Truce rejected but Israel agrees 6-hour ceasefire

Israeli shelling killed four boys on a Gaza beach yesterday, a local health official said, and Palestinian militants fired more than 100 rockets into Israel after a failed Egyptian attempt to halt more than a week of warfare.

Israel later agreed to a proposed six-hour cessation of hostilities for humanitarian reasons, a senior Israeli official said, adding that it had not yet been decided when the lull would take place.

The Islamist Hamas, which rules Gaza, had no immediate comment. The appeal came from the United Nations, the Israeli official said, shortly after Hamas rejected an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire to end the nine-day war.

After the beach shelling, six other Palestinians including four members of one family, among them a woman, 70, and two children aged 4 and 6, were killed in two Israeli air strikes in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, medics there said.

Israel urged the evacuation of several districts in the Gaza Strip where more than 100,000 people live, threatening a ground thrust into the densely populated coastal territory to try to stem the rocket attacks.

An Israeli official said the defence minister asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet to authorise the mobilisation of another 8,000 reserve troops. The military has said that around 30,000 reservists have been called up since the Israeli offensive began a week ago.

Netanyahu told mayors of rocket-struck towns: “We will continue to conduct this campaign until it goal is achieved. We will use as much force as necessary to restore quiet to Israel's residents.”

On the diplomatic front, the Islamist Hamas political leadership of Gaza formally rejected Cairo’s ceasefire plan a day after its armed wing spurned it. Militants kept up rocket salvoes at Israel, which held its fire for six hours on Tuesday.

But despite the collapse of Egypt’s truce efforts, there were signs of efforts still under way to nail down a ceasefire.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas discussed Egypt’s plan in Cairo yesterday with senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, Egyptian and Palestinian news agencies said. The Palestinian agency WAFA said they held “in-depth” talks.

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was doing “everything in our power” to achieve a truce.

Ashraf al-Qidra of the Gaza Health Ministry said shelling from an Israeli gunboat off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast killed four boys — two aged 10 and the others 9 and 11 — from one family and critically wounded another youngster on the beach.


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