face-to-face in Cairo, where the talks are being held in a branch of the intelligence agency, with Egyptian mediators shuttling between the parties in separate rooms.
The United Nations said 425,000 people in Gaza have been displaced by the conflict.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement condemning the breach of the ceasefire, adding he was “gravely disappointed by the return to hostilities” and urging the sides not to allow matters to escalate.