JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian militants launched a big rocket salvo at Israel early Sunday, endangering a unilateral cease-fire and opening the way for a possible expansion of the 20-day operation, which has already killed 1,047 Palestinians and 43 Israeli soldiers.
The Israeli military said seven rockets were fired at southern Israel early Sunday, after Israel accepted but Hamas militants rejected a 24-hour extension of a humanitarian cease-fire meant to remain into effect until midnight Sunday (2100 GMT).
Two of the rockets were downed by Israel's Iron Dome air defense system and five fell in open areas, the military said. It underscores the success of a defense system that has limited fatalities on the Israeli side to only three despite the more than 2,400 rockets Hamas has launched toward Israel.
Also Sunday, the military announced the 43rd fatality of the campaign, which it says is aimed at neutralizing the rocket fire and destroying a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels. Barak Refael Degorker, 27, died in fighting Saturday "in the vicinity" of the strip, it said. No other details were available.
A temporary lull in the fighting Saturday saw Palestinians return to neighborhoods reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
With the retrieval of the corpses, the number of Palestinians killed reached 1,047 in 19 days of fighting, while more than 6,000 were wounded, he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European foreign ministers, meeting in Paris, had hoped to transform the cease-fire into a more sustainable truce. That effort was thrown into doubt with the Hamas' rejection of the extension.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said any truce must include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and that tens of thousands of displaced people must be allowed to return to their homes. Israel's current terms are "not acceptable," he said in a text message to journalists.
Israel's acceptance of the cease-fire extension is premised on its soldiers remaining in Gaza to destroy the 31 tunnels the military says it has already found in the densely populated coastal strip. Israel says the tunnels represent a "strategic" threat because they allow Hamas fighters to carry out attacks on Israeli territory.