Eid brings lull in Gaza fighting as UN Security Council calls for Gaza ceasefire

Pressure on both sides to end confrontation which has killed over 1,000

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 July, 2014, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2014, 10:38am

Fighting subsided in war-torn Gaza yesterday at the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr as world powers ramped up pressure on the warring sides to immediately end their 21-day confrontation.

US President Barack Obama phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the night to demand an "immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire", in a call echoed hours later by the UN Security Council.

As diplomatic efforts intensified to broker an end to the bloodletting which has claimed over a thousand lives, both sides appeared to have settled into an undeclared ceasefire arrangement with the skies over Gaza calm for a second night running.

Watch: Palestinians honour Gaza victims during Eid festival

The army said only one rocket had struck Israel since midnight, hitting the southern port city of Ashkelon, while in Gaza, an AFP correspondent confirmed there had been no Israeli air strikes during the night.

Military spokesman General Moti Almoz described the overnight calm as "an unlimited lull" but warned that the army was ready to resume its activity at any time.

Shortly afterwards, two Palestinians, including four-year-old Samih Ijneid, were killed when Israeli tanks opened fire near the northern town of Jabalia, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Three other Palestinians succumbed to their wounds during the night, raising the overall death toll in Gaza to 1,037.

There was little mood for celebration in Gaza City as the three-day festival of Eid ul-Fitr that ends the holy month of Ramadan got under way.

Several hours earlier, the UN Security Council had appealed for both sides to accept an "immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire" to permit the urgent delivery of aid, in a non-binding statement which elicited disappointment from the Palestinian envoy.

The UN statement came after Obama phoned Netanyahu to stress "the strategic imperative" of implementing an immediate humanitarian truce.

The diplomatic pressure increased after both Israel and Hamas had observed a 12-hour lull on Saturday.

Although Israel initially responded to an international demand to extend the ceasefire, holding its fire for another 14 hours, Hamas snubbed the call and continued firing rockets over the border, one of which killed a soldier.

Several hours after Israel resumed its military operations, Hamas made a belated call for a 24-hour ceasefire which never materialised.

But overnight, calm appeared to have been restored, with both sides apparently respecting an unspoken lull, although there was no formal announcement to that effect.

Despite the relative calm on the ground, a diplomatic row was brewing between Israel and Washington over US efforts to end the violence, which on Friday saw the Israeli cabinet rejecting a truce proposal laid out by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Very senior officials in Jerusalem described the proposal that Kerry put on the table as a 'strategic terrorist attack'," Ari Shavit wrote in Haaretz, saying the anger was over his decision to reportedly formulate an initiative along the lines proposed by Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar.

"Israel was very close last night to a decision to announce a unilateral ceasefire," wrote Nahum Barnea in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.

"And then came Obama's telephone call to Netanyahu, and the tension between the Israeli government and the US administration turned into a crisis, which is now threatening to disrupt the path to a ceasefire."