Israel, Hamas resume hostilities after truce bid

Flares over Gaza Strip

Credit: Menahem Kahana, AFP/Getty Images

Flares fired by the Israeli army illuminate an area in the Gaza Strip.



Special for USA TODAY

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 12:28 PM

GAZA CITY — Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas resumed hostilities Tuesday after Israel earlier accepted an Egyptian-sponsored plan to halt more than a week of fighting. Hamas had previously rejected the truce.

Hamas rocket fire claimed its first victim Tuesday, when an Israeli civilian succumbed to shrapnel wounds, Israeli media outlets reported. Since the outbreak of cross-border fighting on July 8, more than 190 Palestinians have been killed in hundreds of Israeli airstrikes targeting Gaza. Millions of Israelis have been exposed to rocket fire.

Abu Zuhri, a senior Hamas official, said the proposal meant to bring eight days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket fire to a halt was not acceptable in part because Cairo did not consult it on the terms of deal. The military wing of Hamas, Izzedine al-Qassam, said in a statement on the Hamas website that the proposal "does not deserve the ink it was written with" and likened any such move to "surrender."

Early Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet agreed to the plan that would implement a cease-fire within 12 hours of "unconditional acceptance" from Israel and Hamas, followed by the opening of Gaza's border crossings and talks in Cairo within two days.

However, the speedy resumption of violence, less than a day after Egypt presented its cease-fire plan, illustrated that it will be harder this time than in the past to negotiate an end to Israel-Hamas fighting.

But even without Hamas' acceptance, the offer by Egypt still marks the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict. And an eventual cease-fire shouldn't be completely ruled out, said Daniel Levy, Middle East/North Africa director at the European Council of Foreign Relations.

Levy said a cease-fire is likely, whether a result of the current proposal from Egypt, or another one that emerges from negotiations. He said Hamas is interested in stopping the rockets into Gaza, while Israel is unwilling to weaken Hamas to a point that would risk increase radicalization on its doorstep.

In Vienna, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Hamas for firing rockets after the proposed cease-fire was to have taken effect.

"I cannot condemn strongly enough the actions of Hamas," Kerry told reporters. In contrast, he praised Egypt's intervention and Israel's acceptance of the deal.

The current round of violence was the third in just over five years. The previous one, in 2012, eventually ended with the help of Egypt, at the time seen as a trusted broker by Hamas. Both sides have come under increasing pressure to halt the fighting.

In Gaza, the faster a cease-fire is agreed, the better for her fellow residents, said student Aya Ridwa, 25.

"I really hope they (Hamas and Israel) reach a cease-fire, we do not want to see more killing and destruction," said Ridwa. "Life has no meaning in Gaza under the siege, we want the siege to be lifted."

Noor Ramadan, 28, a chef and father of three, said he is running out of ways to comfort his children.

"Whenever explosions rock Gaza, my children run toward me," he said. "We are sleepless for many days and we do not know if the next day we will be alive."

Others said this is not their fight, that they are just caught up in the violent consequences of decisions others have made.

"Gaza is a big prison," said Iman Shawwa 25, a student.