Fighting began in Gaza on Friday, minutes after a week-long truce between Israel and Hamas expired, with the first fatalities recorded minutes later, according to Palestinian health sources.
Within the first 90 minutes after the truce broke at 0500 GMT, a thick cloud of grey smoke rolled over northern Gaza, with apparent noises of automatic weapons fire and explosions.
Israeli fighter jets were “currently striking” Hamas targets in Gaza, according to the Israeli military, as journalists reported air strikes in the territory’s north and south.
According to Marwan al-Hams, the director of Al-Najar hospital in Rafah, southern Gaza, where many Palestinians fled when Israel instructed them to leave the territory’s north, attacks killed at least nine individuals in the city, including four children.
In other news, two children were killed in air raids on Gaza City, according to Fadel Naim, a doctor at the city’s Al-Ahli hospital.
According to a Hamas source, the group’s armed wing received “the order to resume combat” and “defend the Gaza Strip,” with intense fighting reported in portions of Gaza City.
Combat resumed shortly after Israel’s army announced that it had intercepted a rocket fired from Gaza, the first from the region since a missile launched minutes after the truce began on November 24.
According to the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, combat has resumed after Hamas “violated” the cease-fire.
“Upon the resumption of fighting, we emphasise: The Government of Israel is committed to achieving the goals of the war: Releasing the hostages, eliminating Hamas and ensuring that Gaza never again constitutes a threat to the residents of Israel,” it said in a statement.
In the hour after the combat resumed, sirens warned of probable rocket fire in numerous areas near Gaza, and Israeli authorities said they were resuming security measures in the area, including the closure of schools.
Despite the return of fighting, talks between Qatari and Egyptian mediators were “ongoing,” according to a person familiar with the situation.
During the seven-day truce, dozens of hostages were released in return for Palestinian inmates, and more relief was delivered to Gaza, where 80 percent of the population is displaced and facing food, water, and other basic necessities shortages.
In a meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials on Thursday, US top diplomat Antony Blinken asked for the cease-fire to be extended and emphasized that any return of hostilities must protect Palestinian civilians.
Other world leaders, and aid groups, had also sought an extended pause.
The cease-fire had halted combat that had begun on October 7 when Hamas terrorists crossed Gaza’s militarized border into Israel.
According to Israeli police, the unprecedented attack killed around 1,200 people, the majority of whom were civilians, and militants captured approximately 240.
In response, Israel promised to destroy Hamas and launched an air and ground warfare operation in Gaza, which the Hamas administration claims has killed over 15,000 people, largely civilians.
During the truce mediated by Qatar with the help of Egypt and the US, 80 Israeli captives were exchanged for 240 Palestinian inmates.
More than 20 foreigners, most of them Thais living in Israel, were freed outside the scope of the agreement.
Six additional Israelis, some with dual nationality, were released late Thursday, only hours after two women were released.
This brought the total number of captives released on Thursday to eight, less than the ten requested by the peace agreement. According to a source close to the militant group, the seventh batch includes two Russian-Israeli women released on Wednesday.
Keren Shem, whose daughter Mia was among those released, was relieved. Keren was seen crying with delight when she was informed by phone of her daughter’s imminent release, according to the family.
“Mia is coming back,” she cried out.
Not long after the hostages arrived in Israel, the country’s prison authorities announced the release of another 30 Palestinian detainees, including 23 youngsters and seven women.
Blinken stated that Washington wants “to see this process continue to move forward” after meeting with authorities in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
“We want an eighth day and beyond.”
According to a Hamas source, the group supported another extension and mediators were attempting to extend the ceasefire, but the talks appeared to have failed.
Fears for civilians
Israel had made 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,” Netanyahu said in a video released by his office, after meeting with Blinken.
His government, on the other hand, has come under increasing pressure to explain how it will safeguard residents in the area, which is under blockade with no way out.
Blinken had previously stated that any resumption of Israeli military operations “must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimize further casualties of innocent Palestinians.”
Specifically, he stated that Israel must “clearly and precisely” define sites “in southern and central Gaza, where they can be safe and out of the line of fire.”
International organizations have asked for extra time to deliver medical supplies, food, and fuel into Gaza, where an estimated 1.7 million Palestinians have been displaced.
After weeks of daily shelling, the armistice allowed residents to return to the remains of their houses to dig through the debris for remaining items and created a sense of safety.
“We are afraid that the truce will end, so the problems and the bombings will start again,” Gaza City resident Mohamad Naasan told AFP.
The violence in Gaza has also heightened tensions in the West Bank, where Israeli soldiers or settlers have murdered almost 240 Palestinians since October 7, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian health ministry.
According to the New York Times, Israeli authorities were aware that Hamas was planning a massive attack and had gotten a blueprint for the attack, which the group appears to have mostly followed on October 7.
According to the report, intelligence and military officials disregarded the plan as aspirational, even after a warning that the organization had carried out a training exercise in accordance with the plan.