Mosque strike kills leader

Israel and militants exchange fire as truce collapses.

A Palestinian medic carries a wounded girl into the Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Photo / AP
A Palestinian medic carries a wounded girl into the Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Photo / AP

Israeli airstrikes struck more than 20 targets yesterday in the Gaza Strip and killed a senior Hamas member. The militant rocket fire continued after the collapse of a three-day truce.

Hamas officials said Israeli airstrikes hit houses, mosques, its warehouses and training sites. Three bodies were found under the ruins of the al-Qassam mosque, including that of senior Hamas official Moaaz Zaid.

The Israeli military said militants fired five rockets yesterday towards Israel, making a total of 70 since the truce expired. In response, Israel has targeted more than 30 sites in Gaza since Friday.

The Islamic militants resumed their rocket attacks shortly before the 72-hour truce expired, injuring two Israelis and drawing a wave of retaliatory airstrikes. The fighting shattered a brief calm in the month-long war and dealt a blow to Egyptian-led efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire.

More than 1900 Gazans have been killed, roughly three-quarters of them civilians, according to Palestinian and United Nations officials. Israel disputes that breakdown, saying more militants have been killed. Sixty-seven people have been killed on the Israeli side, including three civilians from rocket fire.

The war grew out of the killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June. Israel blamed the killings on Hamas and launched a massive arrest campaign, rounding up hundreds of its members in the West Bank, as Hamas and other militants unleashed rocket fire from Gaza.

On July 8, Israel launched an air campaign on the coastal territory, sending in ground troops nine days later to target rocket launchers and cross-border tunnels built by Hamas for attacks inside Israel. Gaza militants have fired more than 3000 rockets into Israel.

Hamas, which violently seized control of Gaza in 2007, rejected several ceasefire offers throughout the fighting.

Its primary demand is the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after they seized power. Militants had warned they would resume fighting after the ceasefire expired unless there was a deal to ease the restrictions.

The blockade has led to widespread hardship. Israel has said the militants must disarm first, a demand dismissed by Hamas.

Hamas entered the Cairo talks from a position of military weakness, as Israel has said Hamas has lost hundreds of fighters, two-thirds of its rocket arsenal and all its tunnels under the border with Israel. Egypt has destroyed a network of smuggling tunnels that was once Hamas' economic and military lifeline.

- AP

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