Friday 31 October 2014

Israel extends ceasefire as Gazans survey destruction

Harriet Sherwood

Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30

ZIKIM, ISRAEL - JULY 26:  A soldier meets with his loved ones during a 12-hour ceasefire just outside the militarized zone near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 26, 2014 near Zikim, Israel. After nearly three weeks of the Israeli operation "Protective Edge," around 40 Israelis and 856 Palestinians are dead according to recent reports. The 12-hour cease fire comes as diplomats around the world attempt to negotiate a permanent ceasefire.  (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ZIKIM, ISRAEL - JULY 26: A soldier meets with his loved ones during a 12-hour ceasefire just outside the militarized zone near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 26, 2014 near Zikim, Israel. After nearly three weeks of the Israeli operation "Protective Edge," around 40 Israelis and 856 Palestinians are dead according to recent reports. The 12-hour cease fire comes as diplomats around the world attempt to negotiate a permanent ceasefire. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The Israeli cabinet last night decided to extend a humanitarian cease-fire for 24 hours, but a source close to the cabinet said that troops will respond to any fire from Gaza.

The official added that the truce would be extended until midnight (22.00 Irish time) Sunday. He said Israel also will continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels during the period of lull.

Earlier, Hamas had rejected a four-hour extension of Saturday’s initial 12-hour truce, and Gaza militants said they fired several dozen rockets at Israel. There was no immediate Israeli retaliation for the rocket fire.

The fighting has now claimed at least 1,000 lives in 19 days.

Foreign ministers from seven nations — the US, France, Britain, Italy, Germany, Turkey and Qatar — had gathered in Paris to demand an extension of yesterday’s 12-hour humanitarian truce.

The group convened, with a senior EU representative, at the request of US Secretary of State John Kerry, who failed to win backing from Israel or Hamas for a week-long truce on Friday. There were no envoys from Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian Authority in attendance.  

“All of us call on the parties to extend the military ceasefire that is currently under way,” said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius. “All of us want to obtain, as quickly as possible, a durable, negotiated ceasefire that responds both to Israeli needs in terms of security and to Palestinian needs in terms of the social-economic development [of Gaza] and access to the territory of Gaza.”

As Gazans took advantage of the pause in the fighting to venture out from homes and shelters, many found whole streets and neighbourhoods destroyed. One man, standing on the rubble of his home, telephoned relatives and said; “I’m here. It’s gone, the whole house is gone.”

Shortly before the ceasefire took effect, at least 16 members of one family, including several children, had been killed in an air strike in Khan Younis, in the south of the Gaza Strip. The family had recently fled there to escape fighting in a nearby village, according to a Palestinian health official.

 Kerry had expressed confidence on Friday that there was a framework for a ceasefire agreement which could ultimately succeed, and that “serious progress” had been made, although he admitted there was more work to do.

He has been leading international efforts to reach a truce along with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, while keeping in regular contact with the foreign ministers of Turkey and Qatar, which have been acting as interlocutors with Hamas.  But there were also signals that if the ceasefire ended, the fighting could intensify.

Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, said on Friday: “At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future. You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will order the military to significantly broaden ground activity in Gaza.”

Israeli troops have so far discovered 31 tunnels in Gaza and destroyed half of them, saying the tunnels are  designed for cross-border attacks. The Israelis also wantsHamas to be prevented from rearming as a condition for a permanent ceasefire.

The violence has spread to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in recent days. Nine Palestinians have been killed as protests over the bloodshed in Gaza have erupted into clashes with Israeli security forces.

 As well as the more than 1,000 people who have been killed in Gaza, 40 Israeli Defence Forces have been killed.

Yesterday, a rocket kiled four childrenin the Egyptian Sinai town of Rafah.

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