Hamas resumed rocket fire on Israel on Friday morning as the three-day cease-fire in the Gaza conflict came to an end.
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At least one rocket was successfully intercepted by the Iron Dome system over the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon and two rockets fell in open areas without causing casualties or damage. Sirens sounded in the Ashkelon, Ashdod and Eshkol regions.
The cease-fire lapsed at 8 A.M. Friday amid confusion as to whether it would be extended. Palestinian sources told Haaretz that agreement had been reached to extend the truce for three days, but other sources said that it would not be renewed.
The confusion over extension of the truce came as the Cairo talks between Israel and the Palestinians remained deadlocked and without agreement.
Earlier, Palestinian spokesmen had been reported as saying that the cease-fire, which is due to end at 8 A.M. Friday, would not be extended.
Hamas had warned that it would resume hostilities if its demands are not met.
Just hours before the scheduled end of the truce, two mortar shells were fired into Israeli territory, apparently from within the southern Gaza Strip. The shells hit open areas and no injuries were reported. Rocket alerts sounded in communities near the Gaza border.
A senior Hamas official said early Friday morning that the group had decided not to extend the cease-fire due to what it said was Israel's rejection of its demands during indirect talks in Cairo.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the Hamas delegation met for several hours early Friday with Egyptian officials. In exchange for extending the truce, he said, Hamas had demanded that Israel agree in principle to end Gaza's border closure and allow the rebuilding of Gaza.
Hamas was told by Egypt that Israel rejected those demands, the official said.
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Live updates [Thursday]:
10:50 P.M. Hamas official Ismail Radwan, in Qatar, says that the Palestinian envoys to the truce talks in Cairo are meeting with Egypt's intelligence chief to discuss the delegations' demands.
If the demands aren't met, he said, the envoys could leave the Egyptian capital. (Jack Khoury)
10:49 P.M. Israel and Egypt discreetly agreed to work together to squeeze Hamas after Egypt's military coup in 2013, The Wall Street Journal reports. This strategy proved effective but also stoked tensions that helped bring on the war in Gaza, Israeli and U.S. officials believe.
10:40 P.M. Four Hamas operatives killed while making a bomb in Jabalya. (Jack Khoury)
10:39 P.M. Hamas says it executed several Palestinians on suspicion of helping Israeli forces during the month-long Gaza war.
"The spies were executed after they were caught red-handedly informing on the whereabouts of the resistance (or) disrupting the work of resistance men and defusing ambushes prepared against the enemy," Al-Majd, a pro-Hamas website, quoted an unnamed member of the Islamist group's security services as saying. It did not elaborate on the number of people executed. (Reuters)
10:20 P.M. The truce talks in Cairo are stalled as Israel’s proposals to extend the cease-fire in Gaza do not meet Palestinian expectations, a senior Palestinian official involved in the talks said.
The primary points of contention continue to be the full lifting of the Gaza blockade, the release of prisoners and Gaza's demilitarization.
“We are in a holding pattern and the Egyptians are still making great efforts so as not to blow up the talks,“ the official said. He added that the Palestinian delegation has met again with Egyptian intelligence chiefs in an attempt to extend the temporary cease-fire that is due to expire at 8 A.M. on Friday. (Jack Khoury)
9:50 P.M. Hamas' military wing announces that it is ready to resume fighting. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades released a statement vowing to destroy Israeli ground forces should they attempt to re-enter Gaza and threatening to shut down air traffic at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport.
The Brigades called on members of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo to forsake the truce talks with Israel if the Palestinian demands aren't met. The envoys should refuse to extend the talks if Israel fails to agree to the establishment of a seaport in Gaza, the statement asserted.
8:40 P.M. The government is set to declare the Gaza Strip "enemy territory" in the coming weeks. A senior Israeli official said that the decision would mean that Israel would not be responsible for damage incurred by residents of the Strip due to actions during Operation Protective Edge. The proposal was posted on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office Thursday afternoon, but a few hours later it was decided that the proposal would not be brought for a vote at the upcoming cabinet meeting on Sunday.
In 2007, three months after Hamas took over Gaza, the cabinet declared the area hostile territory, instituting restrictions on movement by its inhabitants and of merchandise and fuel into the area. The proposal states that the decision is intended “to give additional legal expression to the status of the Gaza Strip in keeping with the law on civil damages.” (Barak Ravid) Read full article here.
