Explosion Rocks Gaza, Israel Intercepts Rocket As Truce ‘Expires’

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Israel’s military said it intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza early on Friday while Hamas-affiliated media reported sounds of gunfire and explosions in the north of the coastal strip shortly before a deadline to extend a seven-day truce was set to expire.

Air raid sirens sounded in Israeli communities near the border with Gaza as the 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) deadline to extend the pause in fighting neared.

Israel’s Kan public broadcaster described the sirens as the first to sound since the truce, which has been extended twice, began on Nov. 24. Neither side has announced an extension to the truce.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas or claim of responsibility for the launch. Israel’s military said its Iron Dome missile defence system had intercepted the projectile.

 

The Shehab News Agency, which is considered close to Hamas, reported explosions and gunfire could be head in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Other Hamas-affiliated media reported sounds of military and drone aircraft flying over Gaza City. No other details were immediately available.

After two last-minute extensions, the enemies marked the seventh day of a Qatari-mediated truce on Thursday with the exchange of eight hostages and 30 Palestinian prisoners as well as the infusion of more humanitarian aid into the shattered Gaza Strip.

Mark Regev, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel was open to continuing the ceasefire if Hamas committed to further hostage releases. Israel had previously set the release of 10 hostages a day as the minimum it would accept to pause its assault.

“We’re ready for all possibilities…. Without that, we’re going back to the combat,” he said on CNN.

Before the prior truce was due to expire early on Thursday, Hamas and its ally, the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, put their fighters on alert for a resumption of hostilities.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza, in response to the Oct. 7 rampage by the militant group, when Israel says gunmen killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.

Israel retaliated with intense bombardment and a ground invasion. Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 Gazans have been confirmed killed.

BROTHER, SISTER TEENS RELEASED
With fewer Israeli women and children left in captivity, lengthening the truce could require setting new terms for Hamas to release Israeli men, including soldiers.

The militant group could in turn seek to have Palestinian male prisoners handed over. So far, three Palestinian prisoners have been freed for each Israeli hostage.

A view shows the damaged buildings of Northern Gaza strip, as seen from the viewpoint in Sderot

One of Qatar’s lead negotiators, diplomat Abdullah Al Sulaiti, who helped broker the truce through marathon shuttle negotiations, acknowledged in a recent Reuters interview the uncertain odds of keeping the guns silent.

“At the beginning I thought achieving an agreement would be the most difficult step,” he said in an article that detailed the behind-the-scenes efforts for the first time. “I’ve discovered that sustaining the agreement itself is equally challenging.”

Thursday’s releases brought the totals freed during the truce to 105 hostages and 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Among the newly released were six women aged 21 to 40 including one Mexican-Israeli dual national and 21-year-old Mia Schem, who holds both French and Israeli citizenship.

Photos released by the Israeli prime minister’s office showed Schem, who was captured by Hamas along with others at an outdoor music festival in southern Israel on Oct. 7, embracing her mother and brother after they were reunited at the Hatzerim military base in Israel.

The other two newly released hostages were a brother and sister, Belal and Aisha al-Ziadna, aged 18 and 17 respectively, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office. They are Bedouin Arab citizens of Israel and among four members of their family taken hostage while they were milking cows on a farm.

ISRAEL AGREES TO PROTECT CIVILIANS, BLINKEN SAYS
The truce has allowed some humanitarian aid into Gaza after much of the coastal territory of 2.3 million people was reduced to wasteland in the Israeli assault.

More fuel and 56 trucks of humanitarian supplies entered Gaza on Thursday, Israel’s defence ministry and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said.

But deliveries of food, water, medical supplies and fuel remain far below what is needed, aid workers say.

At an emergency meeting in Amman, Jordan’s King Abdullah on Thursday urged U.N. officials and international groups to pressure Israel to allow more aid into the beleaguered enclave, according to delegates.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in Israel during his third visit to the Middle East since the war began, agreed that the flow of aid into Gaza was not sufficient.

Blinken said he told Netanyahu that Israel cannot repeat in south Gaza the massive civilian casualties and displacement of residents it inflicted in the north.

“We discussed the details of Israel’s ongoing planning and I underscored the imperative for the United States that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale that we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south,” Blinken told reporters in Tel Aviv.

“And the Israeli Government agreed with that approach,” he said. This would include concrete measures to avoid damaging critical infrastructure such as hospitals and water facilities and clearly designating safe zones, he said.

 

(REUTERS)

 

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