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Israel resumes military operations in Gaza as truce expires

Israel’s military said Friday it had resumed fighting in Gaza, with airstrikes and artillery fire reported in Gaza City, as a truce expired with no agreement to extend it. “Hamas violated the operational pause, and in addition, fired toward Israeli territory,” the Israeli military said. “The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) has resumed combat against the Hamas terrorist organisation in the Gaza Strip.” The announcement came shortly after the military said it had intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza, the first from the territory since a missile launched minutes into the first day of the truce. Inside Gaza, an AFP journalist said Israeli warplanes carried out a series of strikes, and reported artillery fire in Gaza City. Drones could also be heard in the air over the south of the territory for the first time since the truce, an AFP reporter in the area said. The resumption of fighting dashed hopes for an extension of a seven-day truce that had seen dozens of hostages freed in exchange for Palestinian prisoner releases by Israel. The truce also allowed more aid into the ravaged Gaza Strip. On Thursday, US top diplomat Antony Blinken, meeting Israeli and Palestinian officials, called for the pause in hostilities to be extended, and warned any resumption of combat must protect Palestinian civilians. The truce had paused fighting that began on October 7 when Hamas militants broke through Gaza’s militarised border into Israel. The surprise attack killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and militants kidnapped about 240, according to Israeli authorities. Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas in response and unleashed an air and ground military campaign in Gaza that the Hamas government says has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians. During the truce brokered by Qatar, 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners. More than 20 foreigners, most of them Thais living in Israel, were freed outside the scope of the agreement. Overnight, six more Israelis, some holding dual nationality, were released, hours after two women were freed. That brought the total freed Thursday to eight, less than the 10 hostages a day the truce deal required Hamas to release. A source close to the militant group said it was counting two Russian-Israeli women released on Wednesday as part of the seventh batch. The release brought relief for Keren Shem, whose daughter Mia was among those freed. The family released footage showing Keren weeping with joy as she was informed by phone of her daughter’s imminent freedom. “Mia is coming back,” she cried out. – ‘We want an eighth day’ – Not long after the hostages arrived in Israel, the country’s prison service said another 30 Palestinian prisoners — 23 minors and seven women — had been freed. After meeting leaders in Israel and the occupied West Bank, Blinken said Washington wants “to see this process continue to move forward.” “We want an eighth day and beyond.” A source close to Hamas said the group backed another extension and mediators were working to prolong the pause, but the negotiations appeared to have failed. Israel made it clear it viewed the truce as a temporary pause to secure the release of hostages. “We swore… to eliminate Hamas, and nothing will stop us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video released by his office, after meeting with Blinken. His government has come under increasing pressure, however, to account for how it will protect civilians in the territory, which is under blockade, with no way for people to escape. Blinken warned that any resumed military operation by Israel “must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimise further casualties of innocent Palestinians”. Specifically, Israel must “clearly and precisely” designate areas “in southern and central Gaza, where they can be safe and out of the line of fire”, he said. International bodies have called for more time to get medical supplies, food and fuel into Gaza, where an estimated 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes. The truce had allowed people to return to the ruins of their homes to pick through the rubble for remaining belongings and provided a sense of safety after weeks of daily bombardment. “We are afraid that the truce will end, so the problems and the bombings will start again,” Gaza City resident Mohamad Naasan told AFP on Thursday. “I hope that the truce resumes… so peace prevails, and we all go back home.” – Report: Israel had intelligence on attack – The pause in fighting had not tempered violence elsewhere. On Thursday morning, two gunmen opened fire at a bus stop in Jerusalem, killing three people in an attack claimed by Hamas. The gunmen, who police said were from annexed east Jerusalem, were shot dead at the scene. Separately, two Israeli soldiers were lightly injured in a ramming attack on a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, the army said, adding the assailant had also been “shot and neutralised”. The violence in Gaza has also raised tensions in the West Bank, where nearly 240 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers since October 7, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian health ministry. The New York Times reported overnight that Israeli authorities were aware Hamas was planning a major assault, and had obtained a blueprint for the attack, which the group appears to have largely followed on October 7. Intelligence and military officials dismissed the plan as aspirational, even after a signals analyst warned the group had carried out a training exercise in line with the plan, according to the report.

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