Fragile 12-hour truce between Israel, Hamas goes into force

Palestinians return to streets in Gaza as lull takes effect; IDF says will continue targeting terror tunnels

Muslim Gazans gather for an Iftar meal at a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City where many Palestinians have sought taking shelter, Friday, July 25, 2014. (photo credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Muslim Gazans gather for an Iftar meal at a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza City where many Palestinians have sought taking shelter, Friday, July 25, 2014. (photo credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP)

A 12-hour humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas went into force on Saturday morning, as top diplomats pressed efforts to secure a longer-term ceasefire.

The fragile ceasefire began at 8:00 am (0500 GMT).

Hamas said it and other groups in Gaza had reached “national consensus on a humanitarian truce”, and Israel later confirmed it would observe “a humanitarian window in the Gaza Strip”.

The Hamas-run interior ministry in Gaza advised people not to approach bombed-out buildings and militant bases for fear of “explosive objects”.

The Israeli military warned Gaza residents who had been told to evacuate their homes not to return and said “activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue”.

The appeals came after US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Cairo on Friday, said efforts to broker a longer halt to the fighting had yet to bear fruit.

On Friday night, the Israeli cabinet unanimously rejected a ceasefire offer drawn up by Kerry which Israel says is heavily tilted toward Hamas.

On Saturday Kerry flew to Paris where French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was to host him and their counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Turkey and the European Union.

Kerry said at a news conference in Cairo with UN chief Ban Ki-moon that both Israel and Hamas “still have some terminology” to agree to on a ceasefire, but added they had “fundamental framework” on a truce.

Palestinians return to streets

As the 12-hour truce went into effect on Saturday, Palestinians cautiously took to the streets in Gaza, with some returning to areas that had been too dangerous to enter for days.

In northern Beit Hanoun there were scenes of total destruction, with buildings flattened and even the hospital badly damaged by shell fire.

AFP correspondents came across the charred body of a paramedic and trails of blood crossed by Israeli tank tracks, as well as holes in the ground where it appeared the army had been searching for Hamas tunnels. Hamas has dug dozens of tunnels from Gaza neighborhoods under the Israeli border, and killed six Israeli soldiers inside Israel in tunnel attacks this month.

Before the truce, the toll on the ground in Gaza rose to at least 891 Palestinians killed, according to Palestinian officials from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Israel says hundreds of the dead are Hamas gunmen, and Gaza officials have acknowledged “fighters” are among the dead.

On Friday, Ban urged a truce be agreed that would last through the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and expected to fall around Monday.

Israel wants more time to destroy tunnels and rocket launching sites in Gaza, while the territory’s Hamas rulers want international guarantees that an Israeli and Egyptian border blockade will be lifted. The blockade is designed to prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.

The Israeli government has also begun suggesting that Gaza be demilitarized as a condition for a permanent cease-fire so that Hamas cannot rearm itself ahead of yet another round of fighting. The current war is the third in Gaza in just over five years. Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

In the West Bank, which had been relatively calm for years, protests raged Friday against Israel’s Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there. In the West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.

Gaza terrorists have fired close to 2,500 rockets at Israel since July 8, exposing most of Israel’s population to an indiscriminate threat that has killed three civilians.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Friday that Israel’s military would continue to strike Hamas hard.

“At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future,” Ya’alon was quoted as telling soldiers manning an Iron Dome anti-missile battery. “You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will order the military to significantly broaden ground activity in Gaza.”

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