Israeli army asks residents to leave Gaza City as attacks resume
Pressure on both sides to end confrontation which has killed over 1,000
The Israeli army yesterday sent messages to thousands of Palestinians living near Gaza City to flee shortly after a mortar shell killed at least four people in Israel.
"A short while ago, phonecalls were made and text messages were sent out to the civilian population of Shejaiyah, Zeitun and eastern Jabaliya calling on them to evacuate immediately towards central Gaza City," the army said, referring to three areas to the north, south and east of Gaza City. Such warnings usually presage a military attack.
It came as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reinforced the Security Council's call for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire and demanded that Israel and Hamas end the violence "in the name of humanity".
The UN chief accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal of being irresponsible. "Gaza is in critical condition" after pummeling by Israeli forces that had killed helpless civilians and raised "serious questions about proportionality", Ban said.
A Palestinian health official said 10 people, including children were killed when a Gaza park was attacked. Israelis and the Palestinians traded blame for the strike.
Fighting had subsided in war-torn Gaza earlier yesterday at the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr.
Israeli 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.
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 US President Barack Obama phoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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, though there was no formal agreement.
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 [President Barack] 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."
Additional reporting by Associated Press