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Mideast crisis goes 'from bad to worse' as truce shatters

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 7:54 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Terrorists in Gaza broke a temporary cease-fire by launching rockets at Israel on Tuesday, and Israel responded with airstrikes.

The resumption of hostilities shut down talks in Cairo that seek a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas after more than a month of war.

The two sides, although exhausted by the conflict, vowed to continue fighting. Each side, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Gaza's Hamas leadership, insists on demands that the other rejects.

Amid the renewed rocket fire and airstrikes, the chances of a lasting truce appear dim. Instead, it seems likely that Israel may make some unilateral concessions, such as easing restrictions on imports of building materials to the Gaza Strip, as long as Hamas refrains from rocket attacks.

Hamas and the other terrorist factions in Gaza fired more than 50 rockets at Israel. Sirens sounded over Jerusalem, and a rocket landed on a highway near Tel Aviv. No injuries were reported.

Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian political analyst based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said the future may be marked by fragile, informal cease-fires that are broken by rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli responses.

“But we won't go back to a full-fledged war, because the cost is too high,” he said.

Hamas and Israel have fought two previous small-scale wars. In 2009, hostilities ended without a formal truce. In 2012, Egypt brokered a cease-fire, but it was repeatedly breached.

Leaders of Hamas blame Israel for the collapse of the Cairo talks. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, “Israel's foot-dragging proves it has no will to reach a truce deal,” according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh told the Palestinian news agency Maan that the Israelis were refusing to make concessions and attempting to break the Palestinians' will.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a senior spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, said terrorists in Gaza broke the latest 24-hour cease-fire by first shooting rockets at southern Israel. Later, he said, Hamas fired longer-range rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“The situation between Israel and the Palestinians is in very deep and dangerous crisis, which has gone from bad to worse in the last two months,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

“I think the chance of a comprehensive agreement is incredibly low, because the sides, Israel and Hamas, prefer a cease-fire without an agreement, rather than an agreement that requires compromise on core demands,” Meital said.

In the negotiations in Cairo, Israel was seeking guarantees of “peace and quiet,” a cessation of rocket fire and tunnel operations, and, ultimately, the disarming of Hamas and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank want an end to “the siege” on Gaza, an opening of border crossings and the lifting of trade and travel restrictions imposed by Israel and Egypt that have turned the coastal enclave into what the Palestinians call “an open-air prison.”

The Palestinians want to rehabilitate Gaza's Yasser Arafat International Airport, which has been closed for 13 years, and build a seaport, so they do not have to depend on Israel and Egypt for gateways to the world.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio that a seaport without demilitarization would essentially mean “duty-free rockets” for Hamas.

Hamas is in a difficult position. The Islamist resistance movement has fought the most powerful military in the Middle East for more than a month. Its rockets have shut down Israel's Ben Gurion Airport for 24 hours.

But Hamas is diplomatically isolated and cut off from its sources of money and arms. Gaza's economy is in ruins. Tens of thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict.

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