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Fresh strikes mar Gaza ceasefire extension

David Buimovitch, AFP | Israeli soldiers at a new deployment position near the Israel-Gaza Border.

Israeli airstrikes pounded targets across Gaza early Thursday in response to rocket fire from Palestinian militants, as spiraling violence left a planned five-day truce extension teetering on the brink of collapse just minutes after it began.

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It had been hoped the ceasefire would avert renewed violence and permit the two sides to continue to negotiate a substantive deal to end the war in Gaza.

Egyptian mediators had been racing to pin down a long-term ceasefire as a temporary truce was set to expire at midnight.

Egypt’s foreign ministry and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team announced the extension.

Yet even as it was announced, violence spiked. A spokeswoman for the Israeli army told AFP that Palestinian militants launched eight rockets towards Israel late Wednesday, six of which hit open areas and one of which was intercepted.

At least two of the rocket attacks were reported after midnight, just as the previous truce ended and a new one was set to begin. Israel retaliated, striking targets across the Gaza Strip following an order from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli official told AP.

But a Hamas official denied reports of rocket fire from Gaza and accused Israel of violating the truce.

“There is no violation of the calm from any Palestinian side and nobody in Gaza has heard rocket fire,” Izzat Reshiq, a Hamas official who is in Cairo for the truce talks, said.

“We denounce the Israeli shelling of Gaza which is continuing. This is a violation of the calm.”

The ceasefire extension is meant to grant both sides additional time to negotiate a longer-term truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory. It was not clear if the fighting was isolated or might shatter the truce.

Lull in violence

The resumption of hostilities broke a lull in violence that had been a welcome reprieve for Israelis and Palestinians living in Gaza.

During the temporary ceasefire, Israel halted military operations in the war-battered territory and Hamas militants stopped firing rockets, aside from the ones late on Wednesday.

Speaking from the talks in Cairo, Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Palestinian delegation there, noted that there had been “significant progress” but that disagreements remained over the wording regarding security arrangements, reconstruction efforts for the Gaza Strip and the permissible fishing area.

The two sides were considering an Egyptian proposal that partially addresses their demands, but deep differences have kept the deal in doubt.

Hamas is seeking an end to a crippling blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007. The blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people. It has also restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.

Israel says the closure is necessary to prevent arms smuggling, and officials are reluctant to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.

Israel wants Hamas to disarm, or at least be prevented from re-arming.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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