Wednesday 22 October 2014

Gaza war rages despite truce vows

Published 27/07/2014 | 04:54

Masked Palestinian militants of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, march during a demonstration against the Israeli military action in Gaza (AP)
Pro-Palestinian protesters throw projectiles as clashes erupt in Paris during a banned demonstration in support of Gaza (AP)
US Secretary of State John Kerry boards his plane in Paris, as he returns to Washington (AP)

Israel and Hamas have launched new attacks in the raging Gaza war, despite each side offering different truces to temporarily halt nearly three weeks of fighting ahead of a major Muslim holiday.

After initially rejecting an Israeli offer on Saturday for a 24-hour truce, Hamas said on Sunday it agreed to hold fire ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. But as Israel's Cabinet met to discuss the offer and the ongoing war, rockets rained down on southern Israel and Israeli strikes could be heard in Gaza.

Each side blamed the other for scuttling the efforts.

Hamas said that "due to the lack of commitment" by Israel, it resumed its fire. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas showed it could not be trusted after it violated other cease-fire efforts.

"Israel is not obliged and is not going to let a terrorist organisation decide when it's convenient to fire at our cities, at our people, and when it's not," Mr Netanyahu told Fox News Sunday.

International diplomats had hoped a temporary lull could be expanded into a more sustainable truce to end the bloodshed and UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged the sides to accept a 24-hour break in fighting.

The 20-day war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel has lost 43 soldiers, while two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel were killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.

The Palestinian death toll was revised on Sunday and an earlier figure dropped by 30 deaths, A Gaza health official said.

Israel said it launched the war on Hamas on July 8 to halt relentless rocket fire. It expanded its assault over a week later, sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip to demolish Hamas' wide network of tunnels, which Israel sees as a strategic threat.

Each side remains far apart on terms for a final ceasefire. Hamas has demanded that a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza be lifted and Israel has asked that Gaza be demilitarised.

Following Hamas' call for a break in fighting, an Israeli airstrike killed one person in Gaza when it hit a vehicle carrying municipal workers on their way to fix water pipes, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Police said Israeli tanks resumed firing shells on densely populated areas south of Gaza City. One shell hit an apartment building and several shells struck a building at Tal Al Hawa. Navy boats also resumed firing on the coastal side of Gaza, police said. The Israeli military did not immediately confirm that it resumed strikes.

Also after Hamas' call for a ceasefire, a rocket fired from Gaza lightly wounded one person in Israel, police said. Sirens wailed in a number of southern Israeli towns.

The Israeli military said earlier it would "resume its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip" after rockets continued to hit Israel. It said more than 50 rockets had been fired since midnight. The military also released a video showing a rocket being fired from what it identified as a Gaza school.

A 12-hour lull on Saturday - agreed to by both sides following intense US and United Nations mediation efforts - saw Palestinians return to neighbourhoods reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, a Palestinian health official said.

The Israeli military says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including by sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm's way.

More than 160,000 displaced Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of UN schools, an eight-fold increase since the start of Israel's ground operation more than a week ago, the UN said.

Hamas and other militants in Gaza have fired more than 2,400 rockets at Israel since hostilities began on July 8, many deep into the Israeli heartland and toward most of the country's major cities.

Israeli air strikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 in direct hits, according to Palestinian rights groups. Entire Gaza neighbourhoods near the border have been reduced to rubble.

Before the announcement of the holiday ceasefire, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri had 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 acceptance of the ceasefire extension was premised on its soldiers remaining in Gaza to destroy the more than 30 tunnels the military says it has found. Hamas has said it will not halt fire until it wins guarantees that the border blockade, tightened by Israel and Egypt after it seized the territory in 2007, will be lifted.

Any new border arrangements for Gaza would likely give a role to Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who reached a power-sharing deal earlier this year with Hamas that was harshly condemned by Israel. Egypt wants forces loyal to Abbas to be posted on the Gaza side of the border before considering opening its Rafah crossing.

Israeli police meanwhile said security forces prevented a major attack when they stopped a suspicious vehicle in the West Bank and discovered a large explosive inside. Police said the suspect was a Palestinian from the West Bank city of Ramallah in his 30s.

Press Association

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