Israel-Gaza crisis: Fighting erupts hours after start of ceasefire

Gaza/Jerusalem, Aug 1: A 72-hour ceasefire brokered by the US and the UN was in jeopardy just two hours after it began today, with the Palestinian militant groups accusing Israel of killing four persons in the Gaza Strip by artillery shelling and Tel Aviv blaming militants of firing rockets. Four Palestinians were killed and 20 others injured in an Israeli artillery attack near the southern Rafiah area today, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.

Palestinian sources claimed that three others were shot by Israeli sniper fire in the southern Gaza Strip. An Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson said they were looking into the incidents. Around the same time, two Code Red sirens were heard in Eshkol Regional Council. Two rockets landed in an open area, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.

It was not immediately clear as to which side broke the ceasefire amid claims and counter-claims. The announcement of the truce between Israel and Palestinians was made in a statement released in New Delhi, where US Secretary of State John Kerry is on a visit.
The temporary humanitarian ceasefire came into effect early today after Israel accepted a joint proposal from the US and the UN which took into consideration a key demand by it.

Israel had been demanding that any ceasefire deal include a condition that allows its troops to remain in Gaza over the 72-hour truce which it says it would utilise to locate and neutralise tunnels infiltrating into Israel. Representatives of the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, and an Israeli delegation are in Cairo to work on a sustainable truce beyond the next 72 hours. Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders are also camping in the Egyptian capital but talks with Israel are carried out informally through mediators as the militant factions do not recognise the Jewish state.

The Palestinian death toll in the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza surpassed that of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 as the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli attacks reached 1,450 yesterday in its 25th day. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 1,417 Palestinians were killed during Operation Cast Lead, which was the longest conflict between the two sides lasting 22 days, before the current fighting began.

The death count on the Israeli side also saw a significant increase with 61 soldiers killed this time compared to 10 in 2008-09. Three Israeli civilians and a Thai national working in Israel died in rocket and mortar attacks.