GAZA/JERUSALEM: Fighting subsided in Gaza yesterday after Hamas Islamist militants said they backed a 24-hour humanitarian truce and US President Barack Obama called for a ceasefire but there was no sign of any comprehensive deal to end fighting with Israel.
Hamas said it had endorsed a call by the United Nations for a pause in the fighting in light of the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid Al Fitr, which begins today.
Some firing of rockets continued after the time that Hamas had announced it would put its guns aside and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu questioned the validity of the truce.
Obama spoke by phone yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and stressed the need for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, the White House said.
Urging a permanent end to hostilities on the basis of the 2012 ceasefire agreement, Obama added that “ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”
Israeli artillery guns also fired barrages into the Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported.
“Hamas doesn’t even accept its own ceasefire, it’s continuing to fire at us as we speak,” Netanyahu said in an interview with CNN, adding that Israel would “take whatever action is necessary to protect our people”.
Nonetheless, Gaza Strip residents and witnesses said Israeli shelling and Hamas missile launches had slowly subsided through the afternoon, suggesting a de facto truce might be taking shape as international efforts to broker a permanent ceasefire appeared to flounder.
However, Israel’s military has said it will need more time to destroy a warren of tunnels criss-crossing the Gaza border that it says is one of its main objectives.
Egypt had also destroyed 13 tunnels which crossed into its territory, an Egyptian general said on his Facebook page. It was “a continuation of the efforts by the armed forces in protecting the borders of the state from smugglers and terrorists,” Brigadier General Mohamed Samir Abdulaziz Ghoneim said.
Israel and the Hamas Islamists who control Gaza had agreed to a 12-hour ceasefire on Saturday to allow Palestinians to stock up on supplies and retrieve bodies from under the rubble.
Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to extend the truce until midnight yesterday at the request of the United Nations, but called it off when Hamas launched rockets into Israel during the morning.
Palestinian medics said at least 10 people had died in the subsequent strikes that swept Gaza.
Some 1,031 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, have been killed in the 20-day conflict. A Gaza health ministry official issued revised figures, saying that 30 fewer people than thought had died in the conflict.
Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire out of the Mediterranean enclave.
The military said an investigation into an attack last Thursday on a UN-run school in which 15 people were killed showed that a single errant mortar shell landed in an empty courtyard, denying it was responsible for the deaths.
The main UN agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said 167,269 displaced Palestinians have taken shelter in its schools and buildings, following repeated calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighbourhoods ahead of military operations.
But in southern Gaza, residents of villages near the town of Khan Younis attacked the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, torching furniture and causing damage, saying the organisation had not done enough to help them.