Gaza truce in peril after Hamas 'resumes its attacks on Israel'

Gaza truce in peril after Hamas 'resumes its attacks on Israel'

Rocket fire from Gaza resumed on Saturday night with warning sirens sounding across central and southern Israel in an apparent rebuff by Hamas of attempts to extend a 12-hour humanitarian truce, a snub that could risk escalating the war, the Guardian reported.

Thousands of people in Gaza ventured out from homes and shelters on Saturday to find that whole streets and neighbourhoods had been destroyed in the past week after Israel and Hamas both agreed to a UN request to cease military activity from 8am until 8pm. But Hamas's armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, said that it had resumed rocket fire despite reports that Israel had agreed to a four-hour extension of the truce.

The renewed attacks - and an unconfirmed report that a Palestinian in southern Gaza was killed by Israeli tank fire after the 8pm end-of-truce deadline - followed an appeal by the foreign ministers of seven nations to extend the 12-hour pause in fighting. Despite the breach, late on Saturday night Israel's security cabinet approved an extension of the ceasefire until midnight local time on Sunday. This was at the request of the UN, an Israeli government official said, adding that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) would act against any breach. Envoys from the US, France, Britain, Italy, Germany, Turkey and Qatar had gathered in Paris to call for an extension of the 12-hour humanitarian truce.

The group convened, with a senior EU representative, at the request of US secretary of state John Kerry, who failed to win backing from Israel or Hamas for a week-long truce on Friday. There were no envoys from Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian Authority in attendance.

"All of us call on the parties to extend the military ceasefire that is currently under way," said French foreign minister Laurent Fabius. "All of us want to obtain, as quickly as possible, a durable, negotiated ceasefire that responds both to Israeli needs in terms of security and to Palestinian needs in terms of the social-economic development [of Gaza] and access to the territory of Gaza."

The UK foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said: "The necessity right now is to stop the loss of life. And we stop the loss of life by getting this ceasefire to roll over for 12 hours, 24 hours or 48 hours - and then again until we have established the level of confidence that allows the parties to sit around a table to talk about the substantive issues."

In Gaza, as the Palestinian death toll in the 19-day conflict topped 1,000, scenes of devastation were discovered by those who returned to areas that had been the centre of particularly intense fighting. Eighty-five corpses were pulled from rubble, many of them partially decomposed, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

Shortly before the ceasefire, at least 16 members of one family, including several children, had been killed in an air strike in Khan Younis, in the south of the Gaza Strip. The family had recently fled there to escape fighting in a nearby village, according to a Palestinian health official.

On Saturday tens of thousands of people marched through London to protest against Israel's military campaign, making clear their anger outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington, west London, before marching on to Westminster.

Condemnation of both Israel and Hamas has intensified. Former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw described Israel's actions as amoral and deeply damaging to its own cause. "It is time for Israel to stop," he told the Observer. "Both because what it is doing is abjectly amoral but also in terms of its own self-preservation. Its actions are doing incremental damage to everything Israel is supposed to stand for."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said the Israelis were using sophisticated weaponry against innocent civilians when they could have deployed them in a more targeted way to limit loss of life.

But another former foreign secretary, the Tory MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind, refused to single out Israel, saying both sides must agree an unconditional ceasefire. "I would like to see that, but it can't be observed by one side alone," he said.

Kerry had expressed confidence on Friday that there was a framework for a ceasefire agreement which could ultimately succeed, saying "serious progress" had been made, although he admitted there was more work to do. He has led international efforts to reach a truce along with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, while keeping in regular contact with the Turkish and Qatari foreign ministers, who have been acting as interlocutors with Hamas.

But there were also signals that if the ceasefire ended, the fighting could intensify. Israel's defence minister, Moshe Ya'alon, said: "At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future. You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will order the military to significantly broaden ground activity in Gaza."

Israeli troops have so far discovered 31 tunnels in Gaza, destroying half of them. Israel says the tunnels are intended to be used to launch cross-border attacks. The Israeli government also wants Hamas to be prevented from rearming as a condition for a permanent ceasefire.

Hamas says it will not halt its rocket fire without firm guarantees that Gaza's seven-year border blockade will be lifted. The violence has spread to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in recent days. Nine Palestinians have been killed and hundreds more wounded as protests over the bloodshed in Gaza have erupted into clashes with Israeli security forces.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation called for more demonstrations in the West Bank and said it was helping to try to secure a ceasefire deal.

At least 6,000 people have also been injured in the war. The UN said more than 160,000 people had sought shelter in its buildings, with thousands more fleeing their homes to stay with relatives and friends in seemingly safer areas.

The IDF said 40 of its soldiers had died. Three civilians were also killed in rocket attacks on Israel. UK development secretary Justine Greening has pledged £2m of extra emergency funds to the UN Relief and Works Agency's Gaza flash appeal.

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