Israel agreed to a United Nations request to extend a temporary halt to Gaza Strip fighting until midnight even as Hamas rejected it and launched rockets at Israel.
The break in hostilities was intended to give Palestinians an opportunity to venture out of their homes to stock up on supplies, bury their dead, and repair water and energy infrastructure damaged in nearly three weeks of violence. About 1,150 Palestinians have been killed and more than 160,000 have been displaced in fighting that has also left 45 Israelis and a Thai worker in Israel dead.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said “any truce that doesn’t guarantee Israel’s pullout from Gaza and the return of the homeless to their homes is unacceptable.” The army said more than two dozen rockets and mortar shells have struck Israel since the initial cease-fire agreement ended at 8 p.m. yesterday. One civilian was severely wounded, police said.
During the cease-fire, Israel will act against violations, said an Israeli official, who spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. The military can also use the time to seek and destroy infiltration tunnels Hamas built under Gaza’s border with southern Israel, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said today.
“If it’s possible to deal with the tunnels while not under fire, while there is no fighting, that will be quicker and more efficient than while under fire,” Steinitz told Israel Radio. “But our bigger goal here is the demilitarization of Gaza.”
The third conflict between the sides in six years deepened last week after the Israeli military added to its air bombardment by sending troops into the territory. Israeli financial markets have been mostly unaffected, with the benchmark stock index little changed and the shekel approaching a three-year high.
The temporary truce was sought after neither side agreed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s plan for a week-long cease-fire, designed to allow time for talks on a sustainable settlement. Israel says its offensive aims to end the barrage of rockets fired at its towns from Gaza and destroy the tunnels, including four it uncovered yesterday. Hamas says Israel’s economic embargo on Gaza must end as part of any deal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet will meet before the extension runs out at midnight to assess the situation and decide how to proceed, the Israeli official said.
The high death toll triggered a demonstration calling for an end to the hostilities in Tel Aviv yesterday, attended by an estimated 2,000 Israelis who had to fight through a crowd supporting a continued offensive. The demonstration was called off after Hamas renewed rocket fire.