GAZA/JERUSALEM: US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that there were still disagreements on the terminology for a Gaza truce and called for a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire for the Eid Al Fitr holiday next week.
“We are working toward a brief seven days of peace. Seven days of a humanitarian ceasefire in honour of Eid in order to be able to bring people together to try to work to create a more durable, sustainable ceasefire for the long (term),” Kerry told a news conference in Cairo.
Senior Hamas official Ezzat El Rishiq who is in the group’s political wing based in Cairo said on his Twitter account that the seven-day ceasefire was “under study in motion.”
Another Hamas official, Mohamed Nazzal, told Al Jazeera television that the current “initiative in this form is not acceptable at all.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri backed the call for a pause in fighting for Eid. Ban said it could start with an extendable 12-hour stoppage.
A US official said later that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Kerry that Israel will begin a 12-hour pause in Gaza hostilities starting at 7 am Israeli time today. The Israeli government did not immediately comment on the report.
The search for a breakthrough will continue in Paris today when France hosts diplomats from the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, the European Union, Turkey and Qatar, a French diplomatic source said.
Gaza officials said Israeli strikes killed 55 people yesterday, including the head of media operations for Hamas ally Islamic Jihad and his son. They put the number of Palestinian deaths in 18 days of conflict at 844, most of them civilians.
Militants fired a barrage of rockets out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel, including at the country’s main airport. No injuries were reported, with the Iron Dome interceptor system knocking out many of the missiles.
The Gaza turmoil has stoked tensions in the nearby occupied West Bank.
Medics said six Palestinians were killed in separate incidents near the cities of Nablus and Hebron, including one shooting that witnesses blamed on an apparent Jewish settler.
On Thursday night, 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza near the Palestinian administrative capital Ramallah - a scale recalling mass revolts of the past.
Protesters surged against an Israeli army checkpoint, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and Palestinian medics said one was shot dead and 200 wounded when troops opened fire.
Israel said three more of its soldiers were killed in Gaza yesterday, bringing the army death toll to 35, as troops battled militants in the north, east and south of Gaza.
It also announced that a soldier unaccounted for after an ambush in Gaza six days ago was definitely dead, although his body had not been recovered. Hamas said on Sunday it had captured the man, but did not release a photograph of him.
Three civilians have also been killed in Israel by rockets from Gaza.
A Palestinian official close to the negotiations said Turkey and Qatar had proposed a seven-day halt to the fighting, which had been relayed to Israel by Kerry while Hamas considered it.
Israel insisted that, even if such a ceasefire was agreed, its army should continue destroying tunnels along Gaza’s eastern frontier, a mission that could take between one and two weeks.
The World Health Organisation called yesterday for a humanitarian corridor to be set up in Gaza to allow aid workers to evacuate the wounded and bring in life-saving medicines.
“People are dying at an alarming rate, being injured at a very alarming rate,” Jens Laerke of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.