Six-hour cease-fire attempt abandoned as Gaza airstrikes resume

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GAZA CITY (CNN) —┬áThe Israel Defense Forces confirmed that airstrikes against targets in Gaza have resumed, after a cease-fire attempt that lasted about six hours.

A CNN crew witnessed at least five airstrikes Tuesday as the cease-fire was lifted.

Israel had accepted an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire, but Hamas’ military wing rejected the gesture, creating little hope of seeing an end to the near constant exchange of fire that has so far killed more than 190 Palestinians in Gaza.

Before the airstrikes resumed, the Israeli Security Cabinet met early Tuesday morning and released a statement that said, “The cabinet has decided to reply positively to the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire at 9 a.m. (2 a.m. ET).”

The plan called for all sides to cease hostilities in Gaza. It also called for the opening of border crossings, once the security situation is stable, and for high-level talks among those involved.

Hamas officials did not immediately respond to the Cabinet’s decision. But earlier, they mocked the proposal in public, with a spokesman describing it as a “joke.”

“We did not receive this declared paper from the Egyptians … which means it’s an initiative for the media. It’s not a political initiative,” said Osama Hamdan.

Speaking on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” he continued: “It’s not really an initiative. It’s not really an idea, what they are trying to do is to corner the Palestinians and to help the Israelis more.”

Hamas’ military wing, the Qassam Brigades, said it hadn’t received any formal or informal request about a cease-fire. But it said it rejects the proposal, describing it as an initiative of “kneeling and submission.”

The stakes are high and climbing.

By Monday, the death toll from about a week of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza had reached 186 with at least 1,390 wounded, according to Palestinian health authorities.

The death toll is now greater than the number of people killed in Gaza during the 2012 conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Israel has said the offensive against Hamas will continue as long as the militant group keeps firing barrages of rockets into Israeli territory.

Civilian casualties

Amid the diplomatic maneuvering, the residents of Gaza are stuck in the middle of the continued fighting. The United Nations has said that most of the people killed by Israel’s aerial attacks are civilians.

“I urgently call on the Israeli Security Forces to put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians and civilian infrastructure which are contrary to international humanitarian law,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNWRA.

There are now 17,000 refugees taking shelter in 20 schools in Gaza, UNWRA said, and the airstrikes have damaged 47 of its buildings, including clinics, schools and warehouses.

The Israeli military says it uses a variety of methods, including phone calls and leaflets, to warn civilians of impending strikes.

But UNWRA called on Israel to exercise maximum restraint and precaution to avoid more casualties.

“Clearly at this stage not enough is being done in that regard,” Krahenbuhl said.

‘This is tyranny’

Israel said Monday its forces have struck 1,470 “terror targets” across Gaza, including 770 concealed rocket launchers.

But in one area of northern Gaza, Mohamed Abu Hassan said Monday he doesn’t understand why his house was severely damaged in an Israeli airstrike that struck the building next door.

There was no unusual activity in the house in the town of Jabalya, he said.

“My son isn’t even here. He’s working in Libya,” Hassan said. Only his wife is at the house.

“Is she fighting Israel?” he asks. “This is tyranny.”

15 seconds to seek shelter

Israel has used its Iron Dome defense system against some of the more than 1,088 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, the military said.

On Monday, the system intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza toward the Israeli border town of Sderot, close to CNN’s Blitzer.

“We heard a loud boom,” he said. “If you don’t seek shelter, you’re gonna be in danger because even though the rocket was destroyed in the air, the shrapnel starts coming down very, very quickly.”

When sirens go off, people along the border have about 15 second to seek shelter. Farther north in Tel Aviv, where the Iron Dome system also intercepted a rocket Monday, people have about a minute.

Seventy percent of Israel’s population lies within range of Hamas rocket attacks, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The defense system has intercepted roughly a fifth of the rockets fired, the IDF said early Tuesday.

So far, no Israelis have been killed by the rocket attacks.

Kerry delays trip

International efforts to press Israel and Hamas into negotiating a cease-fire have failed to gain traction.

Secretary of State John Kerry was preparing a possible trip to the Middle East to lay groundwork for a cease-fire, but several U.S. officials told CNN Monday night that Kerry is postponing the visit to give Egyptian efforts a chance to take root.

Kerry was to travel from Vienna — where he was negotiating a deal with Iran and world powers over Iran’s nuclear program — to Egypt and Qatar in the coming days to lay the groundwork for a possible cease-fire between the two sides.

One official said the United States wants to give Egypt a chance to reassert itself as a power broker the Middle East, as it did during the 2012 cease-fire.

The current Egyptian president, the ex-military chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has weaker relations with Hamas than former President Mohammed Morsy, who brokered the 2012 deal. Morsy was ousted by the military in 2013.

Kerry will allow a few days for diplomatic efforts to lay any groundwork, officials said, and is still prepared to either travel to the region if any cease-fire does not take hold, or to help support it if it does.

Earlier, Kerry spoke by phone with Netanyahu and expressed U.S. concerns about escalating tensions. He reiterated that the U.S. is prepared to help bring about a cease-fire, a senior State Department official said.

But “offering facilitation is not enough,” Yousef Munayyer of the Washington-based Palestine Center told CNN’s “New Day.”

“It’s important that the United States demand a cease-fire,” he said. “There is no military solution to this.”


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