JERUSALEM – Sirens wailed across Israel on Tuesday and explosions resounded in the Gaza Strip as attempts to prolong a fragile cease-fire dissolved in chaos, raising the prospect of a deadly new round of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The outbreak of violence came in the hours before a temporary truce – the longest since the conflict erupted more than a month ago – expired at midnight local time, with no indication it would be extended.
The fresh fighting began when the first few rockets were fired into southern Israel on Tuesday afternoon, about eight hours before a temporary cease-fire was scheduled to end. The barrage intensified in the evening hours, including some projectiles aimed at the densely populated area of metropolitan Tel Aviv, Israeli officials said.
In all, Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel, and the Israeli military responded with a series of airstrikes in the coastal enclave, killing at least three people, including a 2-year-old girl and an elderly woman, according to Palestinian officials. Dozens of others were hurt, they said.
An official with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Izzat al-Rishq, said indirect talks in the Egyptian capital had broken down and blamed Israel. However, Azzam Ahmad, the spokesman for the Palestinian delegation, which includes factions other than Hamas, told reporters in Cairo that Palestinian envoys were leaving the Egyptian capital but would return if mediator Egypt asked.
In a sign of a reversion to war footing, public bomb shelters were reopened in Israel in a zone extending 50 miles from Gaza.
The future of any peace talks, which began after Israeli ground forces left Gaza nearly two weeks ago, was uncertain. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Israeli delegation to return from Cairo, where indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, have been taking place.
In the initial volley, rockets fell near the southern Israeli town of Beersheba and another around Netivot, also in the Negev desert close to Gaza, the Israeli army announced a short time before declaring that a round of retaliatory airstrikes was taking place. The rocket fire then grew in intensity and range throughout the evening hours.
Gaza had been relatively calm for nearly two weeks, since Israel withdrew its ground forces and the two sides embarked on indirect discussions under Egyptian mediation. More talks were held earlier Tuesday in Cairo but halted with the departure of the Israeli envoys.