12-hour Gaza-Israel ceasefire takes effect

2014-07-26 11:22

Gaza/Jerusalem – A 12-hour humanitarian truce went into effect today after Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip agreed to a UN request for a pause in fighting and efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire moved ahead.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 18 members of a single family were killed by Israeli tank shelling in the southern Gaza Strip shortly before the truce took effect at 8am. An Israeli military spokesperson said she was checking the report.

Israel’s military said it would hold fire for 12 hours, but would press on with its search for tunnels used by militants. A spokesperson for the Islamist group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, said all Palestinian factions would abide by the brief truce.

Hundreds of Palestinians poured into the streets in the minutes after the truce took force, some headed on foot to their homes to inspect damage from the Israeli assaults and many lined up outside banks to withdraw cash and stock up on supplies.

Fighting had continued overnight as US Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to the region, spearheaded international efforts to end 19 days of conflict in which 883 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed.

Israel said that two more of its soldiers were killed in Gaza, bringing the army death toll to 37, as troops battled militants in the north, east and south of Gaza.

Three civilians have also been killed in Israel by rockets from Gaza.

Diplomats will pursue efforts to secure a ceasefire in Paris today, with France hosting officials from the US, Britain, Germany, Italy, the EU, Turkey and Qatar, a French diplomatic source said.

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

The top US diplomat said there were still disagreements on the terminology, but he was confident there was a framework that would ultimately succeed and that “serious progress” had been made, although there was more work to do.

Hamas wants an end to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza before agreeing to halt hostilities. Israeli officials said any ceasefire must allow the military to carry on hunting down Hamas’s tunnel network that crisscrosses the Gaza border.

Israel says some of the tunnels reach into Israel and are meant to carry out attacks on Israelis. Other underground passages serve as weapon caches and serve as Hamas bunkers.

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