Gaza Cease-Fire Falls Apart Hours Early

For 70 hours, there was relative peace. But — as has proven true time and again in relations between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza — it didn’t last.

Two hours before a 72-hour cease-fire was to expire, and as talks continued in Egypt aimed at extending it, an Israeli military spokesman told CNN that a rocket from “Gaza terrorists” struck in the Hof Ashkelon area of southern Israel on Wednesday night.

There were no initial reports of injuries or damage.

In a text message, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied that members of his group had fired any rockets toward Israel.

On their websites, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad accused Israel of breaching the cease-fire by firing on Palestinian fishermen Tuesday and Wednesday.

All this news disrupts the already tenuous situation in the region.

It also happened as Egyptian officials pushed the Israelis and Palestinians to extend the truce past its midnight (5 p.m. ET) deadline, a senior Egyptian government official told CNN on Wednesday.

“This is a very sensitive time in the negotiations, and it’s hard to predict the outcome at this point,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he’s not authorized to speak to the media about the talks.

This isn’t the first time a cease-fire in the Gaza conflict — which, in just over a month, has resulted in more than 2,000 deaths — has ended prematurely; the fact it lasted most of three days is an accomplishment of sorts.

Earlier cease-fires failed to last more than a few hours or days. And one recent truce, which was also accompanied by talks in Cairo, unraveled last week when Palestinian militants resumed rocket fire into Israel.

It remains unclear whether the two warring parties — Israel and Hamas, the militant Islamic group that runs Gaza — will be able to reach a compromise.

The two sides aren’t even talking face to face, but through Egyptian go-betweens. Israel, as well as the United States and European Union, labels Hamas a terrorist organization; Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist.

Competing demands

Hamas is represented in Cairo by a delegation made up of multiple Palestinian factions. But the group has made its demands clear.

It says it wants an end to Israel’s economic blockade on Gaza, an extension of fishing rights off the coast, the reopening of an airport and seaport, and the release of prisoners held by Israeli authorities.

Israel says it wants Hamas to disarm and Gaza to be demilitarized.

The senior Egyptian government official wouldn’t confirm reports Wednesday that Egypt has submitted a proposal to extend the cease-fire that calls for Israel to ease the blockade on Gaza.

The stakes are high for the residents of Gaza, where 1,962 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the United Nations. Around 72% of the dead are estimated to be civilians.

Stakes are also high for Israelis, who have been living in fear of the waves of rockets fired from Gaza and the militant attacks carried out through tunnels dug under the border.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted many of the roughly 3,500 rockets the Israeli military says have been launched from Gaza. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to send ground troops into Gaza during the conflict to destroy Hamas’ network of tunnels, resulting in intensified fighting.

Israeli officials say 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed, as well as three civilians in Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces pulled its soldiers out of Gaza last week after they had demolished around 32 tunnels, but they remain positioned around the Palestinian territory.

Aid flows into Gaza

The lull in violence allowed Gaza residents to try to tackle some of the most urgent problems they face, including a lack of drinking water and leaking sewage pipes.

Aid groups said the situation remains dire, with more than 300,000 people estimated to have been displaced by the fighting in the small, densely populated enclave. The thousands of people wounded in the conflict have put a severe strain on medical resources.

During the cease-fire, people have attempted to stock up on badly needed supplies, which have been allowed in through reopened border crossings.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had brought in trucks of water, hundreds of mattresses, surgical equipment, food and household items like diapers.

Among the many families sheltering in U.N. schools, some are unable to return to their homes because they were destroyed, and others have been going back just for the day and returning to shelters at night. Some people feel it is too risky to leave shelters altogether, because so many of the previous cease-fires have failed.

Residents have also taken advantage of the calm to go out into the streets and visit beaches, parks and markets.

But dangers left by the conflict remain.

Despite the cease-fire, at least five people died and six were injured Wednesday when an Israeli rocket exploded as Gaza police bomb disposal technicians were working on it.

Among the dead were an Italian video journalist for The Associated Press and a Palestinian freelance translator working with him.

The AP identified the journalist as Simone Camilli, who had worked for the news service since 2005.

Meher El Halapi, chief of the police station in Shekh Zayed city, told CNN the explosion was the result of an accident during efforts to disarm the missile, which he said then exploded and set off another explosive nearby.

Earlier reports had indicated six people had died. It was unclear if those reports were in error.

CNN’s Antonia Mortensen reported from Gaza, Reza Sayah reported from Cairo, and Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN’s Greg Botelho and Martin Savidge also contributed to this report.

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