Hamas rebuffs Israeli offer to extend humanitarian window

Palestinian men climb on Israel's military vehicle that was left behind by the forces in Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood, Saturday, July 26, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

Palestinian men climb on Israel’s military vehicle that was left behind by the forces in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood, Saturday, July 26, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Hatem Moussa)

(SOURCE) — Hamas resumed rocket fire Saturday on Israel after rejecting Israel’s offer to extend a humanitarian cease-fire, the latest setback in international efforts to negotiate an end to the Gaza war.

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Despite the Hamas rejection, Israel’s Cabinet decided to extend a truce for 24 hours, until midnight Sunday. However, it warned that its military would respond to any fire from Gaza and would continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels during this period.

A temporary lull on Saturday saw Palestinians return to neighborhoods reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, according to Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Qidra.

With the retrieval of the corpses, the number of Palestinians killed reached 1,047 in 19 days of fighting, while more than 6,000 were wounded, he said.

Israel says hundreds of those killed were militants, and Gaza officials confirm the dead include “fighters.” Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and European foreign ministers, meeting in Paris, had hoped to transform the humanitarian timeout into a more sustainable truce. That effort was thrown into doubt with Hamas’ rejection of the extension.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri 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 current terms are “not acceptable,” he said in a text message to journalists.

Israel has lost 42 soldiers and two civilians, and a Thai worker also has been killed. Three soldiers were killed in fighting Saturday, and two more succumbed to injuries sustained in combat days earlier.
Three IDF soldiers killed Saturday, July 26, from left to right: Roy Peles, Avraham Grintzvaig, Gal Bason (Photo credit: Courtesy IDF)

Three IDF soldiers killed Saturday, July 26, from left to right: Roy Peles, Avraham Grintzvaig, Gal Bason (Photo credit: Courtesy IDF)

In the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, scores of homes had been pulverized, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets. Hardest-hit were areas close to the border with Israel, areas from where Gaza terrorists typically fire rockets.

Manal Kefarneh, 30, wept as she inspected her damaged home.

On an unfinished top floor, she and her husband had been raising chickens. The couple collected those dead and replenished water for the living in hopes they will survive the war.

“What did we do to deserve this?” she asked. “All of the Arab leaders watch what’s going on here like it’s a Bollywood film.”

Israeli strikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 in targeted hits, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee, according to Palestinian rights groups.

Across Gaza, 147 bodies were pulled from the rubble Saturday, officials said. In southern Gaza, a tank shell killed 20 members of an extended family who sought refuge inside a building, al-Qidra said.
Palestinians gather around the rubble of a building on Saturday July 26, where at least 20 members of the Al Najar extended family were reported killed by an Israeli strike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. (photo credit:AP/Eyad Baba)

Palestinians gather around the rubble of a building on Saturday July 26, where at least 20 members of the Al Najar extended family were reported killed by an Israeli strike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. (photo credit:AP/Eyad Baba)

Israeli legislator Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party said Israeli troops are “fighting with an enemy dug in within the civilian population, dug in underground or within the houses there.” Referring to the widespread destruction, he said that “those are the consequences of such a fight.”

The military took some Israeli journalists into the Gaza border areas where troops were operating. Footage broadcast on Israeli television station Channel 10 showed homes booby-trapped with explosives, as well as grenades, mines and rockets stored there. Tunnels opened up inside houses.

Soldiers said some buildings blew up after being hit by gunfire from all the explosives inside. Col. Ofer Vinter, head of the Givati infantry brigade, said almost every house was booby-trapped with explosives and that Gaza fighters “emerge from the ground all the time.”

Standing over a tunnel concealed in a house, he said: “We cannot leave here before we finish dealing with all the tunnels.”

Israel launched a major air campaign in Gaza on July 8 and later sent ground troops into the Hamas-ruled territory in an operation it said was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire and destroying cross-border tunnels it views as a threat.

Shelah, the legislator, said about 50 tunnels have been discovered so far.

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