Israel and Hamas trade strikes as Palestinian toll mounts

GAZA STRIP, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES  -  Israel and Hamas brushed off international calls to renew an expired truce Saturday as air strikes pounded militant targets in Gaza and Palestinian groups launched volleys of rockets. Smoke again clouded the sky over the north of the Palestinian territory, whose Hamas government said 240 people had been killed since a pause in hostilities expired early Friday and combat resumed.

In Israel, the military’s Home Front Command reported 40 missile alerts in the south and centre of the country, and the Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced “rocket barrages” against three Israeli municipalities near Gaza.

According to the United Nations an estimated 1.7 million people in Gaza -- around 80 percent of the population -- have been displaced by eight weeks of war. Fadel Naim, chief doctor at the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City, said his morgue had received 30 bodies since the morning, including seven children. “The planes bombed our houses: three bombs, three houses destroyed,” Nemr al-Bel, 43, told AFP, adding he had counted 10 dead in his family and “13 more still under the rubble”.

The population is short of food, water and other essentials, and many homes have been destroyed. UN agencies have declared a humanitarian catastrophe, although some aid trucks did arrive Saturday.

After the truce between Israel and Hamas expired on Friday, Israel had told NGOs not to bring aid convoys across the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, the Palestine Red Crescent Society had said.

But on Saturday, in a social media post, the charity said its Egyptian colleagues had managed to send over a number of trucks. Both sides blamed each other for the breakdown of the truce, which had enabled the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

The truce had been brokered with the help of Qatar, backed by Egypt and the United States, but on Saturday Israel said it was withdrawing its negotiators from Doha after reaching a dead end in talks aimed at securing a renewed pause in hostilities. “Following the impasse in the negotiations and at the direction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, David Barnea, head of the Mossad, ordered his team in Doha to return to Israel,” the Israeli leader’s office said. French President Emmanuel Macron appealed for “stepped-up efforts to reach a lasting ceasefire” to free all hostages, allow in more aid and to assure Israel of its security.

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