Five-hour ceasefire between Israel and Gaza holds, may lead to more

But confusion reigns on whether more lasting end to Palestinian-Israeli clash will begin today

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 9:50am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 11:07pm

Gaza residents rushed to banks, vegetable markets and shops yesterday during a first UN-brokered lull in 10 days of Israel-Hamas fighting, but a quick resumption in hostilities after it ended signaled that a permanent truce remains elusive.

Hamas fired 10 rockets at Israel after the end of the temporary truce, while Israel launched two airstrikes at the Gaza Strip, security officials said.

An official said senior Israeli negotiators in Cairo had approved a full truce to end 10 days of warfare but a final decision lay with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he had spoken with Netanyahu and added: "We are not familiar with the matter."

A spokesman for the Islamist Hamas rulers of Gaza denied initial comments by the Israeli official that a full ceasefire was slated to start this morning.

The Israeli military said a rocket struck Ashkelon at precisely 3pm, when the five-hour pause in military activity officially ended. The truce was called for by the United Nations to allow civilians to resupply provisions.

Witnesses said Israeli warplanes struck an open area in northern Gaza in the first airstrike since the end of a fragile five-hour truce. The strike in Beit Lahiya hit an open area, causing no injuries.

Netanyahu yesterday indicated a ground invasion was still being considered, just months after US-sponsored peace talks broke down. Israel's Channel 10 said Israeli officials were meeting Egyptian and Palestinian teams in Cairo to seek ways to achieve an end to the fighting, which was in its tenth day and had left one Israeli and at least 227 Palestinians dead.

Israel Radio said Netanyahu's government had authorised the mobilisation of 8,000 more reservists on top of 41,000 already called up. Officials declined to confirm the report.

Netanyahu also said his top mission was to rid Gaza of its weapons and end rocket attacks.

"The most important thing vis-a-vis Gaza is to ensure that Gaza is demilitarised," he said.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said it was investigating after finding 20 rockets hidden in one of its vacant schools in the Gaza Strip.

It condemned the incident as a "flagrant violation" of international law and said the rockets had been removed and the "relative parties" informed.

Israel has clashed with Gaza militants repeatedly since ending a 38-year occupation in 2005, while curbing the movement of people and goods through control of shared border crossings.

Israeli planes had struck about 1,900 targets since last week and Hamas had fired more than 1,361 rockets, the military said.

Shlomo Brom, a retired general, predicted Israel would not rush into a ground offensive.

Political and military leaders "don't really see the utility of a limited ground attack, and think the risks of a more wide-scale offensive outweigh the benefits," said Brom, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Bloomberg, Reuters, Agence France-Presse