JERUSALEM — Heavy exchanges of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday morning threatened to shatter a newly agreed 72-hour cease-fire. Gaza health officials said that 27 Palestinians were killed and more than 100 injured.
Palestinian witnesses said by telephone that Israeli tank shells hit as residents returned to inspect homes that they had evacuated in eastern Rafah, and that shells also landed east of Khan Younis and Gaza City.
Israeli military officials did not immediately supply any information about what set off the renewed hostilities, as the conflict entered its 25th day, but Israel blamed Hamas for violating the truce.
The Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement, “Once again, Hamas and the terrorist organizations in Gaza have blatantly violated the cease-fire to which they committed themselves, this time before the American secretary of state and the secretary general of the United Nations.” No more details were provided.
The humanitarian cease-fire, negotiated by the United States and the United Nations, came as a surprise and was announced in a statement by Secretary of State John Kerry in the middle of the night in India, where he had met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York.
Hostilities had continued overnight, with Israeli airstrikes and shelling that killed 14 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Militants fired rockets into Israel until minutes before the 8 a.m. deadline.
The announcement of the cease-fire came after several shorter humanitarian truces fell apart over the past week. The cease-fire announced overnight appeared to be more significant, with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators scheduled to head to Cairo this weekend for formal talks on the conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 1,400 Palestinians and 64 on the Israeli side.
Under the terms of the temporary truce, Israeli forces were permitted to remain in place inside Gaza to continue destroying the labyrinth of tunnels that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said were the prime target of the Israeli ground operation. Both sides said they would respond if fired upon.
Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem and Fares Akram from Gaza.
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(via NY Times)