Cross-border hostilities between Gaza and Israel continued on Saturday, a day after a temporary cease-fire expired. But the simmering exchanges were on a lower scale than the fighting that has raged for most of the last month, as Egyptian-brokered efforts continued for a new cease-fire and a resumption of talks on a more durable end to the conflict.
Eight Palestinians were reported killed in Israeli airstrikes, and Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel. No new Israeli casualties were reported.
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza and is leading the Palestinian fighting, had refused to extend the 72-hour cease-fire that expired at 8 a.m. Friday and immediately fired salvos of rockets into Israel. The group was frustrated with what Palestinian officials said was a failure by Egypt and Israel to address Hamas’ demands for a full lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the construction of a seaport.
The Israeli government accused Hamas of having violated the cease-fire after two rockets or mortars were launched against Israel before dawn on Friday. An official Palestinian statement said the attacks had resumed “after Israel withdrew from the cease-fire negotiations in Cairo.” The Israeli delegation, which has traveled to and from Cairo for days, left Egypt at 7 a.m. on Friday. The Israel government subsequently said it would not negotiate under fire.
The Israeli delegation, which has traveled to and from Cairo for days, left Egypt at 7 a.m. on Friday. The Israeli government subsequently said it would not negotiate under fire. And while contacts between the Israelis and the Egyptians continued from afar, an official said Israel’s delegation would not return to Cairo until a new cease-fire was in place.
Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas official in Gaza, said in an interview on Saturday that the responses the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo talks had received so far did not “meet the minimum level of the Palestinian people’s aspirations, and there was no real response or acceptance of any of the main demands.”
The interview was held at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where al-Masri presumably felt safe from any Israeli attack.
Al-Masri said the concessions Israel had offered so far were “partial” and “limited,” and he accused the Israelis of wasting time “through political maneuvers meant to lower the ceiling of the Palestinian demands.”
Three Palestinians were killed early Saturday when an Israeli missile destroyed the Qassam Mosque in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, and two cousins were killed in a separate strike as they rode a motorcycle east of Nusseirat, according to the Gaza Health Ministry and witnesses.
The mosque sits in a residential area of close-packed houses and alleys. A neighbor, Alaa Eid, a professor of journalism at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa University, said Israel had called a man whose home is next to the mosque and asked him to evacuate because the mosque was going to be hit.
Hearing the commotion, Eid woke his family, and they all left the house.
“Women, children and old men were all running, and they filled the alley,” Eid said, describing the moments around 3:30 a.m. when an Israeli warplane dropped a guiding or warning missile and then hit the mosque. The blast knocked some people to the ground, but Eid said none were injured. He said it was unclear why the three people who were killed had been in the mosque at the time. About four hours after the strike, he said, a bulldozer and rescue teams came and dug their bodies out.
The Palestinian authorities in Gaza say that Israel has destroyed 64 mosques and damaged 150 others since the beginning of its military operation in Gaza on July 8, which Israel said was intended to quell Palestinian rocket fire and to destroy Hamas’ network of tunnels leading into Israeli territory. The Israeli military has acknowledged striking several mosques and has distributed photographs and footage showing weapons and shafts leading to a tunnel under the prayer room of a mosque.
The cousins killed on their motorcycle were identified by relatives as Abdel Hakim al-Mossadar, 60, and Hani al-Mossadar, 18. A spokeswoman for the Israeli military, speaking on the condition of anonymity under army rules, said they were “terror operatives” who had been targeted in a pinpoint attack. Relatives of the two said they had nothing to do with the resistance and were on their way to work at a family-owned gas station when they were hit.
Three more Palestinians were killed in airstrikes on Saturday evening in Deir al-Balah and the southern city of Rafah. Two of them appeared to have been targeted as they rode in a car.
Another Israeli missile hit the Ansar security compound in Gaza City, which contains facilities like the training directorate for police recruits. Columns of smoke rose from the compound, which was empty and had already been hit and partly destroyed in the past month.
The Israeli military said it had struck more than 60 targets in the Gaza Strip since midnight, describing them as “terror activity sites, command and control centers, and weapon storage facilities.”
It added that at least 28 rockets and mortars had been fired from Gaza by Saturday evening, of which 23 fell on open ground and five fell short, landing in Gaza.
In the West Bank, where tensions have also risen in recent weeks, two Palestinian men were reported killed during clashes with Israeli forces. One man, identified in the Palestinian news media as Nader Muhammad Idris, 40, was shot in Hebron on Friday and died early Saturday, hospital officials said. Another, identified as Ahmed al-Qatari of the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, was fatally shot on Friday during clashes by the nearby Jewish settlement of Psagot.
The Israeli military said that in both events, Palestinians hurled rocks and firebombs at Israeli security forces, who used live fire after they had “exhausted” riot dispersal methods.
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