The fragile truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed Friday morning and a new round of hostilities erupted in and around the Gaza Strip, raising major questions about the fate of the remaining hostages held by Hamas and stoking fears about further civilian suffering in the densely packed Palestinian enclave.
Hours after the weeklong cease-fire expired, Israeli fighter jets hit targets in Gaza while aircraft also dropped leaflets urging Palestinian civilians to seek shelter outside of a rapidly widening war zone.
Israeli officials said that Hamas fighters launched rockets from Gaza into southern Israel, though none reached their targets, according to media reports. But the attacks prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to vow that his country would resume its military campaign and press forward with its original goal.
“Upon the resumption of fighting, we emphasize: 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,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said in a statement Friday morning.
The cease-fire offered a short-lived reprieve from what’s been a relentless war inside Gaza since Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7. That attack saw more than 1,200 Israelis killed and about 240 hostages taken from Israel by Hamas militants.
About 100 of those hostages, mostly women and children, were released over the past week as part of the truce. In exchange, Israel temporarily halted hostilities in Gaza and also released about 240 Palestinian prisoners from its own jails.
Both sides had expressed openness to extending the cease-fire. Israel has said it would extend the cease-fire another day for each 10 hostages released by Hamas. Mr. Netanyahu’s office accused Hamas of backing away from that proposal early Friday, and he placed blame for the resumption of fighting squarely on the Palestinian militant organization.
Hamas blamed Israel for the collapse of the truce. It said that Jerusalem’s military campaign, now entering its second phase, will fail.
“What Israel did not achieve during the 50 days before the truce, it will not achieve by continuing its aggression after the truce,” Ezzat El Rashq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, wrote on the group’s website Friday, according to English-language media accounts.
Officials in Qatar, the wealthy Gulf nation that has served as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, said that the resumption of fighting makes it much more difficult to achieve another cease-fire. Qatar’s Foreign Ministry specifically singled out Israel’s role in the resumption of fighting and said it “complicates mediation efforts and exacerbates the humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza.
The restart of fighting in Gaza came just hours after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel, his fourth trip to the Jewish state since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. He urged Israel to do all it can to protect innocent civilians in Gaza.
“Israel has the most sophisticated — one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world. It is capable of neutralizing the threat posed by Hamas while minimizing harm to innocent men, women, and children. And it has an obligation to do so,” Mr. Blinken said during a press conference just before leaving Israel for an international climate change conference in Dubai. “Ultimately, that’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also in Israel’s security interest. The prime minister and members of the war cabinet agreed with the need for this approach.”
In Gaza, Israeli planes reportedly dropped leaflets urging Palestinian civilians to leave their homes and move toward a de facto safe zone near Rafah, along the Gaza-Egypt border. Israel‘s campaign in northern Gaza has pushed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians toward the southern portion of the strip, but Israel now appears poised to widen its offensive to the south and could target major population centers in that region such as the city of Khan Younis.
“You have to evacuate immediately and go to the shelters in the Rafah area. Khan Younis is a dangerous fighting zone. You have been warned,” the Israeli leaflets said, according to Reuters, which has journalists on the ground in and around the city.
Analysts say that as difficult and violent as the effort may be, Israel must push Hamas out of Khan Younis and other areas in southern Gaza if it hopes to achieve its broader objectives. They say that Hamas militants use those areas as a key corridor to funnel weapons and other goods throughout the strip.
“Israel cannot achieve its military aims unless it takes Khan Younis,” Michael Doran, senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at the Hudson Institute, told The Washington Times this week.