GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) ― Israel on Sunday resumed its devastating military assault on Gaza after “incessant” rocket fire from Palestinian militants killed another soldier, ending an extended humanitarian cease-fire that was rejected by Hamas.
The renewed strikes came just 10 hours after Israel said it would observe a truce for another 24 hours, in a move which was not reciprocated by Hamas, which continued firing over the border.
The moves came after world powers met in Paris to mull ways of ending 20 days of bloodshed raging in and around Gaza that has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Palestinians and 46 people in Israel.
Following a late-night decision by the Israeli security cabinet to extend the pause in fighting for another 24 hours in line with a U.N. request, Gaza residents enjoyed their first quiet night in three weeks.
|French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (left) speaks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (center) and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a press conference after their meeting regarding a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, Saturday, at the foreign ministry in Paris. (AFP-Yonhap)|
But Israel’s decision to cease hostilities until 2100 GMT on Sunday night was not reciprocated by Hamas, which said it would not halt its fire without Israeli armor first withdrawing from the Palestinian enclave.
“No humanitarian cease-fire is valid without Israeli tanks withdrawing from the Gaza Strip,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said.
Both Israel and Hamas had respected a 12-hour lull on Saturday, but shortly afterwards, Hamas militants fired a barrage of rockets and mortars, one of which killed a soldier, the army said.
And the rocket fire carried on overnight, with at least eight striking southern Israel since midnight while another two were shot down, the army said, stressing there had been no military response in over 12 hours.
“We will continue to respect the humanitarian pause. There has not been any Israeli raids despite the rocket fire,” a spokeswoman said, indicating the last response was a burst of artillery fire.
Shortly afterward, however, Israel said it was resuming its military operations.
“Following Hamas’ incessant rocket fire throughout the humanitarian window, which was agreed upon for the welfare of the civilian population in Gaza, the IDF (army) will now resume its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip,” a statement said.
The Palestinian death toll, which had soared over 1,000 on Saturday, rose again on Sunday, with shellfire killing three people in central and southern Gaza, medical officials said.
Shortly after the initial 12-hour pause drew to a close, Hamas resumed its cross-border fire on southern and central Israel.
One mortar shell killed an Israeli soldier, the army said after announcing the deaths of two more soldiers who had succumbed to wounds sustained earlier in the week.
The latest deaths raised to 43 the overall number of troops killed in the past nine days since the army began the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge in order to destroy a sophisticated network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.
Two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have also been killed by rocket fire.
In Gaza, the toll soared over 1,000 Saturday with the 12-hour lull in fighting allowing medical teams to dig out at least 147 bodies from under the rubble of countless destroyed buildings hit in Israel’s intensive military bombardment which began on July 8.
People also ventured out to stock up on supplies and quickly return to homes they had fled to pick up more belongings.
In many places they found devastation: buildings levelled, and entire blocks of homes wiped out by the Israeli bombardment.
World leaders had urged the two sides to build on Saturday’s truce to enable negotiations for a longer-term cease-fire, with Israel’s security cabinet to again Sunday to discuss the matter.
In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met European and Middle Eastern foreign ministers Saturday to push both sides to extend the temporary cessation of hostilities.
“We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian cease-fire,” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after meeting with Kerry and counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar, as well as an EU representative.
The situation in Gaza has also created tension in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, where protests erupted after Friday prayers and again Saturday, with a total of eight Palestinians shot dead by Israeli soldiers and settlers.