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Hamas asks for new truce as Israel resumes Gaza assault

Palestinian medics help evacuate a survivor after an Israeli airstike on his home in Gaza City on July 27, 2014
Palestinian medics help evacuate a survivor after an Israeli airstike on his home in Gaza City on July 27, 2014

The Islamist Hamas movement on Sunday belatedly accepted diplomatic calls for an extension of a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza shortly after Israel said it was resuming its devastating military assault.

There was no immediate word on whether Israel would reciprocate, with a Hamas spokesman saying the movement had agreed to halt its fire from 1100 GMT in response to a request from the United Nations.

The move came just hours after Israel said it would no longer abide by a unilateral ceasefire which had been rejected out of hand by Hamas as unacceptable without a full withdrawal of Israeli armour from the war-torn Gaza Strip.

Hamas' rocket arsenal
Graphic map of Gaza and Israel showing the range of Palestinian rockets

With the situation rapidly changing, there was no immediate indication that either side had halted their fire, with several loud explosions heard in Gaza City, an AFP correspondent said.

The renewed violence came after a rare 12-hour break in the hostilities on Saturday, which was respected by both sides, with world powers urging both Israel and Hamas to extend the temporary truce.

"We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire currently in force, by 24 hours that could be renewed," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a Paris summit also attended by the top diplomats from the US, Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Turkey and the EU.

And UN chief Ban Ki-moon also issued a statement, saying he "urgently appeals once again to all parties to declare a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza" where the fighting has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Palestinians and 46 people in Israel.

Pope Francis called on warring parties to put an end to violence which is wounding and killing countless children.

Israeli soldiers of the 155mm artillery cannons unit fire towards the Gaza Strip from their position near Israel's border with the coastal Palestinian enclave on July 27, 2014
Israeli soldiers of the 155mm artillery cannons unit fire towards the Gaza Strip from their position near Israel's border with the coastal Palestinian enclave on July 27, 2014

"Stop, please stop! I beg you with all my heart," the pontiff pleaded in the weekly Angelus prayer.

"I think of the children, who are robbed of the hope of a dignified life, of a future. Dead children, wounded children, mutilated children, orphans, children who, for toys, have the debris of war. Children who do not know how to smile," he said.

On Saturday night, Israel's security cabinet agreed to extend the temporary truce by 24 hours, but Hamas rejected the move, firing rockets over the border, one of which killed a soldier.

But after 12 hours of holding its fire, Israel said it was resuming its operations following "incessant" rocket fire from Hamas.

The wife of slain 36-year-old Israeli reservist Sergeant First Class (res.) Yair Ashkenazi, who was killed early morning in the northern Palestinian Gaza Strip, salutes over her husband's grave during his funeral in Rehovot on July 25, 2014
The wife of slain 36-year-old Israeli reservist Sergeant First Class (res.) Yair Ashkenazi, who was killed early morning in the northern Palestinian Gaza Strip, salutes over her husband's grave during his funeral in Rehovot on July 25, 2014

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, this morning have ordered the IDF to resume operations against the Hamas terrorists who violated the humanitarian truce which the UN requested for the residents of Gaza," it said.

- Bombing resumes -

Shortly afterwards, the skies over Gaza were filled with the familiar sound of explosions, as plumes of black smoke quickly rose on the horizon, an AFP correspondent in Gaza City said.

Ambulance sirens wailed as medics sprang into action, cars racing down the streets which quickly emptied of people who had ventured out to make the most of the lull.

Relatives and friends mourn near the body of Hazem Abu Shamalah, (unseen) who was killed in shelling after the Israeli military resumed its assault on Gaza, during his funeral in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 27, 2014
Relatives and friends mourn near the body of Hazem Abu Shamalah, (unseen) who was killed in shelling after the Israeli military resumed its assault on Gaza, during his funeral in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 27, 2014

In the ensuing four hours, nine Palestinians were killed in a series of air strikes and tank shelling, including two men who were riding a motorcycle in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, and a Christian woman in western Gaza City, Ashraf al-Qudra said.

The violence raised the death toll in Gaza to over 1,050, while more than 6,000 people have been injured, with UN figures showing that around three-quarters of the dead were civilians.

For Israelis, the quiet skies ended late on Saturday with sirens sounding up the coastal plain after Hamas refused to renew the 12-hour lull and began firing rockets over the border, one of which killed an Israeli soldier, the army said.

His death raised to 43 the overall number of troops killed in the past nine days since the army began the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge in order to destroy a sophisticated network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.

The trail of a missile launched by Israel's Iron Dome defence system as it intercepts and destroys a rocket launched from Gaza into Israel, on July 25, 2014
The trail of a missile launched by Israel's Iron Dome defence system as it intercepts and destroys a rocket launched from Gaza into Israel, on July 25, 2014

Two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have also been killed by rocket fire.

- No appetite for truce -

By Sunday morning, there appeared to be little appetite in Israel to prolong the one-sided truce, with 86.5 percent of Israelis opposing any truce in the current climate, army radio said, quoting pollsters Mina Tzemah.

"It is clear that Hamas isn't interested in this ceasefire so I think we should renew the fighting and maybe even more so," said Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, a security cabinet member who had voted late on Saturday in favour of extending the truce by 24 hours.

Demonstrators kick tear gas canisters as they clash with riot police on the Republique square in Paris on July 26, 2014
Demonstrators kick tear gas canisters as they clash with riot police on the Republique square in Paris on July 26, 2014

"After what we've seen last night and this morning, I'm fairly certain that we should renew our fire even stronger," he said, while Israel was initially observing a ceasefire.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel's agreement to hold its fire in the face of a fresh Hamas rejection had given greater "legitimacy" to continue the military operation which had the ultimate aim of "demilitarising" Gaza.

"That will be the root treatment that will prevent attacks on Israel and ease the suffering of the population of Gaza," he said.