GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) ― Israel was observing a temporary unilateral truce in most of the Gaza Strip on Monday amid world outrage over a deadly strike on a U.N. school in the besieged Palestinian territory.
But Hamas, the de facto rulers of Gaza, said they would not be reciprocating the announced seven-hour lull and warned residents “to take the utmost caution” when venturing out.
Several previous pauses to allow the battered residents of Gaza to stock up and medics to reach the dead and wounded in no-go areas have come to swift and bloody ends.
Minutes after the lull went into effect at 0700 GMT, 30 people were wounded in a strike on a house in the beachfront Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, Palestinian medics said, demonstrating the fragility of the cease-fire arrangement.
|Palestinians grieve over the death of their relative killed in an Israeli strike, in the Kuwaiti hospital in Rafah refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Sunday. (AP-Yonhap)|
The truce was announced amid a growing chorus of international outrage over an Israeli strike next to a U.N. school that killed 10 people, among them refugees who had been seeking refugee from the violence.
The army said the seven-hour “humanitarian window” would be observed across all of the Palestinian enclave except east of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where troops were still operating and clashes were under way.
It also said residents of two villages east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza could return home in another sign of troops pulling back in an apparent unilateral withdrawal.
It warned however that it would “respond to any attempt to exploit this window” through launching attacks against Israeli civilians or soldiers during the truce, which officials said was the eighth that Israel has declared since the confrontation began on July 8.
Hamas dismissed the truce announcement as a publicity stunt, advising people to remain cautious.
“The unilateral cease-fire announced by Israel is an attempt to divert the attention from Israeli massacres,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, referring to the strike on a U.N. school and a punishing attack on Rafah over the weekend.
Sunday’s strike on a U.N. school where around 3,000 homeless Palestinians had been sheltering was the third such incident in 10 days and drew fierce condemnation from around the world.
The Israeli army acknowledged targeting three Islamic Jihad militants on a motorbike “in vicinity of an UNRWA school” in the city, saying it was investigating the consequences.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack “a moral outrage and a criminal act” and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was “appalled,” demanding a “full and prompt” investigation.
“Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties,” she said.
French President Francois Hollande described the incident as “unacceptable,” and demanded those responsible be held accountable.
Early Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel did not intentionally hit civilians and apologized for any harm done to them.
“Israel does not aim its fire at civilians and is sorry for any attack that unintentionally hits civilians,” he said.
Ahead of the truce, Israel early Monday launched further strikes on Gaza, killing at least 16 people, including an Islamic Jihad commander, and raising the Palestinian death toll to since July to 1,829, Palestinian medics said.
Since midnight, militants fired nine rockets, with seven hitting Israel and two more intercepted, the military said Monday.
The violence has claimed the lives of 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians who were killed by rocket fire.
The truce arrangement came as the conflict entered its 28th day, with repeated efforts to end the bloodshed leading nowhere.
In Cairo, a Palestinian delegation was holding talks with U.S. and Egyptian officials, but Israel turned down an invitation to attend.
The Palestinians, who met Sunday to hammer out a common position, are demanding that Israel pull all of its troops from Gaza, end its eight-year blockade of the enclave and open border crossings, a delegation official said.
Netanyahu has vowed the operation will continue for as long as needed and with as much force as necessary, although he said the military would reassess its options after completing the destruction of a sophisticated network of attack tunnels.
On Sunday, the army confirmed it had begun withdrawing some troops from Gaza, and redeploying others, telling AFP the operation was “changing gear.”