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Hamas OKs 24-Hour Truce in Gaza War    07/27 10:53

   Hamas on Sunday agreed to observe a 24-hour truce in Gaza after initially 
rejecting a similar Israeli offer, as fighting resumed and the two sides 
wrangled over the terms of a lull that international diplomats had hoped could 
be expanded into a more sustainable truce.

   GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Hamas on Sunday agreed to observe a 24-hour 
truce in Gaza after initially rejecting a similar Israeli offer, as fighting 
resumed and the two sides wrangled over the terms of a lull that international 
diplomats had hoped could be expanded into a more sustainable truce.

   After Israel announced a 24-hour truce late Saturday, Palestinian militants 
fired rockets deep into Israel, prompting it to resume an offensive aimed at 
destroying rocket launchers and cross-border attack tunnels used by Hamas, the 
Islamic militant group ruling the coastal strip.

   But hours after the renewal of hostilities Hamas said it would be willing to 
abide by a new 24-hour humanitarian truce ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday 
marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The three-day Eid 
al-Fitr holiday is expected to begin Monday or Tuesday, depending on the 
sighting of the new moon.

   Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the truce would go into effect at 2 p.m. 
(1100 GMT) Sunday. But shortly after the truce was to have started warning 
sirens wailed in southern Israel and the military said three rockets landed in 
the area, without causing casualties or damage.

   Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, did not say if Israel 
would hold its fire during the time requested by Hamas, but said troops would 
continue demolishing militant tunnels --- the central goal of the Israeli 
ground operation in Gaza.

   Families in Gaza would ordinarily be busy now with preparations for the 
holiday, with children getting new clothes, shoes and haircuts, and families 
visiting each other.

   In the outdoor market of the Jebaliya refugee camp, vendors set up stands 
with clothes and shoes, but said business was slow. 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 had opened the shop Sunday to get away from the crowded 
apartment where he and his family were staying with relatives after fleeing an 
area of heavy fighting, the Shijaiyah district in Gaza City.

   He said his family house in Shijaiyah was badly damaged and that a cousin 
and three other relatives were among dozens of people killed in heavy fighting 
there last week.

   "We can't feel any joy right now," he said when asked if he would mark the 
holiday in some way.

   Israel had offered a 24-hour truce late Saturday, but Hamas -- which has 
demanded the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza as well as 
the release of Palestinian prisoners -- rejected it.

   The 20-day war has killed more than 1,060 Palestinians, mainly civilians, 
according to Palestinian health officials. Israel has lost 43 soldiers, while 
two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel were killed by rocket and 
mortar attacks from Gaza.

   The military had earlier said about a dozen rockets were fired toward Israel 
since midnight -- without causing casualties or damage -- and that as a result 
it would "resume its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip." The 
Israeli military released a video showing a rocket being fired from what it 
said was a Gaza school.

   "The military is aiming its fire at terror sites, but if citizens are 
accidently harmed Hamas is responsible for this since it once again violated an 
offer for a humanitarian lull that Israel accepted." Israeli Prime Minister 
Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

   The 12-hour lull on Saturday -- agreed to by both sides following intense 
U.S. and U.N. mediation efforts -- saw Palestinians return to neighborhoods 
reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, 
Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.

   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.

   Hamas and other militants in Gaza have fired more than 2,400 rockets at 
Israel since hostilities began on July 8, many deep into the Israeli heartland 
and toward most of the country's major cities.

   Israeli airstrikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 
in direct hits, according to Palestinian rights groups, Entire Gaza 
neighborhoods near the border have been reduced to rubble.

   Before the announcement of the holiday cease-fire, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu 
Zuhri had said any truce must include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, 
and that tens of thousands of displaced people must be allowed to return to 
their homes.

   Israel's acceptance of the cease-fire extension was premised on its soldiers 
remaining in Gaza to destroy the more than 30 tunnels the military says it has 
found. Hamas has said it will not halt fire until it wins guarantees that the 
border blockade, tightened by Israel and Egypt after it seized the territory in 
2007, will be lifted.

   Any new border arrangements for Gaza would likely give a role to 
Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who reached a power-sharing 
deal earlier this year with Hamas that was harshly condemned by Israel.

   Egypt wants forces loyal to Abbas to be posted on the Gaza side of the 
border before considering opening its Rafah crossing.

   Hamas officials have said they do not oppose such an arrangement, but would 
not surrender control over the group's thousands-strong security forces, 
meaning it would remain the de facto power in Gaza.

   Israeli police meanwhile said security forces prevented a major attack when 
they stopped a suspicious vehicle in the West Bank and discovered a large 
explosive inside. Police said the suspect was a Palestinian from the West Bank 
city of Ramallah in his 30s.

   The West Bank remained calm in the early days of the Gaza conflict but in 
recent days has seen growing protests and clashes between stone-throwers and 
Israeli security forces. Nine Palestinians have been killed there.

   In Gaza, the local Red Cross office said its building in Khan Younis was 
attacked by a "crowd of angry people."

   Witnesses said the crowd that stormed the building had lost family members 
during the fighting and were angry over what they said was a lack of support by 
emergency services.

   Nadia Dibsy, an ICRC spokeswoman in Jerusalem, said there were no immediate 
reports of injuries, but that the reception area and office materials sustained 
damage from a small fire.

   "We definitely deplore this kind of incident, which we take quite seriously. 
It's an obstruction of the work and efforts we've been doing since the 
beginning of this conflict," said Dibsy. "We are doing the best we can, we are 
asking people not to take their anger out on us."


(KA)


 
 
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