ap file photo
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown at a news conference in early August. Tuesday, Netanyahu pulled the country’s negotiating team from talks in Cairo, in response to Palestinian rockets being fired into Israel.
CAIRO — An Egyptian effort to broker an end to a monthlong war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip appeared to collapse Tuesday after Israel walked out on the talks in response to a barrage of Palestinian rocket fire.
The Israeli walkout occurred just hours before a midnight deadline, leaving the fate of the negotiations in question and raising the possibility of a resumption of heavy fighting.
The fighting appeared to pick up late Wednesday. The Israeli military said a total of 10 rockets had fallen, including one that damaged a coffee shop in southern Israel.
Palestinian officials in Gaza reported more than two dozen Israeli airstrikes. At least 21 people, including 14 women and children, were wounded in a strike that hit a building housing the offices of Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV station in Gaza City.
Israel’s civil defense authority, the Home Front Command, ordered authorities to reopen public bomb shelters within a 25-mile (40-kilometer) range of Gaza.
“The Cairo talks were based on an agreed premise of a total cessation of hostilities,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said. “When Hamas breaks the cease-fire, they also break the premise for the Cairo talks. Accordingly, the Israeli team has been called back as a result of today’s rocket fire.”
He would not say whether the team would return to Cairo, or whether Israel would resume cease-fire talks.
Egyptian security officials said Egypt was still pressing the two sides to agree on a cease-fire. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The breakdown dealt a tough blow to nearly a week of Egyptian-led diplomacy meant to end the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007. More than 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, and tens of thousands of people are homeless. Israel has claimed the number of militants killed was much higher, and it blames Hamas for causing civilian casualties by staging attacks from residential areas. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a guest worker have also been killed.
Hamas is seeking an end to a seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has ravaged Gaza’s economy, while Israel wants guarantees that Hamas will disarm.
In nearly a week of indirect talks, Egypt appears to have made little headway in resolving the differences. Late Monday, it secured a 24-hour extension to a temporary truce to allow more time for a last-ditch attempt to reach a longer-term deal.
An Egyptian compromise proposal calls for easing the blockade, but not lifting it altogether and opening the territory’s air and seaports as Hamas has demanded.
While the plan does not require Hamas to give up its weapons, it would give Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces were ousted by Hamas in 2007, a foothold back in Gaza running border crossings and overseeing internationally-backed reconstruction. Abbas’ presence would minimize friction with Israel and allow large amounts of international aid to flow into Gaza for reconstruction.
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