Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Gaza war rages despite truce pledges

A cameraman records a scene as smoke rises from an Israeli strike in Gaza City. Rockets also fell in Israel on Sunday.
A cameraman records a scene as smoke rises from an Israeli strike in Gaza City. Rockets also fell in Israel on Sunday. LEFTERIS PITARAKIS / AP
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel and Hamas launched new attacks Sunday in the raging Gaza war, despite going back and forth over proposals for a temporary halt to nearly three weeks of fighting ahead of a major Muslim holiday.

The failure to reach even a brief humanitarian lull in the fighting illustrated the difficulties in securing a more permanent truce as the sides remain far apart on their terms.

After initially rejecting an Israeli offer Saturday for a 24-hour truce, Hamas said Sunday that it had agreed to hold fire ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. But as Israel's cabinet met to discuss the offer and the ongoing war, rockets rained down on southern Israel and Israeli strikes could be heard in Gaza.

Each side blamed the other for scuttling the efforts.

Hamas said that "due to the lack of commitment" by Israel, it resumed its fire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas showed it could not be trusted after it violated other cease-fire efforts.

"Israel is not obliged and is not going to let a terrorist organization decide when it's convenient to fire at our cities, at our people, and when it's not," Netanyahu said in satellite interviews from Israel carried on U.S. network Sunday news programs.

In a phone call later Sunday, President Obama told Netanyahu the United States is growing more concerned about the rising Palestinian death toll and the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza. The White House said Obama reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Hamas rocket attacks that have killed Israelis, but pushed for an immediate cease-fire.

International diplomats had hoped a temporary lull could be expanded into a more sustainable truce to end the bloodshed and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged the sides on Sunday to accept a 24-hour break in fighting.

However, both sides were holding out for bigger gains.

Hamas wants to break the seven-year blockade of Gaza and believes the only way to force serious negotiations on ending the closure is to keep fighting. Israel, which launched the war on July 8 to halt relentless Hamas rocket fire on its cities, wants more time to destroy Hamas' rocket arsenal and the military tunnels the Islamic militants use to infiltrate Israel and smuggle weapons.

The 20-day war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Israel has lost 43 soldiers, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, the Israeli military said.

Following Hamas' call for a break in fighting, an Israeli air strike killed one person in Gaza when it hit a vehicle carrying municipal workers on their way to fix water pipes, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Police said Israeli tanks fired shells on densely populated areas south of Gaza City. One shell hit an apartment building and several shells struck a building. Navy boats also resumed firing on Gaza's coast, police said. The Israeli military said it hit about 40 sites throughout Sunday.

In southern Israel, one person was injured and a house was damaged by a rocket launched from Gaza, Israeli police said. The Israeli military said more than 50 rockets were fired Sunday.

Ahead of the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday, which begins Monday, families in Gaza ordinarily would be busy with preparations, with children getting new clothes, shoes, and haircuts, and families visiting each other.

But business was slow in the outdoor market of the Jebaliya refugee camp, where vendors set up stands with clothes and shoes.

Hamed Abul Atta, 22, a shoe salesman, said he hadn't made a single sale in the first three hours after opening.

Abul Atta said he and his family were staying with relatives after fleeing the Shijaiyah district of Gaza City, which has seen heavy fighting. He said a cousin and three other relatives were among dozens of people killed there last week.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military acknowledged firing a mortar shell that hit the courtyard of a U.N. school in Gaza last week, but said that the yard was empty at the time and that the shell could not have killed anyone.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said Sunday that a military probe shows that "a single errant mortar landed," but that it is "extremely unlikely that anybody was killed as a result of this mortar."

Thirty seconds of footage released by the military showed what it said was the empty courtyard and a blast, apparently from the mortar. It was impossible to determine exactly when the footage was filmed.

Despite the high death toll, the Israeli military says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including by sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm's way.

More than 160,000 displaced Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of U.N. schools, an eight-fold increase since the start of Israel's ground operation more than a week ago, the U.N. said.

Ibrahim Barzak and Tia Goldenberg Associated Press
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