Obama calls for ‘immediate ceasefire’ as uneasy calm hangs over Gaza

Lull of several hours broken by rocket and artillery fire

Palestinians walk amid the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, yesterday. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Palestinians walk amid the rubble of houses destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, yesterday. Photograph: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Mon, Jul 28, 2014, 07:49

An uneasy calm hung over Gaza City last night after US president Barack Obama intervened in the crisis by calling for an “immediate and unconditional” ceasefire.

A lull of several hours had earlier been broken by rockets and artillery file, setting back hopes of a cessation in time for the Muslim feast of Eid-al-Fitr, which begins today.

The respite followed a declaration by Hamas yesterday afternoon that it had endorsed a call by the United Nations for a pause in the fighting.

But that came to an end by early evening, with reports of continuing rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli guns firing artillery barrages into the Gaza Strip.

Rocket fire

Israel had called off its own unilateral ceasefire earlier yesterday after renewed rocket fire from Gaza.

Speaking by phone to Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu last night, Mr Obama stressed the need for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, the White House said.

With the conflict approaching its third week, international efforts to broker a permanent ceasefire showed no signs of an imminent breakthrough.

In Gaza City, the streets were busier than usual as people took advantage of the brief respite to stock up on essential supplies.

“The two sides have got to talk because of all the children being killed,” said Nfooz Al Shawish, a middle-aged woman who had ventured out of the UN-run shelter where she had been staying for the past two weeks.

The UN Relief and Works Agency said the number of displaced in Gaza had reached 167,000 – about a tenth of the population of the strip.

During the lull in fighting inside Gaza at the weekend, residents flooded into the streets to discover scenes of massive destruction in some areas, including Beit Hanoun in the north and Shujaiya in the east.

“I cried,” said Nfooz of her first look at her neighbourhood in Shujaiya. “Nobody could tell where their houses were.”

In parts of the north of the strip, which has suffered heavy destruction, the streets were deserted, a few stray donkeys the only sign of life.

Roads were cratered, houses were razed and the smell was of burning and rotting rubbish.

Some 1,031 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.

Tunnels

The Israeli military says its forces have uncovered more than 30 tunnels in Gaza, with some reaching into Israeli territory and has set their destruction as the key objective of its ground operation.

Hamas wants an end to the Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade of Gaza before agreeing to halt hostilities and while Israel has signalled it could make concessions toward that end, its condition is that Gaza’s militant groups must be stripped of their weapons.

The Gaza turmoil has also stoked tensions amongst Palestinians in mainly Arab east Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, where some of the biggest demonstrations in a decade have taken place in recent days.