Israel reacts to rockets from Gaza

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GAZA CITY — A brief three-day peace crumbled Friday after Gaza militants fired dozens of rockets at Israel and Israeli forces responded with their own salvos, including an airstrike near a mosque in Gaza that killed a 10-year-old boy.

By nightfall Friday, Gaza militants had fired 51 rockets and mortars at Israel and Israeli forces hit 47 targets in the coastal enclave, according to a tally by an Israeli military spokesman.

In Cairo, high-level talks to end the month-long war stumbled, with mixed messages issued that offered little confidence that a deal was near.

United Nations Secretary Ban Ki-moon expressed “deep disappointment” over the failure to extend the truce, which ended Friday morning, and said “the extension of the cease-fire is absolutely essential for talks to progress.”

“The United States is very concerned about today’s developments in Gaza,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. “We condemn the renewed rocket fire, and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict.”

The Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is branded a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, issued statements through its military wing that it would continue to fight until all its demands — for more open borders, more freedom of movement and trade, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and the building of sea and airports — were met.

On Thursday night, a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing essentially warned his political leaders that they should pack up and come home unless there is more progress in Cairo.

The cause of the renewed fighting appeared to be Hamas’ frustration that it could not get what it considers meaningful concessions from Israel and Egypt at the talks in Cairo.

The Egyptian foreign ministry asserted that the parties had reached agreement on “the great majority of topics” and urged an extension of the cease-fire to address “the very limited points still pending.” But Palestinian officials said the Israeli delegation had hardly addressed their demands to open border crossings, remove restrictions on trade, establish a seaport and release prisoners.

Palestinian and Israeli analysts alike said that after a month of death and destruction, Hamas could not stop fighting without a tangible civic achievement and was finding it difficult to climb down from an ambitious agenda in the face of a strong Egyptian-Israeli alliance.

The conflict on the ground between an advanced, high-tech military and a guerrilla group appeared to find an echo in diplomacy, as Egypt, Israel and the United States all pushed for President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority to take a leading role in running and rehabilitating Gaza. That would be a blow to Hamas, which took control of the territory in 2007, and tricky for Mr. Abbas, whose perceived cooperation with Israel has already hurt his credibility among Palestinians.

Ahmed Yousef, a former Hamas leader who remains close to the movement, likened the renewed fighting to two people biting each other’s fingers to see who would surrender first.

“This is like a game, a chess game — you have all the time to continue, to show your enemy that you stay strong,” Yousef said in an interview at a seaside hotel in Gaza City. “For three days we couldn’t have a solid answer from the Israelis, so you have to go back to fighting. Your legitimate demand is not answered, so you have to put pressure on the other side.”

Ehud Yaari, an Israel-based fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who specializes in Arab affairs, said, “Hamas is in a bind because they have set such a high bar with their demands.

“But you can see today Hamas and Israel exchanged blows but on a low scale — they were not firing all that they can,” Mr. Yaari noted. “Everybody understands there may be an extension or a new cease-fire.”

A senior Palestinian official briefed on the Cairo negotiations said that Israel and Egypt had essentially dismissed all talk of a seaport or restored airport in Gaza, and only agreed to ease limits on travel and imports.

In exchange for these concessions, Israel and its international backers demanded the demilitarization of Gaza, something the Palestinians said would come only with the establishment of an independent state.

The talks in Cairo are being brokered by Egypt and its security apparatus, led by a government dominated by military leaders who are hostile to Hamas.

The New York Times contributed.



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