x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Gaza truce unravels amid rockets and air strike

Israeli aircraft fired missiles into the northern Gaza Strip as newly resumed violence threatened to bury a five-month-old truce.

GAZA CITY // Israeli aircraft fired missiles at militants in the northern Gaza Strip today and Palestinians sent rocket barrages flying into Israel as newly resumed violence threatened to bury a five-month-old truce. The renewed rocket fire from Gaza has prompted Israel to seal its crossings with the territory, halting shipments of food aid and fuel. Israel's military said the air strike targeted rocket launchers, and Dr Moaiya Hassanain of Gaza's Health Ministry said two gunmen were moderately wounded. Hamas militants in the northern Gaza Strip unleashed a barrage of rockets at the nearby Israeli town of Sderot, where Israeli rescue services said they were treating one person wounded by shrapnel.

Several rockets hit agricultural communities near the Israel-Gaza border. The military said militants launched at least four Grad-type Katyusha rockets - longer range missiles smuggled into Gaza, unlike the locally manufactured projectiles more commonly used. Two of them hit inside the coastal city of Ashqelon, the military said. No casualties were reported in those strikes. Israeli police and rescue services announced they were raising their alert level in preparation for more attacks. Hamas claimed responsibility for the rocket fire in a text message sent to reporters. The June cease-fire began disintegrating last week when Israeli forces entered Gaza to try destroy what the military said was a tunnel dug by militants to carry out a planned cross-border raid. Eleven militants have been killed in more than a week of fighting, and some 140 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza at Israel. Both sides have said they want to continue the truce, but events signal the opposite is happening. "Israel wants the calm that previously existed to once again prevail. It appears that Hamas' policy is exactly the opposite, and they want to see a flare-up of the violence," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said. Mahmoud Zahar, a Gaza Hamas leader, warned Israel in a Friday sermon, "If you want to leave the truce, we are ready. And if you want to continue it, then abide by it." Israel kept the crossings into Gaza sealed for a tenth straight day Friday. The UN suspended its food aid distribution to 750,000 Gaza residents because its warehouses have run out of food, said John Ging, head of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. The 20,000 Palestinians due to pick up aid parcels tomorrow would be sent home empty-handed, Mr Ging said. The parcels contain flour, oil, sugar, rice and canned meat. "Until we are resupplied, we won't have food," Mr Ging said. Much of Gaza City suffered blackouts today after Gaza's power plant shut down last night, citing a lack of industrial fuel. Much of Gaza is powered by electricity supplied directly from Israel and Egypt, however, and that flow continued uninterrupted. Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the crossings would likely remain shut today because of the ongoing fire. "It depends on Hamas and whether they stop firing rockets at Israel," Mr Lerner said.

*AP