Gaza/Jerusalem - Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip resumed rocket fire into Israel on Friday after Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo failed to extend a 72-hour truce in a nearly month-long war.
As police said rocket-warning sirens were sounding in southern Israel, the military's “Iron Dome” interceptor system brought down a missile over the southern city of Ashkelon.
A military spokesman said on Twitter: “After the 72-hour ceasefire, Hamas resumes indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel. At least five rockets launched - one intercepted over Ashkelon.”
Israel had earlier said it was ready to agree to an extension as Egyptian go-betweens pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian delegates in Cairo on ending the war that has devastated the Hamas-controlled enclave.
A Hamas spokesman said Palestinian factions had not agreed to extend the truce, but would continue negotiations in Cairo.
The Palestinians had wanted Israel to agree in principle to demands which include a lifting of a blockade on the Gaza Strip, the release of prisoners and the opening of a sea port.
The armed wing of Hamas released a statement late on Thursday warning Palestinians negotiators not to agree to an extension unless Israelis offered concessions. There was no sign that Israel had made any such moves.
Israel also made it clear that it would respond forcefully if attacked and a minister raised the prospect of re-taking control of the Gaza Strip to overthrow its Hamas rulers.
“Israel will act with force if Hamas resumes its fire and to my mind we will have, this time, to seriously consider, although not with enthusiasm, the option of taking control of the Gaza Strip in order to topple the Hamas regime,” Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Army Radio.
Gaza officials say the war has killed 1 875 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Hamas said on Thursday it had executed an unspecified number of Palestinians as Israeli spies.
Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have died in the fighting that began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes into Israel.
Hamas refusal to extend the ceasefire could further alienate Egypt, whose government has been hostile to the group and which ultimately controls Gaza's main gateway to the world, the Rafah border crossing.
The Israelis described the ceasefire as a tradeoff of “calm for calm”. They have shown little interest in easing their naval blockade of Gaza and controls on overland traffic and airspace, worrying Hamas could restock on weapons from abroad.
Israel withdrew its ground forces from Gaza on Tuesday, shortly before the truce began. - Reuters