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27 Jul 2014 06:32
A Palestinian protester hurls stones toward Israeli troops at a protest in Ramallah on Thursday. (Mohamad Torokman, Reuters)
Israel extended a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip for another 24 hours, but Hamas, which dominates the coastal enclave, said it would only
accept the truce if Israeli troops left the territory.
Israeli ministers had signaled that a comprehensive deal to end the 20-day
conflict with Hamas and its allies, in which at least 1 050 Gazans - mostly
civilians - have been killed, and 42 soldiers and three civilians in Israel
have died, was remote.
“At the request of the United Nations, the Cabinet has approved a
humanitarian hiatus until tomorrow at 2400 [midnight local time, 9pm GMT
on Sunday],” the official, who was not named, said in a statement after the Cabinet session held in Tel Aviv had ended. “The IDF [Israel Defence
Forces] will act against any breach of the ceasefire.”
On Saturday, Gazans took advantage of the lull in fighting to recover their
dead and stock up on food supplies, flooding into the streets after the
ceasefire began at 8am (5am GMT) to discover scenes of massive destruction
in some areas.
The positions of both Israel and Hamas regarding a long-lasting halt to
hostilities have remained far apart.
Hamas wants an end to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza before agreeing
to halt hostilities.
Israeli officials said any ceasefire must allow the
military to carry on hunting down the Hamas tunnel network that crisscrosses
the Gaza border.
Israel says some of the tunnels reach into Israeli territory and are meant
to carry out attacks on its citizens.
The Israeli official added that troops would continue to act against any
breaches of the ceasefire, adding that the military would continue to act
against the tunnels during the entire 24-hour period.
He said the Cabinet would reconvene on Sunday to consider a continuation of
the operation “until calm is restored to Israeli citizens for an extended
The Gaza turmoil has stoked tensions amongst Palestinians in Arab East Jerusalem
and the occupied West Bank.
Medics said eight Palestinians were killed on Friday in incidents near the West
Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron - the sort of death toll reminiscent of
previous uprisings against Israel’s prolonged military rule there.
Deal looks remote
On the diplomatic front, international efforts to bring an end to
hostilities and secure a longer-lasting truce were being led by US Secretary of
State John Kerry in Paris.
Kerry, who has been spearheading international efforts to end the fighting,
arrived in Paris on Saturday where he met the foreign ministers of France, Italy,
Britain, Germany, Turkey and Qatar.
“All of us call on the parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire
that is currently under way,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said
after the meeting.
But an Israeli security Cabinet minister, Gilad Erdan, said on Saturday that
a definitive deal looked remote, with no representatives from Israel, Egypt or
the Palestinian Authority attending the Paris talks.
The deputy leader of Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied to Hamas, said Egypt’s mediation efforts were still being considered but improvements were being
sought and, in the meantime, the fight would go on.
“We are still open to the Egyptian initiative and there are hot
contacts to improve it ... We are going to pursue the battle until the blockade
is ended. The resistance carries our demands,” he said in a text message
‘God help us’
Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra said rescue teams had taken
advantage of the truce to search wrecked neighbourhoods and had recovered some
Stunned residents of Beit Hanoun wandered through destroyed streets lined
with damaged houses or mounds of rubble where once whole buildings had stood.
“Pull yourself together, be strong! Aren’t you used to this by now?”
one man barked at a sobbing younger relative, only to break down himself.
“God help us!” he moaned.
Israeli tanks stood by as people searched through the debris for their
belongings, packing whatever they could, blankets, furniture and clothes into taxis,
trucks, rickshaws and donkey carts before fleeing the town.
Naser Tattar, director of Gaza’s main Shifa
hospital, said most of the bodies recovered on Saturday came from Beit Hanoun,
Khan Younis and Shejaia - a district east of Gaza City that has witnessed huge
clashes between Israeli troops and militants. - Reuters
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