Gaza bloodshed eases amid ceasefire confusion

Hamas backs 24-hour humanitarian truce but state of ceasefire is unclear with no sign of a permanent deal.

    Fighting has subsided in Gaza after Hamas said it backed a 24-hour humanitarian truce, but there was no sign of any comprehensive deal to end its conflict with Israel.

    Hamas said on Sunday that it had endorsed a call by the UN for a pause in the fighting in light of the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which will start on Monday.

    Some firing of rockets continued after the time that Hamas had announced it would put its guns aside, while Israeli artillery guns also fired barrages into Gaza, Israeli media reported. 

    Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, questioned the validity of the truce, adding that Israel would "take whatever action is necessary to protect our people".

    Nonetheless, Gaza residents said Israeli shelling and Hamas missile launches had slowly subsided through the afternoon, the Reuters news agency reported, suggesting a de facto truce might be taking shape as international efforts to broker a permanent ceasefire appeared to stall.

    Israel and Hamas had agreed to a 12-hour ceasefire on Saturday to allow Palestinians to stock up on supplies and retrieve bodies from under the rubble.

    Netanyahu's cabinet voted to extend the truce until midnight on Sunday at the request of the UN, but called it off when Hamas launched rockets into Israel in the morning.

    Palestinian medics said at least 10 people had died in the wave of subsequent strikes that swept Gaza, including a Christian woman whose house in Gaza City was struck by an Israeli bomb.

    Some 1,031 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, have been killed in the 20-day conflict. A Gaza health ministry official issued revised figures of the dead, saying that 30 fewer people than thought had died in the conflict.

    Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire out of Gaza.

    For his part, Barack Obama, the US president, spoke with Netanyahu on Sunday and stressed the need for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire.

    In a statement, the White House said Obama "made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement".

    So far, diplomatic efforts led by John Kerry, the US secretary of state, to end the 20-day conflict have shown little sign of progress. Israel and Hamas have set conditions that appear irreconcilable.

    Hamas wants an end to the Israeli-Egyptian economic blockade of Gaza before agreeing to halt hostilities. Israel has signalled it could make concessions towards that end, but only if Hamas is stripped of its weapons.

    "Hamas must be permanently stripped of its missiles and tunnels in a supervised manner," Naftali Bennett, a member of the Israeli security cabinet, said on Facebook. "In return we will agree to a host of economic alleviations."

    Kerry flew back to Washington overnight after spending most of the week in Egypt trying to bridge the divide, putting forward some written proposals to Israel on Friday.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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