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, Gaza militants had fired 51 rockets and mortars at Israel, and Israeli forces hit 47 targets in the coastal enclave, according to an Israeli military spokesman.
In Cairo, high-level talks to end the monthlong war stumbled, with mixed messages issued that offered little confidence that a deal was near.
U.N. 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.”
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.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said late Friday: “We think Israel is dragging its feet. They did not respond to our demands and have not done a thing to show that there is a reason to extend the cease-fire.”
Mkhaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza City said, “the Palestinian side feels it can't extend the cease-fire without getting something, some positive results.”
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. U.S. and European diplomats are struggling to exert influence in talks that have produced only short pauses in the violence.
A high-level military delegation from Israel left Cairo early Friday. Israeli authorities declared they would not talk peace while under hostile fire.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the negotiations were progressing and that there only remained “a few, limited points” to sort out.
Few diplomats voiced such optimism in public.
“I think Hamas has nothing to lose. They have to show something, or they have lost,” said Kobi Michael, a former deputy director general at Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Israel Defense Forces on Friday to “respond forcefully to Hamas's violation of the cease-fire.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said: “While the world is busy establishing commissions of inquiry against Israel, our children in the south live under rocket barrages.”