A 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas militants came into force at 5am (GMT) on Saturday in the Gaza Strip despite the lack of agreement on a more lasting truce at peace talks in Cairo brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The fighting continued in the hours leading up to the halt in violence, with Israeli air strikes killing 23 people, among them four children and a paramedic, Gaza medical services said.
The conflict began July 8 when Israel launched an operation to stop rockets being fired from Gaza and destroy the tunnel network used by Hamas to launch cross-border attacks. It intensified on July 17 with an Israeli ground invasion. So far 888 Palestinians have been killed, most of them civilians, along with 39 Israelis, all but two of them soldiers.
The Israeli security cabinet on Friday rejected a ceasefire deal presented by Kerry.
An Israeli source, who declined to be named, said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet had turned down the proposal for a longer-term ceasefire because it did not allow Israel to carry on targeting Hamas’s tunnel network, which criss-crosses the Gaza border.
“Kerry’s proposal leans [too much] towards Hamas’s demands,” said the source.
Hamas, which has refused to end hostilities unless Israel and Egypt agree to end their blockade on Gaza, has yet to respond to the ceasefire proposal.
The armed wing of Hamas, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, rejected an earlier ceasefire deal that was accepted by Israel.
The diplomatic push for a lasting truce will resume at 9am (GMT) on Saturday, when Kerry will meet in Paris with the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey – major state supporters of Hamas – and top French and British diplomats.
Speaking at a press conference in Cairo on Friday, the top US diplomat said that Israel and Hamas "still have some terminology" to work out on a ceasefire deal, but added that they had the "fundamental framework" for a longer truce.
Under the proposal for a seven-day humanitarian halt to the fighting, delegations from both Israel and Hamas would meet in Cairo – which has mediated past conflicts between the two – for indirect talks that could lead to a lasting deal.
The Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday early next week, which marks the end of Ramadan, has been set as a target for reaching an agreement, Kerry said.
“We are working toward a brief seven days of peace. Seven days of a humanitarian ceasefire in honor of Eid in order to be able to bring people together to try to work to create a more durable, sustainable ceasefire for the long [term],” he told reporters.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, standing with Kerry at the news conference, backed the call for a pause in fighting in honour of the Eid holiday.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
France 24 Correspondent: "The people in Gaza are desperate for any kind of reprieve."
Date created : 2014-07-26