7:30 P.M. Senior Israeli official said that at this stage there is no agreement on extending the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, and that Israel was taking very seriously Hamas threats to renew its rocket fire toward Israel when the truce ends at 8:00 A.M. on Friday.
An Israeli delegation returned to Cairo on Thursday evening for another round of talks with Palestinian representatives, in an attempt to negotiate an extension to the cease-fire, if not a permanent truce. Israel's delegation members included Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen, head of the Defense Ministry's political-security department, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Gilad, chief of the IDF’s Planning Directorate, Maj. Gen. Nimrod Sheffer and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. (Barak Ravid) Read full article here.
5:50 P.M. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and asks for his help in recovering the bodies of Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul and 2nd Lt.Hadar Goldin, both Israeli soldiers who were killed in action in Gaza. (Barak Ravid) Read full article here.
4:15 P.M. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett threw his support Thursday behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for "standing up in the face of extortion attempts of terrorists at the expense of Israel, and in the face of demands to ease [conditions] that will just inject more power into the terror. The state of Israel cannot let itself be taken hostage by Hamas. Any concession to Hamas today will lead to a war tomorrow."
4:00 P.M. According to sources close to Hamas, Palestinian envoys in Cairo continue to insist that the blockade on Gaza be fully lifted and that an agreement be reached over the establishment of seaports and airports and the opening of border crossings. The Egyptian mediators are attempting to soften the demands. Egyptian officials say that the seaport demand, just like the Israeli demand that Gaza be demilitarized, should be discussed as part of a broader settlement and not as part of a cease-fire deal. The Egyptians are making efforts to reach an agreement that would focus on an unconditional truce and on humanitarian matters.
One of the issues at hand is the opening of the border crossings to allow wounded Gazans, especially ones in serious condition, to be transferred to hospitals outside of the Strip. Doctors in Gaza are complaining of severe overcrowding and equipment shortages. Over the past few days hospitals in Jordan, Germany and Egypt have expressed willingness to accept patients from Gaza.
According to the Palestinian health ministry, the death toll in the fighting is nearing 1,900 including 430 children, 243 women and 79 elderly people. More than 9,567 have been wounded, including 2,878 children, 1,854 women and more than 2,000 elderly people. (Jack Khoury)
3:15 P.M. Rallies were held in Gaza on Thursday afternoon to show support for the Palestinian envoys negotiating a truce with Israel. Hamas' military wing, meanwhile, announced that it remains on high alert and that its forces are deployed at defensive and offensive positions along the border with Israel.
3 P.M. The Givati Brigade officer who jumped into the Rafah tunnel along with three other soldiers last week in an effort to locate Hadar Goldin, told Yedioth Aharanoth in an interview published Thursday that he did not receive prior approval from his commanders before running after the kidnapped soldier.
First Lt. Eitan, whose last name is being withheld, finally received approval to enter the tunnel from a Givati Brigade commander, Col. Ofer Winter, who told the officer to first hurl grenade into the shaft before going on.
According to Eitan, his decision – which went against the operational procedure adopted by the IDF in cases of tunnel traps – was not made in haste.
"I made a rational decision," he said. "I knew that I shouldn't go into tunnels, I knew about the danger involved, but I decided to act."
2:53 P.M. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has urged Germany to help find a solution to the conflict in Gaza, and notably to send inspectors to Gaza's borders along with other European Union countries.
Lieberman told Thursday's mass-selling German daily Bild that Germany had a "very significant" role to play in preventing an economic and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions on the movement of goods and people to try to prevent arms reaching Islamist militants.
He said Germany should bring together EU leaders to help find a lasting settlement for Gaza, from where Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at Israel in the last month, demanding an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade.
Lieberman said he was not suggesting the despatch of troops or police. "But Germany and the EU need to send inspectors to Gaza to control the trade the Palestinians conduct with neighbouring states."
He said Israel did not want to govern Gaza again but that a solution was needed for the people who live there.
"And Germany should take responsibility as the leader of such a mission," he said. (Reuters)
1:59 P.M. Israel's 2014 budget will be able to absorb the costs incurred during the month-long Gaza conflict and there will be no need to raise taxes, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said on Thursday.
Lapid said it would take a week or two before the government could determine the total impact of the conflict on the economy - both in terms of military spending and damage to the business sector - but that there was room to cover the cost in this year's budget.
"Israel has a very strong, sustainable economy. We are more than capable to digest this operation into the 2014 budget," Lapid, speaking in English, told Reuters.
