Proposed truce extension in Gaza collapses

A 12-hour humanitarian lull in the fighting between Hamas and Israel ended Sunday and firing on both sides resumed. Some in Gaza are digging in for a longer conflict.

Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters
A Palestinian woman runs from the sound of gunfire near damaged buildings in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in Gaza City Sunday. Fighting subsided in Gaza on Sunday after Hamas Islamist militants said they backed a 24-hour humanitarian truce, but there was no sign of any comprehensive deal to end their conflict with Israel.

An on-again, off-again short-term truce between Hamas and Israel faltered this afternoon as militants in Gaza shot rockets into Israel and Israel pounded the coastal enclave with airstrikes.

Hamas had offered a 24-hour truce with Israel today, after rejecting a similar offer last night. But even before fighting resumed, Hamas signaled that it did not intend to continue the pause in firing without an agreement that addresses its demands, foremost the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza.

“What we're looking for is a total and full agreement for a ceasefire that ends the killing and lifts the siege,” said Hamas spokesman Ehab Al Ghossein. “Truce after short-term truce,” which allow Israel to continue destroying a Hamas tunnel network on the border while Hamas ostensibly holds its fire and without discussion of its demands, does not benefit Hamas and “is not what the Palestinian people are looking for,” he said.

During a 12-hour ceasefire yesterday, Palestinians in Gaza returned for the first time to neighborhoods that had been the scene of intense fighting for a week. More than 100 bodies were pulled out of the rubble in neighborhoods that were pulverized. Israel offered to extend that truce, but Hamas rejected the proposal with renewed rocket fire. Israel pounded the coastal enclave with airstrikes again today until after the deadline Hamas announced for its ceasefire.

Hamas said it had agreed to that truce to allow people in Gaza time to prepare for the holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The holiday will begin tomorrow. Palestinians here also need time to bury their dead and tend to their wounded: more than 1,050 people have been killed since the latest round of hostilities began.

Mkheimer Abu Saada, a political science professor at Al Aqsa University in Gaza, said Hamas will not agree to an extension of short-term truces because it wants to show that the decision to end the conflict can't be taken by Israel unilaterally, and it is afraid that Israel is trying to bypass negotiations on an enduring agreement. “[Israel is] trying to push Hamas and Palestinians into an extension of the ceasefire without [fulfilling] Palestinian demands and Palestinian ambitions,” he said. “They're taking Palestinians back to square one after this heavy price of death and destruction."

The Israeli military blamed Hamas for the collapse of the proposed ceasefire extension. "Following Hamas' incessant rocket fire throughout the humanitarian window, which was agreed upon for the welfare of the civilian population in Gaza, the IDF will now resume its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip," the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) said in a statement.

Some of the displaced people who went back to their homes to survey the damage yesterday said they welcomed a ceasefire. But many today rejected the idea of a short stop in the fighting, saying they instead wanted a long-term solution that would end the blockade on Gaza.

Nedal Ramadan has been sleeping on a thin mattress on the ground outside the main hospital in Gaza for nine days since he fled heavy fighting in the Shejaiya neighborhood. “We want a long-term truce. Twenty-four hours is not enough,” he said. “We want a truce that will break the siege and open the borders.”

Outside the gates of the hospital, Omar Abu Ajwa, also from Shejaiya, said he was looking for his three sons who have been missing since the battle in that neighborhood. While he welcomed the chance to search for them without the threat of bombing, he still said he wasn't satisfied with a simple quiet-for-quiet deal. “We don't want a temporary truce. We want something long-term,” he said.

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