After a week of truce, the war in Gaza has resumed. Despite the last-minute efforts of mediators, the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas expired Friday at 7 a.m. local time in the absence of any announcement of a further extension. Shortly before the truce ended, anti-aircraft alarms were sounded near Gaza after a rocket was launched and intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, according to the Israeli army. The Israeli Air Force resumed its bombardment of the Strip, causing more than 20 deaths in two hours, both in the north and south of Gaza, where the great majority of its 2.3 million inhabitants are crowded together after their forced displacement from the north, the focus of the Israeli offensive. Anti-aircraft sirens have sounded a dozen times in southern Israel due to the launching of projectiles from the Strip.
The first columns of smoke in Gaza were visible early Friday from the Israeli city of Sderot, just a kilometer (0.6 miles) from the Strip. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have renewed attacks from the air and with tanks. In addition to F-16s and helicopter gunships, drones are flying overhead. At the same time, missiles from the Iron Dome system are flying over Sderot to intercept rockets fired from the Strip.
Shortly after the expiration of the extended truce, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement accusing “the Hamas-ISIS terrorist organization” of breaching the agreement. “It has not met its obligation to release all of the women hostages today and has launched rockets at Israeli citizens,” he said before stressing his “commitment” to the three objectives of the war: “To free our hostages, to eliminate Hamas, and to ensure that Gaza will never pose a threat to the residents of Israel.”
Hamas, too, issued a defiant message. “What Israel did not achieve during the fifty days before the truce, it will not achieve by continuing its aggression after the truce,” a member of Hamas’ political wing, Ezzat Al Rashq, stated on the group’s website.
On Thursday night, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a reprimand-tinged warning to Israel ally that talks to extend the truce could break down. While the other two mediators, Qatar and Egypt, were attempting to secure an agreement for a further two days of ceasefire, Blinken said Washington considered it " imperative that Israel act in accordance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war " and stressed that “the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south.” The northern part of the Strip has been reduced to rubble and most of its 1.1 million inhabitants have fled to the south of Gaza, following Israeli orders to evacuate and in the face of the intensity of the bombardment and subsequent invasion.
Blinken left Israel on Friday, ending his fourth visit since the war began. On this occasion he held talks in Jerusalem with Netanyahu and Israeli President Isaac Herzog. He also met the president of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
137 hostages still remain in Gaza
Israel managed to bring back eight hostages on Thursday in the seventh of the agreed exchanges, while it released 30 Palestinian prisoners: 22 minors and eight women. This leaves around 137 hostages in the Strip, although in the last few hours the death of five of the captives was announced, including, according to Hamas, Shiri Bibas, 32, mother of Ariel, 4, and Kfir, 10 months old. Hamas had stated Wednesday that the three had been killed by shelling. Yarden, Shiri’s husband and father of the children, remains alive in Hamas hands. He has appeared in a video asking his country to accept the three bodies that the fundamentalist movement wants to hand over for burial in Israel. Israeli authorities are trying to verify whether they are dead or not.
The Bedouin community, traditionally neglected by Israeli governments, welcomed the release of two of its six hostages among those eight. They are siblings Aisha and Bilal Zyadna, aged 16 and 18, whose father, Yousef, and another brother, Hamza, 22, are still being held in Gaza.
The 24-hour extension to the truce reached in extremis in the early hours of Thursday morning not only served for a new hostages-for-prisoners swap to take place and to give the people of Gaza a little more time to stock up on supplies in view of the possibility of renewed bombardments. It was also a way for the negotiating teams, almost always working behind the scenes, to push Israel and Hamas toward a further extension, this time for two days, so as not to have to negotiate against the clock on Friday, a holiday for Muslims and the beginning, at sunset, of the Jewish Sabbath.
Shortly after it was announced Thursday morning that the truce had been extended for another day, two armed Hamas members attacked a group of Israelis waiting at a bus stop in Jerusalem, killing three of them before being shot dead. The attack did not disrupt the ceasefire, but it did prompt Netanyahu to assert that “it is the same Hamas that perpetrated the terrible massacre on October 7th and the same Hamas that is trying to murder us everywhere.”
Despite the relief of a week without Israeli attacks in Gaza, the United Nations warned that the 2.3 million inhabitants of the Strip need much more health care than before the war, which has reduced the hospital capacity of the Palestinian enclave to a third of what it was previously, according to the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Jordan’s King Abdullah urged the UN and international humanitarian organizations to increase pressure on Israel to allow more aid into the Strip, a source confirmed who was present at a meeting with the monarch confirmed to Reuters.
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