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Israeli airstrikes injure 18 in Gaza Strip

Aug. 19, 2014 8:21 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 20, 2014 7:10 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli airstrikes injured 18 Palestinians, including two children, in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, a health ministry official said, as ceasefire talks collapsed.

Ashraf al-Qidra said two children were moderately wounded in an airstrike on the al-Matar area east of Rafah. Another three Palestinians were injured in the northern Gaza Strip.

Three Palestinians were injured in central Gaza while 10 more were injured in airstrikes north of Gaza City.

Israeli warplanes targeted over 30 sites in Gaza Tuesday evening, including agricultural lands in Beit Lahiya, al-Zaytoun, al-Maghazi, Deir al-Balah, Al-Qarara, Khuza, eastern Rafah and eastern Shujaiyya.

Nine days of relative quiet came to an abrupt halt when three rockets struck southern Israel just hours before the truce was to expire at midnight local time.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rockets.

An Israeli official said the negotiating team had been ordered back from Cairo where Egypt has been pushing for a decisive end to the Gaza bloodshed, which has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

However, there was no immediate confirmation the team had left.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied the movement had fired rockets over the border Tuesday, accusing Israel of trying to sabotage the truce talks.

"We don't have any information about firing rockets from Gaza. The Israeli raids are intended to sabotage the negotiations in Cairo," he told AFP.

The Palestinians say agreement over a long-term arrangement in Gaza has been delayed by Israeli foot-dragging over key issues.

"The negotiations failed on Monday evening because the Israelis refused to include a port or an airport in the agreement," a Palestinian source close to the talks said, on condition of anonymity.

"The Egyptians then added a clause allowing for the postponement of talks on this issue in order to avoid Israel raising the issue of (ridding Gaza of) rockets and missiles," he said.

Israel has repeatedly demanded that Gaza be demilitarized although the subject is not overly mentioned in the Egyptian proposal as seen by AFP.

Hamas shift

Islamic Jihad on Tuesday accused Israel of "intransigence" while Hamas's Abu Zuhri said Israel was "playing for time" at the talks.

Hamas had repeatedly warned it would not extend the temporary ceasefire again, pressing for immediate gains that would allow it to claim concessions from Israel after the devastating four-week war, which began on July 8.

But a senior official within the Palestine Liberation Organization said Hamas appeared to have changed its position following a meeting at the weekend between exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat.

"It looks like Hamas and Islamic Jihad will agree to the Egyptian paper," he told AFP.

Egypt's proposal calls for both sides to immediately cease fire and includes provisions relating to opening the borders to allow for free movement of people, goods and construction materials, as well as a clause on regulating the financial crisis within the enclave.

But crucially, it postpones discussions on the thorniest issues, such as a port and airport, for another month "after calm and stability returns," along with talks over exchanging the remains of two Israeli soldiers for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Meanwhile, Jordan's national carrier confirmed Tuesday it had resumed flights to Tel Aviv after suspending them for a month due to rocket fire near the runway of Israel's main airport.

Royal Jordanian, which operates 20 flights a week to Tel Aviv, said it resumed normal operations on Sunday.

The rocket strike had prompted major US and European airlines to halt flights to Israel for several days in July over safety fears.

AFP contributed to this report
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