Israel agrees to extend Gaza war truce for 24 hours despite Hamas rocket fire
WATCH: Hamas militants started firing rockets toward Israel just as the original cease-fire expired, and there’s no indication that Hamas has agreed to the Israel’s cease-fire extension. Paul Johnson reports.
- Israel agrees to extend Gaza cease-fire
- An Israeli cabinet minister says Israel has agreed to extend a 12-hour cease-fire by four hours
- Israel’s Security Cabinet reportedly rejects Kerry’s seven-day cease-fire proposal, though Kerry claims no formal proposal was submitted
- Israel’s defence minister warns ground operation may be broadened “significantly”
- Scroll down to follow the latest updates in our live blog
BAYT HANUN, Gaza Strip – Hamas resumed rocket fire Saturday on Israel after rejecting Israel’s offer to extend a humanitarian cease-fire, the latest setback in international efforts to negotiate an end to the Gaza war.
Despite the Hamas rejection, Israel’s Cabinet decided to extend a truce for 24 hours, until midnight (2100 GMT) Sunday. However, it warned that its military would respond to any fire from Gaza and would continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels during this period.
A temporary lull on Saturday saw Palestinians return to neighbourhoods reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra.
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.
WATCH: Hundreds of people gathered chanting and shouting at each other over the conflict in the Gaza strip
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.
Thousands flee in Gaza
In Gaza, thousands of residents who fled the violence streamed back to devastated border areas during the cease-fire to find large-scale destruction: fighting had pulverized scores of homes, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets.
In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, Siham Kafarneh, 37, sat on the steps of a small grocery, weeping. The mother of eight said the home she had spent 10 years saving up for and moved into two months earlier had been destroyed.
“Nothing is left. Everything I have is gone,” she said.
WARNING: Some images contain graphic content.
More than 1,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed and more than 6,000 have been wounded over the past 19 days, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israeli strikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 in targeted hits, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee, according to Palestinian rights groups.
Across Gaza, more than 130 bodies were pulled from the rubble Saturday, officials said. In southern Gaza, 20 members of an extended family were killed before the start of the lull when a tank shell hit a building where they had sought refuge, al-Kidra said.
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Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way. Israel has lost 40 soldiers and two civilians, and a Thai worker also has been killed.
“There is no proof that any kind of gratuitous damage is being inflicted,” said Israeli legislator Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party. Israeli troops are “fighting with an enemy dug in within the civilian population, dug in underground or within the houses there,” he said, adding that “those are the consequences of such a fight.”
Israel launched a major air campaign in Gaza on July 8 and later sent ground troops into the Hamas-ruled territory in an operation it said was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire and destroying cross-border tunnels used for attacks.
WATCH: Residents of Beit Hanoun were distraught as they returned to find many of their homes flattened.
Later Saturday, Israel decided to extend the 12-hour lull by four more hours, until midnight (2100 GMT) Saturday. However, Israel set its own terms for the extended truce, saying it would continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels.
The Israeli military said that through Saturday’s lull, troops uncovered four more tunnel shafts.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri later said that the group rejected the four-hour extension. Shortly after that, Hamas claimed responsibility for firing five rockets at Israel, including two at Tel Aviv. The Israeli military said three rockets fell in southern Israel.
Al-Kidra said that a 36-year-old Palestinian man was killed by a sniper near the central Gaza town of Deir el-Balah shortly after the 12-hour truce ended.
In Paris, Kerry met with European foreign ministers and later with foreign ministers from Qatar and Turkey to try to salvage truce efforts.
On Friday, Israel rejected a proposal by Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to halt fire for a week and to begin talks during this period on easing the border blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza.
WATCH: Gaza residents returned to the streets during the 12-hour cease-fire. Barry Petersen explains.
Hamas has said it would not halt fire until it won guarantees that the border blockade, enforced by Israel and Egypt, would be lifted.
Any new border arrangements for Gaza would likely give a role to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the main political rival of Hamas.
Hamas had seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, triggering the Gaza blockade by Israel and Egypt. However, Abbas, who heads the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, reached a power-sharing deal earlier this year with Hamas. Under the deal, a government of technocrats headed by Abbas was to prepare for new elections in the West Bank and Gaza.
Egypt wants forces loyal to Abbas to be posted on the Gaza side of the mutual border before considering open the Rafah crossing there, Gaza’s main gate to the world.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris that he and his counterparts from other nations are calling on both sides to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire.
Such a truce should meet Israeli security concerns, but also “the Palestinians’ expectations in terms of economic development and access to Gaza,” he said. “We are convinced of the need to involve the Palestinian Authority in achieving these objectives.”
Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.
© The Associated Press, 2014