GAZA CITY: Palestinian resistance group Hamas fired more rockets at Israel on Sunday, despite claims it had accepted a UN request for a 24-hour extension of a humanitarian truce in war-torn Gaza.
Hamas’s belated acceptance of diplomatic calls for a temporary ceasefire was announced several hours after Israel resumed a devastating military assault on the besieged Palestinian enclave after a pause of more than 24 hours. Although Hamas said its fighters would halt their fire from 1100 GMT in response to a request from the United Nations, there was no response from Israel. And rocket fire continued, with 22 striking the radical Jewish state after the reported truce went into effect, an army spokeswoman told AFP, adding that another five were intercepted.
“They are violating their own ceasefire,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed on CNN news network. In a separate interview with CBS, he said Israel would not allow “a ruthless terror organisation... to decide when it’s convenient for them to stop for a moment, rearm, and continue firing on our citizens and our people”. The abortive Hamas announcement came shortly after Israel said it would no longer abide by a unilateral ceasefire while coming under “incessant” fire from Gaza.
Shortly afterwards, Israeli troops resumed their punishing air strikes and tank shelling on civilians areas, killing 11 people across the territory, including an elderly Christian woman, medics said. Another three people also succumbed to their wounds, raising the Palestinian toll on day 20 of Israel’s devastating military campaign to 1,031, Gaza’s emergency services said, revising downward an earlier count in the wake of more detailed identification of body parts.
The renewed violence came after a rare 12-hour cessation in hostilities on Saturday, which was respected by both sides, with world powers urging both Israel and Hamas to extend the temporary truce by another 24 hours. But Saturday’s relative calm quickly became a distant memory. “I was praying at church when my father called me and told me to go home quickly,” said Antonio Ayad, a Christian whose elderly mother was killed when an Israeli missile hit their home in western Gaza City.
“They are targeting Christians in Gaza,” he said. “I’m not Hamas, I’m not Fatah – I don’t belong to any Palestinian faction. Where is the world? Where is the pope?” he asked. In Rome, Pope Francis pleaded for an end to the bloodshed which has killed more than 1,000 victims, mostly civilians, around a quarter of them children. “Stop, please stop! I beg you with all my heart,” he said in the weekly Angelus prayer. Following Saturday’s humanitarian lull, which was respected by both sides, Israel’s security cabinet agreed to extend the truce by 24 hours, but Hamas rejected the move, firing rockets over the border, one of which killed a soldier.
Israel said it was resuming operations following “incessant” Hamas rocket fire. Shortly afterwards, the skies of Gaza were filled with the familiar sound of explosions, as plumes of black smoke rose on the horizon, an AFP correspondent in Gaza City said. Ambulance sirens wailed as medics sprang into action, cars racing down streets which quickly emptied of people who had ventured out to make the most of the lull. For Israelis, the quiet skies had ended late on Saturday with air raid warnings sounding along the coastal plain as rockets hit the south and centre, killing a soldier and raising to 43 the number of troops killed since the July 17 start of a ground operation statedly to destroy tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.
Quoting pollsters Mina Tzemah, Israeli army radio said 86.5 percent of Israelis opposed any ceasefire. “It is clear that Hamas isn’t interested in this ceasefire so I think we should renew the fighting and maybe even more so,” said Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, a security cabinet member. “After what we’ve seen last night and this morning, I’m fairly certain that we should renew our fire even more strongly,” he said.
Israel’s indiscriminate attacks in Gaza have stoked tensions amongst Palestinians in mainly occupied Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Medics said eight Palestinian civilians were killed on Friday by Israel near the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron - the sort of death toll reminiscent of previous uprisings against Israel’s prolonged military occupation there.
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