26 Jul 2014

Plea for extended truce in Gaza

11:06 pm on 26 July 2014

Residents in Gaza have used a 12-hour humanitarian truce to return to their homes, gather essential supplies and search for those trapped in the rubble.

Gaza's health ministry says 60 bodies have been recovered, with 35 already brought to the Shifa Hospital morgue, the BBC reports.

During the brief respite, banks reopened in Gaza and much-needed maintenance work was carried out on damaged infrastructure.

The Palestinian death toll now stands at 935, officials say, since Israel began strikes against Hamas on 8 July. Most of those killed were civilians, many of them children.

Thirty-eight Israelis have died, three of them civilians.

International talks on a longer truce are resuming in Paris.

The 12 -hour truce began at 4pm on Saturday, New Zealand time. The temporary ceasefire was mediated by the United Nations.

Israel's military said it will hold fire during that time but will continue searching for tunnels used by Palestinian fighters.

A spokesperson for the Islamist group Hamas, which governs Gaza, said all Palestinian factions will abide by the brief truce.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry, on a visit to the region, is leading international efforts to end the conflict.

Despite failure on Friday to agree a longer-term deal, Mr Kerry and foreign ministers from the European Union, Turkey and Qatar are meeting in Paris for more talks.

The bombed out Shejaiya district of Gaza City.

Palestinians survey the rubble of the bombed out Shejaiya district in Gaza City. Photo: AFP

The BBC's Ian Pannell reports that in the district of Shejaiya, which was heavily bombed by Israel several days ago, residents have started flooding back, despite warnings not to do so.

He said there is widespread destruction, with buildings completely pulverised, cars thrown 50m into the air on top of buildings, and the facades of some blocks of flats completely ripped off.

He says the air is thick with the stench of death as people try to recover bodies and belongings, despite ongoing gunfire in the distance and Israeli fighter jets and drones continuing to fly overhead.

More deaths before ceasefire

Fighting continued ahead of the ceasefire. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) said it had killed a senior member of the militant group Islamic Jihad on Friday.

Israeli tank shelling also killed 18 Palestinians from a single family in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, the Gaza health ministry said, shortly before the truce went into effect.

Spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qidra said that the 18 members of the Al-Najar family had been trapped inside their house in Khuzaa village east of Khan Younis since Thursday, and many others were wounded in Israeli tank shelling.

An Israeli strike on Gaza City.

Debris and smoke fill the air during an Israeli strike on Gaza City on 26 July. Photo: AFP

Earlier, a barrage of rockets was fired out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel.

No injuries were reported, with the Iron Dome interceptor system knocking out many of the missiles.

Hopes for longer truce

Efforts to negotiate a longer truce are ongoing, with the Americans calling for a seven day humanitarian ceasefire for next week's Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Mr Kerry told a news conference in Cairo there were still disagreements on the terminology for truce. He said he was still confident of a longer ceasefire, despite media reports that Israel had rejected one proposal.

Hamas has previously said it would not agree to any long-term truce that did not lead to an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

In an interview with the BBC, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said the group wants a truce as soon as possible, but with a genuine guarantee to lift the eight-year long siege.

He said that Palestinians in Gaza wanted to live without the Israeli and Egyptian blockade and open up to the world. In the current situation he said the people were "being punished with a slow death in the world's biggest prison".

The news of a temporary ceasefire came shortly after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that ground operations in Gaza could soon be broadened "significantly", the BBC reports.

Mr Yaalon told soldiers: "You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will instruct the military to significantly broaden the ground operation in Gaza".

People gather around the wreckage of a car after it was hit by an Israeli strike in Gaza city.

People gather around the wreckage of a car after it was hit by an Israeli strike in Gaza city. Photo: AFP

Israel launched its military offensive on 8 July with the declared objective of stopping Hamas firing rockets into Israel.

It has since extended its operation to destroy tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate Israel.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for a humanitarian corridor to be set up in Gaza to allow aid workers to evacuate the wounded and bring in life-saving medicines.

The WHO and Red Cross said some sick and injured in the Palestinian enclave are dying because of a lack of access to health facilities, or specialised treatment.

The agencies have discussed a humanitarian corridor with Israeli and Egyptian officials.