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Middle East

Israel extends Gaza humanitarian truce by 24 hours

© AFP

Video by Olivia SALAZAR-WINSPEAR , Cécile GALLUCCIO

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-27

Israel's security cabinet voted Saturday to extend a ceasefire in Gaza until midnight on Sunday, despite the resumption of rocket fire from Gaza during an agreed 12-hour initial truce. A spokesman said Hamas rejects the extension of the ceasefire.

The Israeli news website Haaretz.com reported that during this period, the army would continue to neutralize Gaza tunnels and would respond to attacks by Palestinian militants.

The cabinet is due to meet again on Sunday discuss the next steps in the military operation in Gaza.

Hamas said it fired several rockets at Israel late Saturday after rejecting a first offer by Israel to extend the initial truce by four hours.

The movement's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam brigades, said in two separate statements it had fired two rockets at Tel Aviv in central Israel, and five at Nachal Oz in the south.

Israeli police said warning sirens sounded across the country as rockets were fired as far as the Tel Aviv area, and the army said it had recorded three hits soon after the initial 12-hour truce ended. There were no reports of casualties.

The Israeli decision came after US Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers from Europe and the Middle East urged Israel and the Hamas movement to extend the fragile truce.

"We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire," France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters after meeting Kerry and foreign ministers from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar and Turkey, as well as an EU representative.

"We all want to obtain a lasting ceasefire as quickly as possible that addresses both Israeli requirements in terms of security and Palestinian requirements in terms of socio-economic development."

More than 100 bodies discovered

After the 12-hour ceasefire went into effect at 0500 GMT, medics in Gaza began digging through the remains of hundreds of homes, and uncovered more than 100 bodies, medics said.

On the ground, Palestinian ambulances sped into Gaza neighbourhoods that have been too dangerous to enter for days.

The Daily Beast's Jesse Rosensfeld reports from Gaza

Nine hours into the truce, they had found the bodies of more than 100 people in the debris, pushing the death toll to 1,000 Palestinians killed since the conflict erupted on July 8.

Israel also announced the deaths of three more soldiers, raising its military toll to 40, along with two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker killed in Israel.

Palestinians ventured onto Gaza's streets after the truce began, some eager to check homes they had fled, others to stock up on supplies while it was safe to do so.

In many places they found astonishing devastation: buildings levelled, entire blocks of homes completely wiped out by Israeli bombardment.

Hospital shelled

In northern Beit Hanun, even the hospital was badly damaged by shelling, and AFP correspondents came across the charred body of a paramedic as emergency workers searched for more dead.

There were similar scenes in Shejaiya, where stiff bodies lay on the floor of a room in one building, one caked in dried blood, all of them covered in dust.

East of southern Khan Yunis, residents hesitated to enter the Khuzaa neighbourhood, saying Israeli forces remained inside the border area.

And in nearby Bani Suheila, where 20 people were killed in a single Israeli air strike shortly before the truce began, women and children wept as they discovered their homes destroyed.

Rights groups say about 80 percent of the casualties have been civilians, and the UN agency for children UNICEF said on Friday that 192 children had been killed during the conflict.

John Kerry speaks in Paris on Saturday

Hamas and Israel agreed to the "humanitarian window" early on Saturday, after Israel's security cabinet on Friday night rejected a US proposal for a seven-day truce during which the two sides would negotiate a longer-term deal.

Speaking after the rejection, at a news conference in Cairo with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Kerry said Israel and Hamas "still have some terminology" to agree to on a ceasefire, but added they had "fundamental framework" on a truce.

The two sides remain at odds over the shape of a final deal to end the fighting, however.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, Reuters)

Date created : 2014-07-26

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