BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip – 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.
Despite the Hamas rejection, Israel’s Cabinet decided to extend a truce for 24 hours, until midnight tonight. However, it warned that its military would respond to any fire from Gaza and would continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels.
A temporary lull Saturday saw Palestinians return to neighborhoods reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
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.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European foreign ministers, meeting in Paris, had hoped to transform the cease-fire into a more sustainable truce. That effort was thrown into doubt with the 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.
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 militants 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-Kidra said.
Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way.
Israel has lost 42 soldiers and two civilians.