"Of course it's an expense we didn't expect, but then again, why have a strong economy if not for these occasions in which you have to react to the unexpected." (Reuters)
1:55 P.M. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon told ICRC President Peter Maurer that Hamas forced Israel to open the ground operation aimed at neutralizing the tunnel threat.
Ya'alon said that Israel was saddened by the many innocent civilians killed and wounded, but stressed that the high casualty count was the result of Hamas' method of fighting. Israel did everything it could – morally, ethically and legally – to prevent civilian casualties, Ya'alon added.
The defense minister also said that Israel was trying to maintain the cease-fire and calm the situation, but added that he did not know what the outcome of the current talks in Egypt would be. Israel hopes for a cease-fire amenable to both sides, he said, but added that there was no way to predict the future. (Gili Cohen)
10:54 A.M. Anti-Israel graffiti reading "free Gaza" was found scribbled on the cargo compartment of a Lufthansa plane that landed this morning in Israel.
The flight departed from Frankfurt and stopped over in Athens, where the crew was rotated. Passengers remained on the plane during the stopover.
Members of the crew questioned upon landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport said they had not noticed the graffiti and did not know when or where it was written.
Airport director Shmuel Zakai filed an official complaint to the German airline.
10:23 A.M. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry late Wednesday and thanked him for the American support in preventing an anti-Israel resolution from being adopted at the United Nations Security Council.
Lieberman told Kerry that the Palestinian factions' declaration in Cairo that they were not committing to an extension of the cease-fire was in essence extortion, and that Israel was taking this move into account and preparing for all of the possibilities.
Lieberman also told Kerry that Israel was not interested in an escalation with Turkey, despite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's anti-Israel remarks. Israel hopes Erdogan's wave of attacks against Israel would end by Turkey's elections on Sunday, and that Israel would respond accordingly if they did not. (Barak Ravid)
10:02 A.M. Communications Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel Radio on Thursday that if Hamas renews hostilities, the military will "resume operations." (AP)
9:48 A.M. International officials in Cairo, primarily representatives of the United States and the UN Quartet, continued Thursday in their efforts to draft an outline for the extension of the temporary cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and to advance the indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian delegations.
The intensive efforts are aimed at preventing the sides from renewing fire after the 72-hour cease-fire expires at 8 A.M. on Friday morning.
According to reports from Cairo, the central condition Israel has presented for continuing the cease-fire is the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and the disarmament of the Palestinian factions, first and foremost Hamas.
Israel is also reticent of Hamas' demand to establish sea and air ports in Gaza, but has expressed willingness to agree to the Palestinians' other demands, including lifting the blockade, opening the border crossings, extending the fishing zone of the Gaza coast and releasing Palestinian prisoners.
According to Palestinian reports, Israel's condition for the demilitarization of Gaza has stalled the negotiations. Egypt has been trying to convince the Israeli delegation to postpone discussion on that clause in order to enable progress in the cease-fire negotiations, said the reports.
Egyptian sources said that the efforts at this stage are aimed at consolidating a draft to secure the extension of the cease-fire and on humanitarian efforts. (Jack Khoury)
2:20 A.M. President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Egyptian efforts to broker a durable Israel-Hamas ceasefire in Gaza but also called for a longer-term solution that provides for Israeli security while offering Gaza residents hope they will not remain "permanently closed off from the world."
Obama said the short-term U.S. goal is to make sure that a 72-hour truce holds and is extended beyond its Friday deadline, including the cessation of cross-border rocket fire by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Read full article
11:11 P.M. Hamas officials Ismail Radwan and Moussa Abu Marzouk say no agreement has been reached on extending the cease-fire. A senior Hamas commander, meanwhile, said: "Unless the conditions of the resistance are met, the negotiating team will withdraw from Cairo and then it will be up to the resistance in the field." Hamas also says that it will consider resuming fire on Israel from Friday morning, since its demands are not being addressed. (Jack Khoury and Reuters) Read full article
10:17 P.M. U.S. envoy Frank Lowenstein was due in Cairo on Wednesday to try to help Egyptian-mediated talks between Israel and the Palestinians find a lasting end to their conflict over the Gaza Strip, the U.S. State Department said.
Lowenstein is the acting U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
"We, along with our partners, are working to find a way forward that brings an end to the violence and addresses the underlying causes of this crisis," State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said in announcing the trip. (Reuters)
9:47 P.M. Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.