Last updated: 15 July, 2014

Israel resumes air strikes on Gaza

Israel resumed a punishing air campaign against Gaza Tuesday after its Palestinian foe Hamas rejected a truce and fired dozens of rockets over the border, killing an Israeli for the first time.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the army would “expand and intensify” its Gaza operation after Hamas rejected the Egyptian truce proposal.

The renewed Israeli strikes killed five Palestinians, raising the Gaza death toll in eight days of violence to 197, medics said.

An Israeli man was killed in a rocket attack on an Israeli position near the Erez crossing with Gaza, the army said.

Hamas’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing said it carried out the attack.

The civilian had been delivering food to soldiers serving in the area, a spokesman for the Israeli emergency services told AFP.

Police later named him as Dror Hanin, 37, of the West Bank settlement Beit Aryeh.

The first Israeli death of the conflict came after nearly 1,000 rockets and mortar rounds hit the Jewish state. Four Israelis have been seriously wounded.

Early Tuesday, Israel’s security cabinet said it would accept an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire to begin at 0600 GMT.

But Hamas officials said they had not been consulted on the proposal and would not halt fire without a full-fledged deal including Israeli concessions.

The movement’s armed wing continued to fire dozens of rockets into Israel after the truce deadline, sending tens of thousands scrambling for cover.

At 1200 GMT, the Israeli army announced it was resuming air strikes, after militants fired 47 rockets from Gaza.

The fresh raids hit Gaza City, southern Khan Yunis, Rafah and central Johr al-Deeq, and killed five people.

– ‘No choice’ –

“This would have been better resolved diplomatically, that’s what we tried to do when we accepted the Egyptian truce proposal today,” Netanyahu said.

“But Hamas leaves us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it,” he added.

Late Tuesday, the Israeli army said it was sending messages to residents of parts of eastern and northern Gaza, “requesting them to evacuate their homes for their own safety” ahead of new strikes.

The army issued similar messages to north Gaza residents on Sunday, causing the exodus of 17,000 people who took shelter in United Nations schools.

Overnight, Hamas’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades armed wing had rejected the Egyptian proposal for a truce to be followed by talks.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the movement had not been consulted on the truce bid, and called the idea of halting fire before agreeing on terms “unacceptable”.

A top member of Hamas’s exiled politburo, Mussa Abu Marzuq, sounded a more cautious note, saying the movement had no official position on the proposal and discussions were continuing.

Hamas has said it wants the end of Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt as part of a truce deal.

It also wants Israel to free Palestinians it rearrested after releasing them in a 2011 exchange for an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants for more than five years.

– ‘Cool and with patience’ –

In his remarks on Tuesday evening, Netanyahu hit back at domestic critics of his decision to accept Egypt’s proposal.

“These are moments when decisions must be made coolly and with patience, not hastily or noisily,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli premier also fired deputy defence minister Danny Danon, a firebrand member of his Likud party, who was a vocal critic of him during the operation.

Cairo’s proposal was announced overnight, and urged both sides to halt the violence and travel to Egypt for talks.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas was due in Cairo on Wednesday, but it was unclear if Hamas officials there were continuing to discuss the truce bid and if Israeli officials would also travel to Egypt.

The proposal won support from Western governments with US President Barack Obama saying he was “encouraged” by Egypt’s efforts and hoped to see calm restored.

And even after the violence resumed, the US State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry would “remain engaged” and use “every tool in our toolbox to return to the ceasefire.”

“In our view we need to all remember what’s at stake here: we will continue to work for a ceasefire,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge before dawn on July 8, hitting Gaza with an intensive air and artillery bombardment aimed at stamping out rocket fire.

Since then, 960 rockets have hit Israel, while another 215 have been intercepted by its Iron Dome air defence system, the army said.