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Sunday 21 September 2014

Hamas rejects proposed four hour extension to ceasefire

Published 26/07/2014 | 19:46

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A Palestinian man walks by buildings heavily damaged by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 26, 2014. Thousands of Gaza residents who had fled Israel-Hamas fighting streamed back to devastated border areas during a lull Saturday, and were met by large-scale destruction: scores of homes were pulverized, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A Palestinian man walks by buildings heavily damaged by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip
Pro Palestinian protester burns an Israeli flag during demonstration banned by police, in support of Gaza in central Paris, July 26, 2014.   REUTERS/Benoit Tessier (FRANCE  - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
Pro Palestinian protester burns an Israeli flag during demonstration banned by police, in support of Gaza in central Paris
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah (R) and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu take part in discussions regarding a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, at the Turkish ambassador's residence in Paris July 26, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah (R) and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu take part in discussions regarding a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza

Hamas said it fired five rockets at Israel after rejecting Israel's offer to extend a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire by four hours, casting new doubt on international efforts to broker an end to 19 days of fighting.

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Hamas said two of the rockets were aimed at Tel Aviv. Police in Israel's second-largest city dispersed a peace rally attended by several thousand people because of the threat, a spokesman said.

In Paris, US secretary of state John Kerry and European foreign ministers met earlier to find ways to transform the initial 12-hour lull into a sustainable truce.

In Gaza, thousands of residents who fled the violence streamed back to devastated border areas during the ceasefire to find large-scale destruction. Fighting had pulverised scores of homes, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets.

In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, Siham Kafarneh, 37, sat on the steps of a small grocery, weeping. The mother of eight said the home she had spent 10 years saving up for and moved into two months earlier had been destroyed.

"Nothing is left. Everything I have is gone," she said.

More than 1,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed and more than 6,000 have been wounded over the past 19 days, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. Israeli strikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 in targeted hits, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee, according to Palestinian rights groups.

Pro Palestinian protester burns an Israeli flag during demonstration banned by police, in support of Gaza in central Paris, July 26, 2014.   REUTERS/Benoit Tessier (FRANCE  - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
Pro Palestinian protester burns an Israeli flag during demonstration banned by police, in support of Gaza in central Paris

Across Gaza, more than 130 bodies were pulled from the rubble today, officials said. In southern Gaza, 20 members of an extended family were killed before the start of the lull when a tank shell hit a building where they had sought refuge, Mr al-Kidra said.

Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm's way. Israel has lost 40 soldiers and two civilians, and a Thai worker also has been killed.

"There is no proof that any kind of gratuitous damage is being inflicted," said Israeli legislator Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party. Israeli troops are "fighting with an enemy dug in within the civilian population, dug in underground or within the houses there," he said, adding that "those are the consequences of such a fight".

Israel launched a major air campaign in Gaza on July 8 and later sent ground troops into the Hamas-ruled territory in an operation it said was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire and destroying cross-border tunnels used for attacks.

Later, Israel decided to extend the 12-hour lull by four more hours, until midnight (2100 GMT). However, Israel set its own terms for the extended truce, saying it would continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah (R) and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu take part in discussions regarding a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, at the Turkish ambassador's residence in Paris July 26, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah (R) and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu take part in discussions regarding a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza

The Israeli military said that through the lull, troops uncovered four more tunnel shafts. Mr Al-Kidra said that a 36-year-old Palestinian woman was killed by a sniper near the central Gaza town of Deir el-Balah as the 12-hour truce was ending.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri later said that the group rejected the four-hour extension. Shortly after that, Hamas claimed responsibility for firing five rockets at Israel, including two at Tel Aviv. The Israeli military said three rockets fell in southern Israel.

In Paris, Mr Kerry met with European foreign ministers and later with foreign ministers from Qatar and Turkey to try to salvage truce efforts.

Yesterday, Israel rejected a proposal by Mr Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon to halt fire for a week and to begin talks during this period on easing the border blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Hamas has said it would not halt fire until it won guarantees that the border blockade, enforced by Israel and Egypt, would be lifted.

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