Hamas Denies Lunching Rockets

Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip

A fresh five-day ceasefire between Palestinian militants and Israel went into force early Thursday, agreed at the end of a three-day truce.

Rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip shortly before the midnight deadline (2100 GMT Wednesday), and Israel responded with airstrikes early Thursday.

Since 3 am, however, no airstrikes have been carried out and no rockets fired, an Israeli military spokeswoman said.

An air raid siren in the late morning in the southern Israeli Eshkol region proved to be a false alarm, she said.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, denied launching rockets before midnight.

Three rockets landed in open areas while a fourth was downed over the town of Netivot, an Israeli spokeswoman said. A fifth was launched earlier toward the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon.

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said no injuries were reported in the retaliatory airstrikes, which struck unoccupied areas.

The extended ceasefire, which is to expire Monday, was forged to give Israeli and Palestinian delegations more time to forge a truce as Egyptian-mediated negotiations in Cairo.

Negotiators for the warring sides, who returned to Jerusalem and Ramallah late Wednesday, are set to resume their indirect talks in the Egyptian capital Saturday night or Sunday.

An Israeli government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned the Israeli delegation “will only be returning if there is a complete cessation of hostilities,” reiterating that Israel would not negotiate while under rocket attack.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s seven-member security cabinet was scheduled to convene Thursday afternoon to discuss the Cairo talks.

The ceasefire extension was announced after Egypt increased pressure on Hamas, which had initially said it would not accept another extension.

A 61-year-old man died of wounds sustained earlier, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said.

That raised the death toll in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched its offensive there on July 8 to 1,961, he said, including Simone Camilli, an Italian video journalist for the Associated Press, who died Wednesday when a left-over ordnance detonated north of Gaza City.

About 10,000 people have been injured, and hundreds of houses and buildings have been destroyed.

On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and three civilians have died and hundreds injured.

Israeli police have arrested more than 100 Palestinians over the past two nights in East Jerusalem as part of a crackdown against violent protests in the city, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Altogether, more than 600 people have been detained for throwing stones, firecrackers and firebombs at police since the beginning of the conflict, he said. Of those, 190 have been indicted.

Because of the rocket fire before midnight, Netanyahu’s office had refrained for hours from acknowledging the latest truce, announced by Hamas and Palestinian delegation head Azzam al-Ahmad.

The official who spoke anonymously eventually confirmed that Israel had endorsed it. “We have accepted the extension of the truce,” he told dpa.

“Israel has accepted and honoured some 11 ceasefire proposals,” he said. “Hamas has either rejected or violated 10 of those, the last one was last night.”

He argued that if the rockets were fired by other armed groups, Hamas was in control of the coastal enclave and was, therefore, “responsible for all hostile fire from Gaza.”

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