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Israel strikes Gaza targets after rocket fire; Israeli negotiators called home

GAZA (CNN) — An Israeli delegation has been ordered home from talks in Cairo aimed at ending the conflict in Gaza, a senior Israeli official said Tuesday, shortly after the Israeli military blamed militants in Gaza for breaking a truce.

Three rockets fired from Gaza hit the Beer Sheva area in southern Israel Tuesday afternoon, the Israeli military said. No injuries were reported.

The rocket fire came only hours after the ceasefire was extended until the end of the day, as Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, struggling to reach a more lasting agreement, reported little progress.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israel Defense Forces to respond to the rockets, a senior Israeli official told CNN. An IDF statement shortly afterward said strikes were being carried out against targets in Gaza.

“Yet again, terrorists breach the ceasefire and renew fire at Israeli civilians from Hamas ruled Gaza Strip,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner said in the statement.

“This continued aggression will be addressed accordingly by the IDF; we will continue striking terror infrastructure, pursuing terrorists, and eliminating terror capabilities in the Gaza Strip, in order to restore security for the State of Israel.”

It’s not yet clear who fired the rockets from Gaza, and no group has claimed responsibility.

However, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zouhri, in a text message sent to CNN, denied that Hamas was responsible.

“We have no information about rockets being shot from Gaza to Israel. The aim of the air strikes on Gaza is to stop the negotiations in Cairo. The Israeli occupation bears the responsibility for this,” he said.

Five Palestinians, including two children, were wounded in an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Ashraf al Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza health department, told CNN.

Al Aqsa TV reported airstrikes in northern and central Gaza, as well.

In Israel, warning sirens once again sounded in the Sdot Negev area, as Israel’s missile defense system was seen intercepting rockets.

Hamas: Struggle will continue

Izzat Risheq, a Hamas leader who is part of the Palestinian negotiating delegation in Cairo, said via Twitter: “The struggle of our people will not depend on whether we have a truce or not.

“Our struggle, however, will continue on until our peoples’ goals of freedom and national independence are achieved.”

A thick plume of smoke could be seen rising from a building in southern Gaza apparently hit by an Israeli airstrike.

A CNN team on the ground also saw earlier what appeared to be three rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel, leaving smoke trails in the sky.

Shortly before the rockets were launched, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in an e-mailed statement to CNN: “If Netanyahu does not understand our message and people’s demands in Gaza through political language, we know a way to make him understand.”

A banner on the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV blamed Israel for violating the truce.

Cycle of violence

As the deadline for the end of the truce was pushed back Tuesday morning, officials on both sides offered little reason for optimism.

“There hasn’t been any progress at all,” Azzam al-Ahmed, the lead Palestinian negotiator, told reporters, dismissing earlier reports that a deal was set to be signed.

“We hope that every minute in the next 24 hours will be used so we can reach an agreement, or the cycle of violence will continue,” he said.

Negotiating through Egyptian go-betweens, Israel and the Palestinians had been attempting over the past week to resolve longstanding issues amid a temporary ceasefire in the deadly fighting in and around Gaza.

Under the latest extension, the truce was set to expire at midnight Tuesday ( 5 p.m. ET.)

‘Very fragile and very explosive’

On Monday, Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, accused the Israelis of blocking the path to an agreement. He said by phone from Gaza, after returning from Cairo, that the situation is “very fragile and very explosive.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said that Israel was “prepared for any scenario,” with the Israeli military ready “for a very firm action if fire is resumed.”

Israeli forces have remained positioned around Gaza since they withdrew two weeks ago after destroying more than 30 tunnels, some of which extended under the border into Israel.

The conflict, which began in early July, has killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, leaving entire Gaza neighborhoods in rubble.

The violence has killed 67 people on the Israeli side, with militants in Gaza firing roughly 3,500 rockets toward Israel.

‘Impossible demands’

In the talks, Israel was calling for Gaza to be demilitarized, demanding that Hamas, which controls the territory, and other militant groups lay down their arms.

Risheq, the Hamas leader, said Monday that the group’s weapons were “for self-defense” against Israel.

“But when we have our own Palestinian state with its own national army to protect its citizens, there will be no need for any party to carry any kind of weapons,” he said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity Monday, a Hamas leader said the Israelis had “submitted impossible demands on the Palestinians such as the issue of demilitarization, destroying the tunnels and the issue of preventing Palestinians from developing their missiles technology.”

The Israelis, he said, “want everything and want to give nothing.”

He said the Palestinians had responded with a counterproposal offering Israel “full security in exchange of full opening of border crossings” or lifting the siege completely.

Dispute over blockade

But a senior Israeli official suggested to CNN that there were contradictions coming from the Palestinian side.

“How can Israel have full security while they’re still digging terror tunnels and making rockets?” he asked, saying the Palestinians “can’t cherry pick what they want.”

Palestinians say Israel’s blockade is throttling the economy of the small, impoverished strip of land and the lives of its inhabitants.

Among their demands are the rebuilding and reopening of Gaza’s airport and the establishment of a seaport.

But Israeli authorities — who retain control of Gaza’s airspace, Mediterranean waters and their shared border — say that releasing their grip on what goes into and out of the territory isn’t feasible while Hamas and other groups are still building up their arsenals of weapons.

CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen reported from Gaza, Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong, and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN’s Reza Sayah, John Vause, Steve Almasy, Ali Younes, Amir Tal, Kareem Khadder and Andrew Carey contributed to this report.

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