Israel-Gaza conflict: Death toll hits 1,000 amid 12-hour ceasefire

An Israeli official says ceasefire may be extended by four hours

Heather Saul
Saturday 26 July 2014 17:33 BST
A Palestinian woman sits at the ruble of her destroyed house in Shuja'iyya neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City
A Palestinian woman sits at the ruble of her destroyed house in Shuja'iyya neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City (EPA)

The number of people killed in the conflict between Israel and Gaza has reached 1,000 as a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire to allow civilians to seek aid and evacuate to safer areas of the region continues today.

An Israeli government official has since been quotes as saying Israel is "leaning toward" extending the 12-hour humanitarian truce by at least four hours.

At least 85 bodies have been pulled from the rubble during the lull in fighting, bringing the Palestinian death toll to an estimated 985 since the conflict began 18 days ago.

Over 5,700 have been wounded and tens of thousands have been left displaced by shelling, according to officials. Forty Israelis have also been killed in cross-border fighting.

In the southern town of Khan Younis, 20 members of the same extended family, including at least 10 children, were killed by tank fire that hit a building on the edge of town, according to Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Hundreds of men marched in a funeral procession in Khan Younis Saturday afternoon, chanting "there is only God" while carrying the bodies.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) says the 12-hour pause began at 8am local time (5am GMT). During this time, it said it will continue to "locate and neutralise" tunnels used by Hamas and warned the military "shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit" the lull to attack Israeli troops or civilians.

Hamas said that the group had agreed to the 12-hour lull to allow civilians to receive aid and find safer areas. Hundreds of Palestinians poured into the streets in the minutes after the truce took force, with many heading to banks which have briefly re-opened. Others inspected damage and stocked up on supplies.

Turkey lifted a ban on flights to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport three hours after the truce was announced, according to an announcement on Twitter.

The ceasefire was agreed upon by both sides after US Secretary of State John Kerry, currently visiting the region, failed to broker a seven-day truce as a first step toward a broader deal.

It comes as 19 Palestinians were killed in airstrikes overnight and two Israeli soldiers were also killed in Gaza.

Israel on Friday rejected international proposals for an extended ceasefire, a government source said, but Mr Kerry, speaking in Cairo, said no formal proposals had yet been put forward.

Britain's United Nations ambassador had earlier said there may be "an extremely short" humanitarian pause in the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas today lasting several hours.

Mark Lyall Grant told reporters that Britain is very disappointed at the failure to reach agreement on a sustainable ceasefire but suggested a humanitarian pause could "open up a little bit of space to work on a more sustainable ceasefire".

He said foreign ministers from the US, UK Turkey and other countries are meeting in Paris today "to decide precisely on the next steps".

But there were fears that after the temporary ceasefire, there could be an escalation in the fighting.

Israel's defence minister warned on Friday Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation "significantly".

The temporary lull was unlikely to change the trajectory of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the Gaza war is spilling over into the West Bank.

In a "Day of Rage," Palestinians across the territory, which had been relatively calm for years, staged protests against Israel's Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there.

On Thursday night, 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza near the Palestinian administrative capital Ramallah - a scale recalling mass revolts of the past.

Palestinians walk on the street full of stones which were hurled in clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces fill the street in front of an Israeli watch tower of the Qalandia checkpoint near the West Bank city of Ramallah

In the West Bank, at least five Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.

Israel wants more time to destroy Hamas military tunnels and rocket launching sites in Gaza, while the territory's Hamas rulers want international guarantees that a Gaza border blockade will be lifted before they cease fire.

Overnight, militants fired a barrage of rockets out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel. No injuries were reported, with the Iron Dome interceptor system shooting down some of the projectiles.

Meanwhile, heavy Israeli shelling was reported in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, an area where ground troops are operating.

One shell hit near the emergency department of Beit Hanoun hospital, wounding six people, including a foreign national who was not identified further, the Red Crescent said. Two of the wounded were in critical condition.

Residents returning during the ceasefire encountered widespread destruction across the area.

Shells also hit an ambulance in Beit Hanoun, killing a paramedic and wounding two people, the Red Crescent said.

Additional reporting by agencies

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