Gaza/Jerusalem, Jul 17 (PTI): Israel and Hamas today agreed to a five-hour ceasefire on humanitarian grounds at UN’s request after nine days of intense fighting in Gaza that has claimed 226 Palestinian lives, as hectic parleys were on in the region to broker a permanent truce.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry asked Israel for a humanitarian ceasefire following an incident in which four Palestinian children were killed on a beach in Gaza.
“Factions of the resistance have agreed to accept the offer of the UN regarding a ‘field calm’ for 5 hours from 10 AM until 3 PM (local time) Thursday for humanitarian needs,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri said in a text message.
Israel had already accepted the proposal, however, its military warned it would not sit idle if attacked.
“Should the humanitarian window be exploited by Hamas or other terror organisations for the purpose of launching attacks against Israeli civilian or military targets the IDF will respond firmly and decisively,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.
An effort to permanently stop the killing was stalled when Israel resumed airstrikes following a brief, one-sided cease-fire brokered by Egypt. While Israel paused for six hours, Hamas leaders rejected the deal and continued firing rockets.
They said they had not been consulted, and complained the deal did not address their demands for greater freedom for Gaza’s 1.8 million residents.
Ahead of today’s temporary ceasefire, hostilities continued this morning with Israel’s airstrikes, taking the death toll to 226 killed and 1,678 wounded, Gaza medical services said.
The one fatality on the Israeli side so far was a man killed Monday after being hit by a mortar shell at the Erez border crossing.
Meanwhile, hectic parleys were on in the region to broker a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held talks in Cairo yesterday, as did Quartet envoy Tony Blair, in an effort to come up with a package that would be acceptable to both sides.
Abbas met with Hamas official Musa Abu Marzouk, and Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, and even Tunisia and France were reportedly involved in efforts to quell the violence.
President Barack Obama also backed Egypt’s efforts to broker a ceasefire, offering US’ full diplomatic support.
“Over the next 24 hours, we’ll continue to stay in close contact with our friends and parties in the region, and we will use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a ceasefire,” Obama said.
Anger is rising over civilian deaths — including those of four Palestinian children killed while playing on the beach.
The boys, aged 9 to 11, died yesterday when a shell from an Israeli gunship exploded near them at the Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza, according to Palestinian officials.
Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said that it was “carefully investigating” the incident, adding that “based on preliminary results, the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives”.
“The reported civilian causalities from this strike are a tragic outcome,” the statement said.
Hamas described the attack as a war crime and called for the United Nations to condemn it.
The Islamist faction, which has controlled Gaza since June 2007 when it ousted rival Fatah faction violently, had earlier rejected an Egypt mediated ceasefire calling it “capitulation and surrender”.
Israel launched its air offensive in Gaza on July 8 with the stated objective of halting Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel.
Several humanitarian organisations have said the most of the casualties in Gaza were of innocent civilians, including women and children.
Israel blames Hamas for civilian fatalities, holding it responsible for the flare-up of hostilities and accusing it of using people as human shields.
Israeli leadership constantly maintains that its army goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.
Palestinians point to the civilian death toll and feel they are being subjected to brutal collective punishment.
Meanwhile, reports in Israeli media say that Hamas has presented a list of 10 pre-requisites for a 10-year?truce.
The demands reportedly include the easing of the economic blockade on Gaza and a stop to Israeli strikes on the territory, as well as the construction of an airport and seaport.
There was no response from Israel over the proposal yet.