JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said three rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel despite a proposed extension of a humanitarian truce in the Gaza war.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group rejected Israel’s proposal to extend an original 12-hour lull by four hours, until midnight (2100 GMT) Saturday.
The military says the three rockets were fired more than an hour after the period for the initial lull had ended.
Meanwhile, Israel on Saturday extended a 12-hour humanitarian truce in the Gaza war by four hours, the longest lull in 19 days of Israel-Hamas fighting, as a Gaza health official said the overall number of Palestinians killed surpassed 1,000.
Thousands of Gaza residents who fled the violence streamed back to devastated border areas during Saturday’s truce to find large-scale destruction: fighting had pulverized scores of homes, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets.
In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, Siham Kafarneh, 37, sat on the steps of a small grocery, weeping. The mother of eight said the home she had spent 10 years saving up for and moved into two months earlier had been destroyed.
“Nothing is left. Everything I have is gone,” she said.
Across Gaza, more than 130 bodies were pulled from the rubble on Saturday, officials said. In southern Gaza, 20 members of an extended family were killed before the start of the lull when a tank shell hit a building where they had sought refuge, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
Israel launched a major air campaign in Gaza on July 8 and later sent ground troops into the Hamas-ruled territory in an operation it said was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire and destroying cross-border tunnels used for attacks.
More than 1,000 people, mainly civilians, have been killed and more than 6,000 have been wounded over the past 19 days, al-Kidra said. Israeli strikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 in targeted hits, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee, according to Palestinian rights groups.
More than 160,000 displaced Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of United Nations schools, an eight-fold increase since the start of Israel’s ground operation more than a week ago, the UN said.
Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way. Israel has lost 40 soldiers and two civilians, and a Thai worker also has been killed.
“There is no proof that any kind of gratuitous damage is being inflicted,” said Israeli legislator Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party. Israeli troops are “fighting with an enemy dug in within the civilian population, dug in underground or within the houses there,” he said, adding that “those are the consequences of such a fight.”
Later Saturday, the UN asked Israel to extend the humanitarian truce by 24 hours, according to a text message by an Israeli government official who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss it.
The Israeli Cabinet voted by phone to agree to a four-hour extension and to consider the UN request at a Cabinet meeting later Saturday, the message said. The cease-fire now is scheduled last until midnight (2100 GMT) with the extension.
In Paris, US secretary of state John Kerry met with European foreign ministers and later with foreign ministers from Qatar and Turkey to find ways of building on Saturday’s lull.
On Friday, Israel rejected a proposal by Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon to halt fire for a week and to begin talks during this period on easing the border blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Hamas has said it would not halt fire until it won guarantees that the border blockade, enforced by Israel and Egypt, would be lifted.
Any new border arrangements for Gaza would likely give a role to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the main political rival of Hamas.
Hamas had seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, triggering the Gaza blockade by Israel and Egypt. However, Abbas, who heads the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, reached a power-sharing deal earlier this year with Hamas. Under the deal, a government of technocrats headed by Abbas was to prepare for new elections in the West Bank and Gaza.
Egypt wants forces loyal to Abbas to be posted on the Gaza side of the mutual border before considering open the Rafah crossing there, Gaza’s main gate to the world.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he and his counterparts from other nations are calling on both sides to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire.
Such a truce should meet Israeli security concerns, but also “the Palestinians’ expectations in terms of economic development and access to Gaza,” he said. “We are convinced of the need to involve the Palestinian Authority in achieving these objectives.”
For now, Israel appeared to be extending the truce on its own terms, saying it would continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border, as it has done in recent days.
The Israeli military said that through Saturday’s lull, troops uncovered four more tunnel shafts and said they would continue such activities.
There was no Hamas reaction to Israel’s extension. It was not clear if
A Hamas spokesman, Mushir al-Masri, speaking before the Israeli decision, said that the group would consider an extension of the truce as long as “it does not mean that we retreat from our known demands.”
The Israeli military said three mortar shells from Gaza landed in Israel after 8pm on Saturday. Israel’s military did not immediately respond.