People carry the dead body of a Palestinian in Beit Hanoun, which witnesses said was hit heavily by Israeli shelling and air strikes, in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Update | Dozens of bodies found in Gaza during 12-hour truce raising death toll to at least 985

Temporary humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza as international diplomats meet to discuss more permanent solution to the conflict with Unicef saying 192 children have perished so far

The bodies of dozens of Palestinians were pulled from the ruins of bombed-out homes in Gaza on Saturday during a brief truce that top diplomats meeting in Paris urged Israel and Hamas to extend.

More than halfway into a 12-hour ceasefire that began early on Saturday, medics said 85 bodies had been retrieved from buildings ground into rubble across the Gaza Strip.

“We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius

US Secretary of State John Kerry meanwhile met with counterparts from Europe and the Middle East in Paris, who urged that the ceasefire be extended.

“We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire,” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters after meeting Kerry and counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar and Turkey, as well as an EU representative.

On the ground in Gaza, ambulances sped along roads to neighbourhoods that have been too dangerous to enter for days.

Just over halfway through the truce, they had already found the bodies of 85 people in the rubble, pushing the death toll to 985 Palestinians killed in the coastal enclave since the conflict began on July 8.

On the Israeli side, 37 soldiers have been killed, along with two Israeli civilians and Thai foreign worker.

Palestinians ventured onto Gaza’s streets after the truce took effect, some eager to check on homes they had fled, others to stock up on food and other items while it was still safe to do so.

In many places they found astonishing devastation: apartment buildings levelled, entire blocks of homes completely wiped out by relentless Israeli bombardment.

In northern Beit Hanun, even the hospital was badly damaged by shelling, and correspondents came across the charred body of a paramedic as emergency workers combed the debris for more dead.

US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks on the phone to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu from his hotel suite in Cairo, Egypt on Friday. Photo: Reuters

There were similar scenes in Shejaiya, where stiff bodies lay on the floor of a room in one building, one caked in dried blood, all of them covered in dust.

To the east of southern Khan Yunis, residents hesitated to enter the Khuzaa neighbourhood, saying Israeli forces remained inside the border area.

And in nearby Bani Suheila, where 20 people were killed in a single Israeli air strike shortly before the truce began, women and children wept as they returned to discover their homes destroyed.

Hamas and Israel agreed to the “humanitarian window” in the early hours of Saturday morning, after a US proposal for a seven-day truce during which the two sides would negotiate a longer-term deal was rejected by Israel’s security cabinet on Friday night.

A Palestinian man reacts to the remains of his destroyed house in the Shejaia neighbourhood of Gaza City on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Speaking after the rejection, at a news conference in Cairo with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Kerry said Israel and Hamas “still have some terminology” to agree to on a ceasefire, but added they had “fundamental framework” on a truce.

But the two sides remain at odds over the shape of a final deal to end the fighting.

Hamas says any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza, while in Israel there are calls for any deal to include the demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip.

The situation in Gaza has created tensions in the West Bank, where protests against Israel’s role in the conflict erupted after Friday prayers.

Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian teenagers early on Saturday morning in separate clashes in the north and south of the West Bank.

That followed the deaths of six Palestinians on Friday, including five shot dead by Israeli troops and one killed by an Israeli settler.

Smoke from an Israeli strike rises in the air over Gaza City prior to the ceasefire on Saturday. Photo: AP

In Gaza, there have been international concerns about the number of civilians killed in the conflict, including in a Thursday attack in which at least 15 people were killed in the alleged Israeli shelling of a UN school.

The facility was sheltering some of the 100,000 Palestinians who have fled their homes during fighting.

Rights groups say about 80 per cent of the casualties so far have been civilians, and the UN agency for children Unicef said on Friday that 192 children had been killed during the conflict.

The Israeli army on Saturday announced the death of two soldiers in Gaza fighting on Friday evening. It named one as Staff Sergeant Guy Boyland, 21, but did not give further details.

Three civilians have been killed inside Israel by rocket fire from Gaza, which continued on Saturday morning before the truce, with three shot down by missile defences and one falling on open ground, the army said.

It said militants fired 60 rockets into southern Israel on Friday, with another 15 intercepted.