Last updated on: August 01, 2014 6:32 AM
A temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appeared to collapse just hours after it began Friday, when Israeli tanks shelled the southern Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel.
Gaza officials say at least 27 Palestinians were killed in the southern city of Rafah, where fierce clashes were reported just two hours after the truce took effect. Sirens were also heard in the southern Israeli city of Kerem Shalom, presumably the result of projectiles being fired by Palestinian militants.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement blaming Gaza militants for “flagrantly” violating what was supposed to be a three-day cease-fire, though it did not elaborate. Israeli media later reported that the truce had ended and that the military resumed its offensive operations in Gaza.
VOA correspondent Scott Bobb, who is in Gaza, says both sides are hardening their positions and that there is no end in sight to the fighting.
“Hamas continues to insist on a complete end to the blockade before it will consider a formal, official cease-fire,” he said. “And Israel insists on the demilitarization of Gaza before it will consider lifting any blockade. So at the moment, there is no cease-fire.”
Israeli and Palestinian delegations had been expected to head to Cairo for talks on underlying disputes between Israel and Hamas. U.S. officials are also joining the negotiations. It is now unclear whether those talks will take place.
Violence before truce
In the hours before the cease-fire took effect Friday, Gaza police reported heavy Israeli tank shelling in northern and eastern Gaza, and the loud exchange of fire between Israeli troops and militants was audible throughout Gaza City. Tank shells landed on homes in the city, setting homes and shops ablaze.
Hamas fighters hit an Israeli tank with an anti-tank missile, Gaza police said, and then attacked Israeli troops who came to evacuate the tank crew. Clashes continued into the early morning hours, police said.
In violence ahead of the truce, Israel announced five of its fighters had been killed in a mortar attack. A total of 61 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
The Palestinian death toll exceeds 1,400 since the offensive began July 8. Palestinian officials said 17 Palestinians, including 10 members of one family, were killed in Israeli strikes ahead of the planned three-day cease-fire.
The truce announced Thursday forbids either side from making military advances. However, Israel will continue to destroy tunnels Hamas has used to smuggle weapons and fighters into Israel.
Reprieve for civilians
Stephanie Dujarric, a spokesman for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said the humanitarian cease-fire will give civilians in Gaza a much-needed reprieve from the fighting.
“During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief, and the opportunity to carry out vital functions, including burying the dead, taking care of the injured, and restocking food supplies,” Dujarric said. “Overdue repairs on essential water and energy infrastructure could also continue during this period.”
Later Friday, Israeli and Palestinian delegations are expected to head to Cairo for talks on underlying disputes between Israel and Hamas. U.S. officials are also joining the negotiations.
Israel and Hamas are far apart on cease-fire conditions.
Israeli leaders have been pushing for the demilitarization of Hamas, which has sent thousands of rockets into Israeli territory in recent week. The Islamist group wants an end to the Israeli-led blockade that has strangled Gaza’s economy and prevented Gazans from traveling.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday cautioned that the truce is not permanent, calling it a “moment of opportunity.”
He said the people of Gaza deserve to live in safety and dignity, while Israel’s security concerns need to be met.