An Israeli air strike killed a militant leader in the Gaza Strip today, just hours ahead of a seven-hour truce announced by Israel which was meant to open a “humanitarian window” for aid.
However, the military said the ceasefire would not apply to areas where troops were still operating and where they would respond to any attack.
The southern strip town of Rafah, which saw particularly heavy fighting on Sunday, was excluded from the truce, the military said.
Shortly after the ceasefire went into effect, two Israeli missiles struck a beach house near Gaza City, killing one person and leaving up to 20 people missing, the Red Crescent and a Gaza health official said.
The Islamic Jihad group – a close ally of Gaza’s militant Palestinian Hamas rulers – said its commander in the northern part of the strip, Daniel Mansour, died when an Israeli strike hit his home just before dawn.
Even though Israel has been drawing down its ground operation since the weekend, it has kept up heavy aerial, offshore and artillery bombardments of the strip. The Gaza conflict, now in its fourth week, has killed more than 1,800 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group was sceptical about the Israeli truce announcement. “We do not trust such a calm and call on our people to take caution,” he said.
Israel launched the military operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire. It has since carried out more than 4,600 air strikes across the crowded seaside area. On July 17, it sent in ground forces in what it said was a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks inside Israel.
Since the fighting erupted, Hamas has fired more than 3,200 rockets into Israel, many of them intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system. In contrast to Israel’s hi-tech warfare, which includes precision-guided missiles, Hamas’s rocket technology remains relatively primitive and has not been as deadly.
Overnight, Israeli forces carried out new air strikes while Israeli tanks and navy gunboats fired dozens of artillery shells, targeting houses, agricultural plots and open areas, Gaza police said.
They said Israeli jet fighters destroyed three mosques, nine houses, five seaside chalets and a warehouse for construction material.
The Gaza police said Israeli navy boats also approached the northern coast of the strip and soldiers tried to land in the area. On the ground, there were clashes in the southern town of Rafah and south-east of Gaza City, they said.
UN officials said more than three-quarters of the dead in the war have been civilians, including the 10 people killed on Sunday at a UN school that has been converted into a shelter in Rafah.
The United States said it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” shelling and state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Israel to do “more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties”.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack on the school a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and demanded a quick investigation.
According to witnesses, Israeli strikes hit just outside the main gates of the school on Sunday. The Red Crescent, a charity, said the attack occurred while people were in line to get food from aid workers. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said in addition to the dead, 35 people were wounded.
Robert Turner, director of operations for the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said the building had been providing shelter for some 3,000 people.
“The locations of all these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times,” Mr Turner said. “They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea.”
Israel said that it attacked 63 sites on Sunday and that nearly 100 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll.