Israel and Hamas begin unconditional 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire as US condemns attack on school

School had been sheltering civilians who had lost their homes

Hamas and Israel have this morning begun a tense 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire after The White House described the Israeli shelling of a UN school which killed 15 people as “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible”.

A spokesman said there appeared to be little doubt “whose artillery was involved”. The school in northern Gaza was sheltering civilians who had been told to leave their homes by the Israeli army.

The Palestinian Health ministry said that 149 Gazans had so far been killed by the Israeli army. Palestinians fired more than 60 rockets at Israel. One Israeli was killed by a mortar bomb and several were injured.

The condemnation came before Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire, starting at 8am local time this morning. Negotiations on a more durable truce in the three-week-old fighting would take place during the period it said, adding that Israeli troops would remain on the ground.

The head of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees earlier warned the UN Security Council that if Israel continues its offensive in the Gaza Strip, it will have to reassume its responsibilities as occupying power, and provide humanitarian services to the population.

Speaking in New York, Pierre Krähenbühl said Gaza’s infrastructure and health service were on the verge of collapse. “I believe the population is facing a precipice and appeal to the international community to take the steps necessary to address this extreme situation,” he said, noting that 220,000 Palestinians are now sheltering in UN facilities and that eight of his colleagues have been killed since the fighting began over three weeks ago.

 

Israel passed on its responsibilities as occupying power to the Palestinian Authority in 1994 as part of the Oslo accords, leaving the authority to provide services to the Gaza population. In 2005, Israel withdrew its forces to the borders of the strip and pulled out of its settlements.

The Israeli army mobilised a further 16,000 reserve soldiers today as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, ruled out agreeing to a ceasefire in the war with Hamas until the army destroys the militant Islamist movement’s network of tunnels penetrating Israel from the Gaza Strip.

“We have neutralised tens of terror tunnels and we are determined to complete this important mission with or without a ceasefire,’’ Mr Netanyahu said at a meeting of his cabinet.

“I will not agree to any offer that does not allow the military to complete this important mission for the security of the people of Israel.’’

Palestinians inspect a destroyed bus after Israeli airstrikes in the central Gaza City Palestinians inspect a destroyed bus after Israeli airstrikes in the central Gaza City (EPA)
The mobilisation appears aimed at giving the government the option of further escalating the ground operation in Gaza, though it is believed that Mr Netanyahu is reluctant to be drawn into an all-out reoccupation of the crowded coastal enclave. This would increase the risk of Israeli casualties, heighten international criticism and raise fears about the chaos that would ensue if Hamas were dislodged from power.

Israel sent a delegation to Cairo on Wednesday for talks on a possible ceasefire but its demands and those of Hamas remain mutually exclusive. Israel wants Hamas be disarmed, while Hamas insists it will not hold fire until Israel and Egypt lift border curbs that are crippling the Gaza economy and release Hamas prisoners recently rearrested in the West Bank by Israel. Mr Netanyahu said that dismantling the tunnels “is just the first phase in the demilitarisation of Gaza”.

Israel’s military leaders say the army is within a few days of completing its tunnel mission, which was the stated reason for Israel following up 10 days of aerial bombardments with a ground offensive.

Israeli relations with the UN, which are often rocky, have reached a low point in recent days as UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon strongly condemned shelling that caused the deaths of fifteen Palestinians among thousands sheltering at a UN school in north, Jebalya, Gaza. "It is outrageous it is unjustifiable and it demand accountability and justice,’’ Ban said.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada