Sunday 23 October 2016

Israeli Jets Pound Targets in Gaza as Hostilities Escalate

AP Photo/Dusan Vranic

Israeli jets today carried out over 30 air strikes on Gaza, killing five Palestinians, as Hamas fired several rockets into Israel, vowing to continue its resistance in the month-long conflict that has claimed about 2,000 lives.

The Israeli military said it struck 33 sites, including terror activity sites, command and control centres and weapon storage facilities, even as dozens of rockets hit southern Israel.

Five Palestinians were killed, including three whose bodies were pulled from the wreckage of a mosque, Gaza health officials said.

Reports said senior Hamas official Moaaz Zaid was also killed in Israeli air strikes today.

Over 1,960 people have died since violence erupted in Gaza in early July. More than 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed. Sixty-seven people have died on the Israeli side, including three civilians.

Israel renewed strikes on Gaza soon after the three-day ceasefire lapsed yesterday, saying it was in response to rocket fire by Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Residents of southern Israel woke up early morning to the piercing sound of code red rocket alerts, as a barrage of rockets from Gaza targeted their neighborhoods.

Hamas vowed today that there would be no concessions to Israel.

"There will be no going back, the resistance will continue," Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhum said in a statement.

"The occupier's intransigence will get it nowhere and we will make no concessions on the demands of our people," he said.

Following through on his promise to respond with force against any renewed hostilities by Hamas, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered the Israli Air Force to strike targets in the Strip, as Operation Protective Edge entered its 33nd day –- the second day since a failure to extend an Egyptian-mediated truce.

The IAF struck multiple targets today, including a rocket launching pad situated by a mosque, an Islamic Jihad training base and a house used as a Hamas command center.

The strike on the mosque brought the number of mosques totally destroyed in Israeli attacks to 63 with more than 150 damaged. Two churches have also been damaged.

Israel has alleged that militants have used hospitals, religious places and even UN facilities to attack and store weapons.

The air strikes continued, even as Egypt-mediated negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli delegations were stalled, despite some indications yesterday that both sides were close to an agreement.

Egypt, which is mediating the talks between Israelis and Palestinians, insisted negotiations were making progress and urged a new truce yesterday but Israel recalled its delegation and warned it would not "negotiate under fire".

The head of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo said they were committed to achieving a truce.

"We told the Egyptians (mediators) we are sitting here to achieve a final agreement that restores the rights" of Palestinians, Azzam al-Ahmed told reporters.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had rejected another 72-hour truce renewing rocket attacks on Israel yesterday, accusing Israel of stalling the talks by not agreeing to their demands.

"There had been an agreement on the vast majority of matters that are important to the Palestinian people, but some limited points remained undecided, a matter that should have led to an acceptance to renew the ceasefire," the Egyptian foreign ministry said.

The major Palestinian factions have together demanded that Israel end its eight-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, release dozens of prisoners who were recently re-arrested, re-open a seaport and airport in Gaza, and create a safe passage between the West Bank and the enclave.

Despite withdrawing all its troops from Gaza by the time the truce began on Tuesday, Israel has retained forces along the border, ready to respond to any resumption of fighting.

The US and UN have condemned the resumption of violence between Israel and Palestinian militant groups.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest has called on the parties to work towards a "sustainable ceasefire".

"Hamas' decision to resume rocket fire will not only put the people of Israel and of Gaza at greater risk, it will do nothing to meet the expectations of the Palestinian people," Earnest said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the resumption of violence in the region, calling the deaths of civilians "intolerable".

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