Israel extends Gaza cease-fire for 24 hours; Hamas rejects terms

Palestinians look at the damaged hospital on Saturday in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip.
AHMED ZAKOT | REUTERS
Palestinians look at the damaged hospital on Saturday in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip.
Men walk past a destroyed ambulance at the start of a 12-hour cease-fire, as people scour the rubble of their homes in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, looking for the dead and recovering belongings.
Carolyn Cole | MCT
Men walk past a destroyed ambulance at the start of a 12-hour cease-fire, as people scour the rubble of their homes in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, looking for the dead and recovering belongings.
Posted July 26, 2014, at 2:29 p.m.
Last modified July 26, 2014, at 8:05 p.m.

GAZA/JERUSALEM — Israel extended a humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza Strip for another 24 hours, but Hamas, which dominates the coastal enclave, said it would only accept the truce if Israeli troops left the territory.

Israeli ministers had signaled that a comprehensive deal to end the 20-day conflict with Hamas and its allies, in which at least 1,050 Gazans — mostly civilians — have been killed, and 42 soldiers and three civilians in Israel have died, was remote.

“At the request of the United Nations, the Cabinet has approved a humanitarian hiatus until tomorrow at 2400 (midnight local time, 2100 GMT Sunday),” the official, who was not named, said in a statement after the Cabinet session held in Tel Aviv had ended. “The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) will act against any breach of the cease-fire.”

On Saturday, Gazans took advantage of the lull in fighting to recover their dead and stock up on food supplies, flooding into the streets after the cease-fire began at 8 a.m. to discover scenes of massive destruction in some areas.

The positions of both Israel and Hamas regarding a long-lasting halt to hostilities have remained far apart.

Hamas wants an end to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza before agreeing to halt hostilities. Israeli officials said any cease-fire must allow the military to carry on hunting down the Hamas tunnel network that crisscrosses the Gaza border.

Israel says some of the tunnels reach into Israeli territory and are meant to carry out attacks on its citizens. Other underground passages serve as weapons caches and Hamas bunkers. The IDF said it had uncovered four such tunnel shafts inside Gaza during the truce on Saturday.

The Israeli official added that troops would continue to act against any breaches of the cease-fire, adding that the military would continue to act against the tunnels during the entire 24-hour period.

He said the Cabinet would reconvene on Sunday to consider a continuation of the operation “until calm is restored to Israeli citizens for an extended period.”

The Gaza turmoil has stoked tensions amongst Palestinians in Arab East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

Medics said eight Palestinians were killed on Friday in incidents near the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron — the sort of death toll reminiscent of previous uprisings against Israel’s prolonged military rule there.

DIPLOMATIC EFFORT

On the diplomatic front, international efforts to bring an end to hostilities and secure a longer-lasting truce were being led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris.

Kerry, who has been spearheading international efforts to end the fighting, arrived in Paris on Saturday where he met the foreign ministers of France, Italy, Britain, Germany, Turkey and Qatar.

“All of us call on the parties to extend the humanitarian cease-fire that is currently under way,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after the meeting.

But an Israeli security cabinet minister, Gilad Erdan, said on Saturday that a definitive deal looked remote, with no representatives from Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian Authority attending the Paris talks.

The deputy leader of Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied to Hamas, said Egypt’s mediation efforts were still being considered but improvements were being sought and, in the meantime, the fight would go on.

“We are still open to the Egyptian initiative and there are hot contacts to improve it … We are going to pursue the battle until the blockade is ended. The resistance carries our demands,” he said in a text message to reporters.

 

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