• Friday, September 19, 2014

Truce as deaths in Gaza top 985

BBC Online
A Palestinian woman reacts as she stands around destroyed houses in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in Gaza City July 26. A 12-hour humanitarian truce went into effect on Saturday after Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip agreed to a UN request for a pause in fighting and efforts proceeded to secure a long-term ceasefire moved ahead. Photo: Reuters
A Palestinian woman reacts as she stands around destroyed houses in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in Gaza City July 26. A 12-hour humanitarian truce went into effect on Saturday after Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip agreed to a UN request for a pause in fighting and efforts proceeded to secure a long-term ceasefire moved ahead. Photo: Reuters

Residents in Gaza are using a 12-hour humanitarian truce to return to their homes, gather essential supplies and search for those trapped in the rubble.

At least 85 bodies have been pulled from the rubble during the truce, a Palestinian health official says.

That raises the Palestinian death toll to 985 since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on 8 July, the spokesman said. Thirty-nine Israelis have died.

International talks on a longer truce have resumed in Paris.

Israel said it would continue to "locate and neutralise" Hamas tunnels during the pause, which began at 08:00 local time (05:00 GMT).

So far 31 tunnels have been discovered, with about half destroyed, Israeli's military says.

Before the truce began, Israeli strikes killed at least 19 Palestinians overnight at a family home near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Images showed relatives weeping as the bodies of five children were taken to a local morgue.

Two Israeli soldiers were also killed overnight, Israel's military confirmed.

The Iron Dome defence system intercepted three rockets fired towards the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon overnight.

In the district of Shejaiya, residents started flooding back from 08:00, despite warnings not to do so.

The scene here is just astonishing - the most widespread destruction: buildings completely pulverised, cars thrown 50m (160ft) into the air on top of buildings, the facades of some block of flats completely ripped off.

The air is pretty thick with the stench of death as people try to recover bodies and belongings.

In the background I can hear a crackle of gunfire. Although a humanitarian ceasefire is in place, clearly people are still shooting. There is an Israeli drone flying overhead, and we've heard the sound of fighter jets.

I think people feel they have a brief window of opportunity to do as much as they can and then frankly get out of here.

'CONFIDENT OF CEASEFIRE'

US Secretary of State John Kerry met the foreign ministers of Turkey, Qatar and some European countries in Paris on Saturday in the hopes of agreeing a longer ceasefire.

"We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire," France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters.

"We all want to obtain a lasting ceasefire as quickly as possible that addresses both Israeli requirements in terms of security and Palestinian requirements in terms of socio-economic development."

Kerry spent a week in the Middle East attempting to broker a deal before leaving Egypt on Friday.

Hamas insists that any ceasefire should include a lifting of the blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt since 2007.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel "appreciated" Kerry's continued efforts, and that Israel wanted "peace and quiet".

"The people of Gaza are not our enemy, our enemy are the people shooting those rockets into Israeli cities," Regev told the BBC.

Israel is reported to want to continue operations against Hamas infiltration tunnels once direct conflict ends.

The 12-hour truce was agreed overnight, although the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) vowed to respond if attacked.

The truce came shortly after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that ground operations in Gaza could soon be broadened "significantly".

The British ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, said he was disappointed at the failure to reach a longer-term truce.

But he welcomed Saturday's 12-hour pause, saying it could "open up a little bit of space to work on a more sustainable ceasefire".

Separately, the UK confirmed it would send £2m ($3.39m) of additional assistance to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) in Gaza.

There were also clashes during protests in the West Bank on Friday which left at least five Palestinians dead.

Palestinians in the West Bank had declared a "Day of Rage" against Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Israel launched its military offensive on 8 July with the declared objective of stopping Hamas firing rockets into Israel.

It has since extended its operation to destroy tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate Israel.

Published: 10:49 am Saturday, July 26, 2014

Last modified: 10:01 pm Saturday, July 26, 2014

TAGS: John Kerry Israel Hamas Israel Defense Forces

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