1 Aug 2014

Gaza conflict: ceasefire shattered within hours

Israeli shelling in southern Gaza kills at least 25 people, the Palestinian interior ministry says, as a ceasefire that went into effect only hours earlier appears to be crumbling.

Photo: Young children takes refuge inside a classroom at a UN-run school in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip

The temporary truce after more than three weeks of fighting began at 8am on Friday (5:00 GMT) and was announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Both sides also agreed to travel to Cairo to discuss a longer-term solution.

But several sources said that the ceasefire was broken in the south of the Gaza Strip, near Rafah. A Reuters photographer and the Palestinian Interior Ministry said that Israeli tanks had open fire, and Hamas media reported that four people were killed. This has not yet been confirmed.

Mr Kerry said on Thursday night that the temporary break in fighting did not guarantee any long-term agreement, and said this was no time for “congratulations”, adding: “This is a respite. It is a moment of opportunity, not an end.”

Mr Ban and Mr Kerry said in a statement: “We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire.

“This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence.”

In recent days, Israel’s President Binyamin Netanyahu had faced growing international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, and a fatal attack on a UN school where thousands of Palestinians were sheltering.

Forces on the ground will remain in place during the ceasefire, according to the statement, and it has been agreed that Israel will continue destroying militants’ infiltration tunnels that are “behind its lines”, Mr Kerry added.

Video: Paul Mason reports from Gaza

Negotiations planned

Israel and Palestinian delegations were prepared to travel to Cairo for separate negotiations to reach a more durable ceasefire, said the joint statement. But with reports that the temporary ceasefire has been broken, it remains unclear whether this will go ahead.

The Palestinian delegation would be comprised of Hamas, Western-backed Fatah, the Islamic Jihad militant group and a number of smaller factions, Palestinian officials said.

A senior US state department official had said talks could start as early as Friday, depending on how long it takes the parties to reach Cairo. Representatives from Israel and the United States will not sit across the table from Hamas, the official added.

Since Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on 8 July 8, Gaza officials say at least 1,427 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and nearly 7,000 wounded.

Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel.

Video: How do Israelis see the war in Gaza? Inigo Gilmore reports