Israel agrees short cessation after four boys killed in Gaza

Toll of Palestinian dead in Hamas-dominated coastal enclave rises to 215

Israeli artillery troops were positioned near the Gaza border this morning, as Israel resumed its air strikes in the Gaza Strip a day after an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire deal failed to get Hamas militants to halt rocket attacks. Video: Reuters

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 20:41

Israel has tonight agreed to a proposed six-hour cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip for humanitarian reasons, a Israeli senior official said.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it had not yet been decided when the lull would take place. Hamas had no immediate comment.

The appeal was made by a United Nations official, the official said, confirming Israeli media reports, shortly after Hamas rejected an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire to end the nine-day war in which 215 Palestinians and an Israeli have died.

Israeli shelling killed four boys on a Gaza beach today, a local health official said earlier, and Palestinian militants fired a further 70 rockets into Israel after a failed Egyptian attempt to halt the warfare.

Israel urged the evacuation of several districts in the Gaza Strip where more than 100,000 people live, threatening ground operations to try to stem the rocket attacks.

An Israeli official said the defence minister had earlier asked prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet to authorise the mobilisation of another 8,000 reserve troops. The military has said about 30,000 reservists have been called up since the Israeli offensive began a week ago.

Israeli experts predicted overland raids in the Gaza Strip to destroy command bunkers and tunnels that have allowed the outgunned Palestinians to withstand air and naval barrages and keep the rockets flying.

The Hamas political leadership had formally rejected an earlier ceasefire plan from Cairo today, a spokesman for the Islamist group said, a day after its armed wing spurned it and kept up rocket salvoes at Israel, which had held its fire for six hours yesterday.

Ashraf al-Qidra of the Gaza Health Ministry said shelling from an Israeli gunboat off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast killed four boys - two aged 10 and the others 9 and 11 - from one family and critically wounded another youngster on the beach.

An Israeli military spokesman had no immediate comment. Mr Netanyahu said the armed forces try to avoid civilian casualties but that militant rocket crews deliberately put non-combatants at risk by operating in densely populated residential areas.

Ahmed Abu Hassera, who witnessed the incident at the shore, told Reuters: “The kids were playing on the beach. They were all ... under the age of 15.”

Israeli shelling has frequently targeted Gaza beaches, which are suspected staging areas for militants.

“When the first shell hit land, they ran away but another shell hit them all,” said Abu Hassera, whose shirt was stained with blood. “It looked as if the shells were chasing them.”

Reacting to the incident, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters in Gaza: “These crimes will not succeed to break our will. We will continue the confrontation and resistance and we promise [Israel] will pay the price for all these crimes.”