Three Israeli soldiers were killed just hours after a Gaza ceasefire began, according to FRANCE 24 reporters in the Palestinian enclave. Meanwhile, Palestinian officials said more than 20 Gazans were killed despite the truce.
The deaths, amid accusations of truce violations by both sides, underscored the precarious nature of the three-day US and UN-negotiated ceasefire.
The 72-hour break announced in a joint statement by US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting, and followed mounting international alarm over a rising Palestinian civilian death toll.
The ceasefire was to be followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution.
But Kerry cautioned there were “no guarantees” that the lull would bring an end to the conflict, now in its fourth week.
Reporting from Israel, FRANCE 24’s Chris Moore said, “I should point out that both sides are aware that 8am is perhaps not an exact deadline. In the last Israel-Gaza conflict when a full ceasefire was achieved, there was still fire going in both directions after that. It’s still very much a case of wait and see how things pan out over the next few hours.”
Heavy fighting before ceasfire
Shortly before the ceasefire began, Israeli tanks shelled the eastern part of the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, killing at least four people and wounding 15, said Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra and Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji.
An Israeli Army spokesman said a heavy exchange of fire had erupted in the Rafah area, without providing further details.
Since the Israeli offensive in Gaza began on July 8, more than 1,450 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and more than 61 Israelis, nearly all soldiers, have been killed.
Previous failed ceasefire attempts
At least four short humanitarian ceasefires have been announced since the conflict began, but each has been broken within a few hours by renewed fighting. Friday’s temporary ceasefire was the longest to be announced thus far.
Under the terms of the ceasefire, Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza can continue to destroy tunnels along the heavily guarded frontier, but only those that are behind Israeli defensive lines and lead into Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday had vowed to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network “with or without a cease-fire.” But military spokesman Moti Almoz told Army Radio on Friday that Israel would not be able to eliminate the tunnel threat “100 percent.”
The ceasefire was intended to allow Palestinians in Gaza to receive food, medicine and humanitarian assistance, bury their dead, treat the wounded and travel to their homes. The lull can also be used to make repairs to water and power infrastructure.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)
Date created : 2014-08-01