BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hamas resumed rocket fire on Israel Saturday despite Israel’s decision to extend a humanitarian cease-fire for an additional 24 hours, the latest setback in international efforts to negotiate an end to the Gaza war.
Israel’s Cabinet decided to extend the truce until midnight Sunday despite the Hamas rejection, but warned that its military would respond to any fire from Gaza and would continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels during this period.
The development comes following an earlier proposal from Israel to extend the 12-hour truce by four hours — a proposal that Hamas also rejected.
Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri sent a text message to reporters Saturday, saying: “No agreement to extending the calm for an additional four hours.”
Israel and Hamas began the 12-hour pause in hostilities at 8 a.m. (1:00 a.m. EST) Saturday after intensive regional shuttle diplomacy by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed to produce a longer truce aimed at ending nearly three weeks of fighting.
A temporary lull on Saturday saw Palestinians return to neighborhoods reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
With the retrieval of the corpses, the number of Palestinians killed reached 1,047 in 19 days of fighting, while more than 6,000 were wounded, he said.
Gaza residents also used the initial 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire to stock up on supplies and survey the devastation from nearly three weeks of fighting, as they braced for a resumption of Israel’s war on Hamas amid stalled efforts to secure a longer truce.
In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, the main road was impassable in parts due to the debris from the damaged homes. The town’s hospital had been hit by a tank shell, power lines were dangling and dead donkeys were strewn on the street. A man was hitting his head and wailing “my house, my house.”
Sitting outside a shop on the main road near a pile of rubble, 37-year-old Siam Kafarneh was crying. The mother of eight said the home she had moved into two months earlier and spent 10 years saving for had been destroyed.
“Nothing is left. Everything I have is gone,” she said.
The temporary lull appeared unlikely to change the course of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the war was spilling over into the West Bank and a warning by Israel’s defense minister that it might soon expand its Gaza ground operation “significantly.”
The Israeli military said its troops “shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit” the lull to attack Israeli soldiers or civilians. The military also said “operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue.”
Israel launched a major aerial offensive in Gaza on July 8 and later sent ground troops into the Hamas-ruled territory in a bid to halt Palestinian rocket fire and destroy a vast network of cross-border tunnels used by militants to stage attacks.
Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties and blames Hamas for putting them in harm’s way. Israel has lost 37 soldiers and two citizens and a Thai worker has been killed.
The lull was agreed upon by both sides after Kerry failed to broker a week-long truce as a first step toward a broader deal.
“We are looking for a long cease-fire, not only 12 hours,” said Gaza resident Mohammad Abu Shaaban. “We hope the cease-fire will continue and not to return back to the killing and destruction.”
Israel wants more time to destroy tunnels and rocket launching sites in Gaza, while the territory’s Hamas rulers want international guarantees that an Israeli and Egyptian border blockade will be lifted.
The Israeli government has also begun suggesting that Gaza be demilitarized as a condition for a permanent cease-fire so that Hamas cannot rearm itself ahead of yet another round of fighting. The current war is the third in Gaza in just over five years.
In Tel Aviv, a group of Israeli anti-war protesters called for an end to the violence and to remember the dead on both sides, CBS 2’s Alphonso Van Marsh reported.
“Unless we find a way to talk to each other, this won’t end,” anti-war protester Ela Alkalay said.
Van Marsh reported authorities in Tel Aviv are keeping the protesters about 300 feet away from those supporting the military campaign.
Gaza militants have fired close to 2,500 rockets at Israel since July 8, exposing most of Israel’s population to an indiscriminate threat that has killed three civilians.
Government supporter Maron Vagman explained to Van Marsh why he despises the anti-war protesters saying, “They don’t care about our soldiers. They say our soldiers are terrorists, they are criminals– they [do] not deserve to have a stage to say those things.”
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Friday that Israel’s military would continue to strike Hamas hard.
“At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future,” Yaalon was quoted as telling soldiers manning an Iron Dome anti-missile battery. “You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will order the military to significantly broaden ground activity in Gaza.”
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