Gaza humanitarian ceasefire begins

Gaza humanitarian ceasefire begins

A 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire has begun to allow civilians in Gaza to receive aid and evacuate to safer areas.

The Israeli military says the 12-hour pause began at 8am local time (5am Irish time). It warned the military “shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit” the lull to attack Israeli troops or civilians.

The military said “operational activities to locate and neutralise tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue”.

Previous humanitarian ceasefires have been cut short by fighting.

Civilians on both sides have been hardest hit over the past 18 days. Nearly 900 Palestinians and 40 Israelis have been killed.

The lull was agreed by both sides after US Secretary of State John Kerry failed to broker a week-long truce as a first step toward a broader deal.

Britain’s United Nations ambassador had earlier said there may be “an extremely short” humanitarian pause in the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas today lasting several hours.

Mark Lyall Grant told reporters that Britain is very disappointed at the failure to reach agreement on a sustainable ceasefire but perhaps a humanitarian pause “will open up a little bit of space to work on a more sustainable ceasefire”.

He said key foreign ministers will be meeting in Paris today “to decide precisely on the next steps”.

But there were fears that after the temporary ceasefire, there could be an escalation in the fighting.

Israel’s defence minister had earlier warned that Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation “significantly”.

The temporary lull was unlikely to change the trajectory of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the Gaza war is spilling over into the West Bank.

In a “Day of Rage”. Palestinians across the territory, which had been relatively calm for years, staged protests against Israel’s Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there.

In the West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.

The latest diplomatic setbacks, after several days of high-level diplomacy in the region, signalled that both sides are digging in and that the fighting in Gaza is likely to drag on.

Israel wants more time to destroy Hamas military tunnels and rocket launching sites in Gaza, while the territory’s Hamas rulers want international guarantees that a Gaza border blockade will be lifted before they cease fire.

In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes and tank shelling have killed more than 860 Palestinians, wounded more than 5,700, displaced tens of thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes, Palestinian officials said.

In dozens of cases, Israeli attacks killed three or more members of the same family, according to UN figures, and civilians make up three-quarters of the dead.

Gaza militants have fired close to 2,500 rockets at Israel since July 8, exposing most of Israel’s population to an indiscriminate threat that has killed three civilians. Thirty-six soldiers have also been killed in battle in Gaza.

Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon said yesterday that Israel’s military would continue to strike Hamas hard, in order to deter it from firing rockets at Israel in the future.

The warning came shortly after Mr Kerry announced in Cairo that he had been unable to broker a week-long truce during which both sides were to talk about security arrangements and a possible easing of Gaza’s border blockade.

For days, he had been moving between the Egyptian capital, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and talking to officials from Qatar, who are in contact with Hamas.

More meetings with his counterparts from EU nations, Turkey and Qatar were scheduled for today in France.

Speaking alongside UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the Egyptian foreign minister, Mr Kerry insisted there was a general agreement on the “concept” of a truce but that both sides had concerns over details of carrying it out.

However, the Israeli Security Cabinet rejected Mr Kerry’s proposal, according to Israeli media reports.

Israel wants to be able to continue destroying tunnels used by Hamas militants to try to infiltrate into Israel and to smuggle weapons. It has so far uncovered 31 tunnels and destroyed half of them.

Meanwhile, heavy Israeli shelling was reported in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, an area where ground troops are operating.

One shell hit near the emergency department of Beit Hanoun hospital, wounding six people, including a foreign national who was not identified further, the Red Crescent said. Two of the wounded were in critical condition.

Shells also hit an ambulance in Beit Hanoun, killing a paramedic and wounding two people, the Red Crescent said.

Another ambulance driver was killed as he tried to evacuate wounded from the southern town of Bani Suheila, the organisation said.

As the Gaza fighting dragged on, the West Bank was becoming increasingly restive, with protests erupting yesterday across the territory.

In the northern village of Hawara, hundreds took part in a protest after emerging from a mosque after Friday prayers, said Mayor Mouin Idmeidi.

Hawara is located along a main north-south thoroughfare that is also used by Israeli motorists, and one Israeli driver slowed down as he passed the march and fired at the group, the mayor said.

He said four people were wounded and that one of them, a 19-year-old, died at Rafidiyeh Hospital in Nablus of his injuries.

After the shooting, clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli troops who opened fire, killing a 22-year-old, Mr Idmeidi said. Health workers at the hospital confirmed the deaths.

An Israeli police spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld, said paramilitary border police opened fire to disperse violent protests at Hawara, and that masked Palestinians threw fire bombs. He said he was unaware of a shooting involving an Israeli civilian.

In Beit Omar, clashes erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinian stone-throwers. Hebron hospital officials said three Palestinians were killed.

Later yesterday, the Israeli military said a soldier opened fire and killed a Palestinian protester who attempted to snatch his weapon during clashes in a refugee camp near the city of Hebron.

Palestinian police said the man was killed after scuffling with a soldier who had barred him from entering his home before the break of the Ramadan fast.

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