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Updated: Fri, 08 Aug 2014 04:16:55 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Gaza conflict: Israel resumes strikes in response to rocket fire



An Israeli soldier carries a tank shell in a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip August 7, 2014. Mediators worked against the clock on Thursday to extend a Gaza truce between Israel and the Palestinians as the three-day ceasefire went into its final 24 hours. Israel has said it is ready to agree to an extension as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israelis and Palestinians on an enduring end to a war that devastated the Hamas-ruled enclave, while Palestinians want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza to be lifted and prisoners held by Israel to be freed. Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,874 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes into Israel REUTERS/ Amir Cohen (© ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

An Israeli soldier carries a tank shell in a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip August 7, 2014. Mediators worked against the clock on Thursday to extend a Gaza truce between Israel and the Palestinians as the three-day ceasefire went into its final 24 hours. Israel has said it is ready to agree to an extension as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israelis and Palestinians on an enduring end to a war that devastated the Hamas-ruled enclave, while Palestinians want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza to be lifted and prisoners held by Israel to be freed. Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,874 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes into Israel REUTERS/ Amir Cohen (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR41M04 Amir Cohen/Reuters

Israel says it responded to renewed rocket fire from Gaza militants with airstrikes on Friday after a three-day ceasefire expired and negotiations in Cairo on a new border deal for blockaded Gaza hit a deadlock.

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The Israeli military said at least 17 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza after the temporary truce expired at 8 a.m. local time. Two rockets were intercepted over the city of Ashkelon, while the others hit open areas, the military said.

Lt.-Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said that Israel will "continue to strike Hamas, its infrastructure, its operatives and restore security of the State of Israel" in a statement. 

"Hamas' bad decision to breach the ceasefire will be pursued by the IDF," he said. 

It was not immediately clear if the renewed fire from Gaza will derail indirect, Egyptian-brokered negotiations between Israel and Hamas on a long-term truce. Both sides are under intense international pressure to reach a deal.

Truce talks deadlocked

As part of such an arrangement, Israel wants to see Hamas disarmed or prevented from re-arming, while Hamas demands Gaza's borders be opened. No progress was reported in all-night talks that ended before dawn Friday.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said that while his group did not agree to an extension of the truce, it was willing to continue the talks.

Hamas, which has seen its popularity boosted for confronting Israel, entered the Cairo talks from a point of military weakness after losing hundreds of fighters, two-thirds of its rockets arsenal and all of its attack tunnels.

With no definitive statement that it would return to open war, the group appeared to be keeping its options open while several smaller Gaza militant organizations claimed responsibility for Friday's rocket fire.

The Israeli delegation left Cairo on Friday morning, according to a Cairo airport official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev would not say whether Israel is interested in extending the ceasefire or if it will respond to the rockets.

'The ceasefire is over'

Regev blamed Gaza militants for breaking the ceasefire.

"The ceasefire is over," Regev said. "They did that."

The three-day truce came after a month of Israel-Hamas fighting, the third cross-border confrontation in just over five years.

Since July 8, Israeli strikes on Gaza killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians, wounded more than 9,000, devastated large areas along Gaza's border with Israel and displaced tens of thousands of people. Sixty-seven people, all but three soldiers, were killed on the Israeli side, and Gaza militants fired thousands of rockets at Israel over the past month.

Israel said it was going after Hamas targets, including rocket launching sites and military tunnels, and carried out close to 5,000 strikes.

The UN said most of those killed in Gaza were civilians and that in dozens of cases, strikes hit family homes, killing multiple members of the same family at once. The Israeli military said initial estimates show at least 40 per cent of those killed were fighters.

Previous rounds of Israel-Hamas fighting ended inconclusively, setting the stage for the next confrontation because underlying problems were not resolved, particularly the stifling border closure of Gaza.

Blockade at heart of truce negotiations

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, and have since enforced it to varying degrees.

The closure led to widespread hardship in the Mediterranean seaside territory, home to 1.8 million people. Movement in and out of Gaza is limited, the economy has ground to a standstill and unemployment is over 50 per cent.

Israel argues that it needs to keep Gaza's borders under a blockade as long as Hamas tries to smuggle weapons into Gaza or manufactures them there.

Hamas, in turn, has rejected Israel's demands that it disarm.

Hamas has said it is willing to hand over some power in Gaza to enable its long-time rival, Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, to lead Gaza reconstruction efforts, but that it would not give up its arsenal and control over thousands of armed men.

On July 8, Israel launched an air campaign on the coastal territory, and nine days later, sent in ground troops to target rocket launchers and cross-border tunnels built by Hamas for attacks inside Israel.

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