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Middle East

Israel-Hamas fighting resumes after humanitarian lull

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike hit the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Fighting between Israel and Hamas resumed in deadly earnest Thursday, after a brief humanitarian ceasefire allowed Gaza residents to restock and hunker down, and as efforts towards a lasting truce intensified.

A rocket fired from Gaza hit southern Israel exactly as the UN-requested five-hour lull ended at 3:00 pm (1200 GMT), and the military resumed its air strikes on the besieged Palestinian territory, killing three children in a strike in the heart of Gaza City, according to medics.

World leaders have called for a swift end to the bloodiest conflict in Gaza since 2009, with Israel's operation to stamp out rocket fire so far killing 234 Palestinians and cross-border fire from Gaza killing one Israeli.

As hostilities resumed following the brief lull, the UN's Palestinian refugee agency said it had found some 20 rockets stored in one of its vacant schools in the Gaza Strip, calling it was a "flagrant violation" of international law and condemning the "group or groups" responsible.

With regional efforts to broker a lasting ceasefire gathering pace in Cairo, an Israeli official said the Jewish state had agreed a truce with Hamas to begin at 0300 GMT Friday.

However Hamas, the Islamist movement which is the main power in Gaza, denied any deal had been struck.

"The news about a ceasefire is incorrect. There are continuing efforts but no agreement until now," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP in Gaza.

Another Hamas spokesman, Ihab Ghussein, said there were talks and contacts under way but dismissed reports of a deal.

"The killing by the Israelis should stop before talking about any ceasefire," he told AFP.

Cairo has once again become a diplomatic hub to end the fighting in Gaza after Egypt initially proposed a failed truce without consulting Hamas.

As part of the peace drive, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Egyptian capital on Thursday but no details were immediately released of their discussions.

Hamas has laid out a set of conditions, among them the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the release of Palestinian prisoners Israel has rearrested after freeing them in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.

Violence flared before and even during the temporary cessation, but resumed with a ferocity afterwards, with three hours of fresh air strikes on Gaza, including one which killed three children in the middle of Gaza City, Gaza's emergency services spokesman said.

But the short-lived truce allowed medical aid to be transported into the besieged territory via the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza, the UN said.

It also gave Gazans a chance to leave their homes and stock up on supplies, or pick up belongings from homes which they had evacuated.

In Gaza City, the streets immediately filled with honking cars and traffic jams, and outside banks, hundreds of people massed by ATMs to withdraw money to buy supplies.

"I've been borrowing money from people to get by, and now I'm going to be able to pay them back," said Abdul Qassam Ataneh, waiting outside a branch of the Bank of Palestine.

"The truce is a chance for people to get out of their homes and get money and supplies.

"Ramadan comes with a lot of expenses," he added, in reference to the ongoing Muslim month of fasting.

Just moments before the humanitarian truce began at 0700 GMT, Israeli tank fire killed three people in southern Gaza, Palestinian medics said.

And the army said it had foiled a "major terror attack" by a group of 13 militants who managed to enter southern Israel by tunnel and were seen heading towards Sufa kibbutz near the fence.

The army killed one in an air strike, as others scurried back into the tunnel, it said. Hamas denied losing any men during what it said was a successful "mission" into Israel.

Israel's air strikes have killed a significant number of women and children, with a Gaza-based NGO saying that nearly 80 percent of the dead were civilians.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Jewish state of seeking a "systematic genocide" of the Palestinians.

With no end in sight to the hostilities, European football's governing body UEFA announced on Thursday that no Champions League or Europa League matches could be played in Israel until further notice "for security reasons".

 

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Summary

Fighting between Israel and Hamas resumed in deadly earnest Thursday, after a brief humanitarian ceasefire allowed Gaza residents to restock and hunker down, and as efforts towards a lasting truce intensified.

A rocket fired from Gaza hit southern Israel exactly as the UN-requested five-hour lull ended at 3:00 pm (1200 GMT), and the military resumed its air strikes on the besieged Palestinian territory, killing three children in a strike in the heart of Gaza City, according to medics.

World leaders have called for a swift end to the bloodiest conflict in Gaza since 2009, with Israel's operation to stamp out rocket fire so far killing 234 Palestinians and cross-border fire from Gaza killing one Israeli.

Hamas has laid out a set of conditions, among them the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the release of Palestinian prisoners Israel has rearrested after freeing them in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011 .


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