The bodies of dozens of Palestinians have been recovered from the rubble across the Gaza Strip in the first few hours of a 12-hour humanitarian truce, according to medics.
Ashraf al-Qudra, Palestinian emergency services spokesman, said on Saturday that 76 bodies had been brought to hospitals in north, central and southern Gaza, as well as Gaza City, and that the toll was expected to rise further still.
The bodies were recovered just hours after a fragile “humanitarian pause” came into force between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, against which Israel launched an offensive 18 days ago that has so far killed more than 900 people.
The growing casualties came amid a new high-level diplomatic push after Israel’s cabinet on Friday rejected the terms of a US-sponsored longer-lasting ceasefire that was meant to end the fighting.
John Kerry, US secretary of state, was on Saturday in Paris, where a meeting between him, his French counterpart and other diplomats from influential countries, was taking place.
Those present in the meeting on Gaza included top diplomats from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Turkey and the European Union.
Since Israel’s assault on Gaza began on July 8, more than 900 Palestinians, including children, have been killed. More than 5,800 others have been reported injured.
Rockets fired from Gaza into Israel have killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai migrant worker. The fighting also killed 34 Israeli soldiers.
The violence in Gaza has caused anger in the West Bank, prompting two days of mass protests in several cities and clashes with Israeli police, which left at least nine Palestinians dead.
Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from the West Bank, said thousands took to the streets in Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin and other cities on Friday night and into early Saturday. Israeli forces used live rounds and tear gas to disperse protesters.
On Thursday night, 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza near the Palestinian administrative capital Ramallah – a scale recalling mass revolts of the past.
Protesters surged against an Israeli army checkpoint, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and Palestinian medics said one was shot dead and 200 wounded when troops opened fire.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation called for more demonstrations in the West Bank and said it was at the same time working to secure a ceasefire deal.