Fighting subsides in Gaza but truce looks fragile

Israeli prime minister says Hamas continued to fire rockets through ceasefire earlier

Sun, Jul 27, 2014, 17:18

Fighting subsided in Gaza today after Hamas Islamist militants said they backed a 24-hour humanitarian truce, but there was no sign of any comprehensive deal to end their conflict with Israel.

Hamas said it had endorsed a call by the United Nations for a pause in the fighting in light of the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, expected to start in the next couple of days.

Some firing had continued after the time that Hamas had announced it would put its guns aside and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned the validity of the truce.

“Hamas doesn’t even accept its own ceasefire, it’s continuing to fire at us as we speak,” he said in an interview with CNN, adding that Israel would “take whatever action is necessary to protect our people”.

Nonetheless, Gaza Strip residents and Reuters witnesses said Israeli shelling and Hamas missile launches had slowly quietened down through the afternoon, suggesting a de-facto truce might be taking shape as an international efforts to broker a permanent ceasefire appeared to flounder.

However, Israel’s military has said it will need more time to destroy a warren of tunnels that criss-cross the Gaza border that it says is one of its main objectives. Israel and the Hamas Islamists who control Gaza had agreed to a 12-hour ceasefire yesterday to allow Palestinians to stock up on supplies and retrieve bodies from under the rubble.

Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to extend the truce until midnight today at the request of the United Nations, but called it off when Hamas launched rockets into Israel during this morning.

Palestinian medics said at least 10 people had died in the wave of subsequent strikes that swept Gaza, including a Christian woman, Jalila Faraj Ayyad, whose house in Gaza City was struck by an Israeli bomb.

Some 1,060 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, have been killed in the 20-day conflict.

Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire out of the Mediterranean enclave.

Diplomatic block

Israel launched its Gaza offensive on July 8th, saying its aim was to halt rocket attacks by Hamas and its allies.

After aerial and naval bombardment failed to quell the outgunned guerrillas, Israel poured ground forces into the Gaza Strip 10 days later, looking to knock out Hamas’s rocket stores and destroy the vast network of tunnels.

The army says its drive to find and eliminate tunnels would continue through any temporary truce.

Diplomatic efforts led by US secretary of state John Kerry to end the 20-day conflict have shown little sign of progress.

Israel and Hamas have set conditions that appear irreconcilable. Hamas wants an end to the Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade of Gaza before agreeing to halt hostilities.