2014-08-01 02:08:05

Fighting reported despite 72-hour ceasefire in the Gaza Strip

More bloodshed has been reported in the Gaza Strip after Israel and the Islamist militant group Hamas agreed to observe a 72-hour ceasefire. Previous truces in Israel's offensive have had limited success.
Just hours into the latest ceasefire meant to give Palestinian civilians a chance to stock up on supplies and bury their dead, there were reports of heavy exchanges between the Israel Defense Forces and Islamist militants in the south of the territory.

News agencies and other media cited Palestinian sources who said that at least four people had been killed after Israeli tanks opened fire near the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The Reuters news agency quoted an official with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, who accused Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups of "flagrantly" violating the ceasefire. However, the official did not provide any details.

This came despite a US and UN-brokered ceasefire,which had come into effect at 8:00 a.m. local time (0500 UTC) on Friday morning. Heavy fighting had continued up until the start of the truce, with at least 14 more Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers killed early on Friday.

The truce appeared to hold for a couple of hours after it began, with Palestinians out on the streets in large numbers for the first time in days.

The ceasefire had caught some by surprise when it was announced simultaneously at United Nations headquarters in New York and in New Delhi early on Friday,# where US Secretary of State John Kerry has been meeting with officials from India's new government.

At a hastily called press conference, Kerry warned that while he was pleased that the parties to the conflict had agreed to the truce, the conflict was far from over.

"This is not a time for congratulations and joy, or anything except a serious determination, a focus, by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead," Kerry said shortly after the deal was struck. "This is a respite. It's a moment of opportunity, not an end; it's not a solution. It's the opportunity to find the solution."

To this end, Egypt has called on the Israelis and the Palestinians, including Hamas, to enter talks in Cairo aimed at reaching a more durable ceasefire.

The Associated Press cited an Egyptian statement issued on Friday in which it said the negotiations were to discuss "all issues of concern to each party within the framework of the Egyptian initiative."

Egypt has been trying to broker an end to the fighting for weeks. Previous shorter, temporary ceasefires have been only partially successful, with some unraveling immediately after coming into effect.

Under the terms of the ceasefire, both sides agreed to end all offensive operations and conduct only defensive operations. For Israel, this meant that troops remained on the ground in Gaza and that they could continue to destroy tunnels used by Palestinian militants. However, they were only meant to do so behind their own lines.

The Palestinian death toll from Israel's more than three-week long offensive on the Gaza Strip climbed to more than 1,450, the vast majority of whom were civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry. Around 60 Israelis have been killed, most of them soldiers.

(agencies, imedia)

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