December 20, 2014
Gaza truce collapses, Netanyahu orders negotiators home
A ceasefire in the Gaza Strip collapsed, with Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel, prompting Israeli air strikes that health officials said killed a woman and a young girl.
Accusing Gaza Islamists of breaking the truce, Israel promptly recalled its negotiators from talks in Cairo, leaving the fate of Egyptian-brokered efforts to secure a lasting peace hanging in the balance.
Israel said three rockets were fired out of Gaza nearly eight hours before a ceasefire - extended by a day on Monday - was due to expire. Later barrages took aim at a number of cities and one missile hit open land in the greater Tel Aviv area, without causing damage or casualties.
Gaza witnesses said Israeli aircraft launched 35 attacks, including one on a house in Gaza City, where hospital officials said a woman and a two-year-old girl were killed. A third unidentified person also died in the strike, officials said.
Although it claimed responsibilty for later strikes, Gaza's dominant Islamist group Hamas said it had no knowledge of any rockets being fired earlier in the day, while the Cairo talks were still underway.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the initial attack on the southern city of Beersheba "a grave and direct violation of the ceasefire".
A military spokesman said that in response to the salvoes, "terror targets across the Gaza Strip" were attacked.
On Netanyahu's order, Israeli delegates to the indirect talks in Cairo on ending the Gaza war and charting the territory's future, immediately flew home.
Suggesting that Israel expected more violence, the military instructed Israeli civilians to keep bomb shelters open to a distance of 40 kilometres (25 miles) from Gaza, and Israeli media said municipalities in the Tel Aviv area were reopening shelters they had shut when fighting subsided two weeks ago.
The rocket attacks spurred a new exodus of dozens of Palestinian families who had fled previous fighting and had returned home only days ago.
A Palestinian delegate in Cairo said negotiations for a durable ceasefire were near collapse. "The talks have been suspended unofficially," said Qais Abdel Karim of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Earlier, in Cairo the chief Palestinian delegate to the indirect negotiations with Israel cautioned that violence could erupt anew if the talks failed.
After a last-minute agreement was struck yesterday to extend by 24 hours, until 21.00 today, a deadline to reach a truce, Azzam al-Ahmad, senior leader of President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, said there had been "no progress on any point" in the negotiations.
The Palestinian Health Ministry put the Gaza death toll at 2,016 and said most were civilians in the small, densely populated coastal territory. Israel has said it killed hundreds of Gaza gunmen in the fighting. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed.