Gaza death toll mounts to 940 amid fragile 12-hour truce

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Gaza/Jerusalem, Jul 26: A 12-hour "humanitarian window" began on Saturday after Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza agreed to a UN request for a pause in fighting, even as 76 more bodies were recovered taking the Palestinian death toll in the 19-day conflict to over 940 with 38 Israeli deaths.

The bodies were retrieved in the first few hours of the "humanitarian" truce that came into effect at 0500 GMT as top world diplomats in Paris worked on a longer-term ceasefire. Palestinian emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said 76 bodies had been brought to hospitals in north, central and southern Gaza, as well as Gaza City, but that the toll was expected to rise even further.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said late last night that there was "national consensus on a humanitarian truce....for 12 hours on Saturday". The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) later confirmed the truce but vowed to continue to "locate and neutralise" Hamas tunnels during the truce that started at 8 AM (0500 GMT) today.

"We will respond if terrorists choose to exploit this time to attack IDF personnel or fire at Israeli civilians," the Israeli army said in a statement. The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said that so far 940 people, most of them civilians, have been killed. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed in fighting taking the death toll on the Israeli side to 38.

Meanwhile, international efforts to negotiate a longer seven-day ceasefire continued with foreign ministers from the US, UK, Turkey and Qatar meeting in Paris today to try to negotiate a longer-term truce. US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday said that he was still confident of a longer ceasefire, despite media reports that Israel had rejected his proposal.

The announcement of the humanitarian window came shortly after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon warned that ground operations in Gaza could soon be broadened "significantly". "You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will instruct the military to significantly broaden the ground operation in Gaza," he told soldiers.

Hamas has insisted that it would not agree to any long-term truce that did not lead to an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and made provisions to open crossings to allow free movement of people and goods. Palestinian militants also fired a barrage of rockets out of Gaza, triggering sirens across much of southern and central Israel.

Israel's military said its Iron Dome missile shield had intercepted and destroyed several rockets.


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