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Gaza humanitarian truce goes into force hours after tunnel clash - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Palestinians wait to withdraw cash from an ATM machine outside a bank in Gaza City after a five-hour ceasefire came into force on July 17, 2014. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

Palestinians wait to withdraw cash from an ATM machine outside a bank in Gaza City after a five-hour ceasefire came into force on July 17, 2014. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)

Gaza/Jerusalem, Reuters and Asharq Al-Awsat—Palestinians rushed to shops and banks on Thursday as a five-hour humanitarian truce agreed by Israel and Hamas came into force, hours after the Israeli military said it had fought off gunmen who infiltrated from Gaza.

About a dozen Palestinian fighters tunneled under the border, emerging near an Israeli community. At least one was killed when Israeli aircraft bombed the group, the military said.

The break in 10 days of fighting was requested by the United Nations to allow residents of the Gaza strip, ruled by the Hamas group viewed by Israel as terrorists, to gather supplies and repair some of the infrastructure damaged.

At least 224 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed, Gaza health officials say. In Israel, one civilian has been killed by fire from Gaza, where the Israeli military says more than 1,300 rockets have been launched into the Jewish state in strikes that have made a race to shelters a routine for hundreds of thousands of people.

According to an Associated Press report, Israeli police said 2 rockets were fired from Gaza since the ceasefire came into force.

Earlier, Israel’s military, which government officials said was poised to expand its air and naval bombardments into possible ground operations, said it would respond “firmly and decisively” if militants launched attacks during the truce.

In Gaza City, hundreds of Palestinians lined up outside banks to collect salaries paid directly into their accounts, while others went food shopping. Gaza roads that were almost deserted over days of conflict were filled again with traffic.

“We are here to get paid. Thank God for the calm and we hope it lasts,” said Zakaria Ahmed, 35. “We hope Egypt brings a good truce, we hope the killing will stop and [Gaza’s border] crossings will open.”

After the early morning clash over the tunnel, and before the five-hour ceasefire began, air raid sirens sounded across Israel, including in the Tel Aviv area, the country’s heartland, warning of a heavy barrage of incoming rockets.

The military said at least one rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system and another fell in a town near Tel Aviv. There were no reports of casualties.

Before the pause in fighting, an Israeli aircraft bombed a house in Rafah in southern Gaza, killing three people and wounding several others, medical officials said.

President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he supported Egyptian efforts to agree a ceasefire that would end the worst flareup of Israeli–Palestinian hostilities in two years. US officials would use their diplomatic resources over the next 24 hours to pursue closing a deal, he said.

Egypt had proposed a permanent ceasefire plan on Tuesday, which Israel accepted and Hamas, saying its terms had been ignored, rejected.

Israeli media reports said Egypt was continuing its truce efforts and that senior Israeli officials would hold talks in Cairo on Thursday on a ceasefire. A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment.

Hamas is deemed a terrorist group by the United States and European Union over its refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept interim Israeli–Palestinian peace deals.

Hamas wants Egypt, whose military-backed government is at odds with the Islamist group, to end border restrictions that have deepened economic hardship among Gaza’s 1.8 million populace and caused a cash crunch in the movement, which has been unable to pay its employees for months.

On Wednesday, an Israeli gunboat off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast shelled a beach, killing four boys—two aged 10 and the others 9 and 11—from one family and critically wounding another youngster, witnesses and Ashraf Al-Qidra of the Gaza Health Ministry said.

The Israeli military said the reported civilian casualties were unintended and tragic and it was investigating what happened.

“Based on preliminary results, the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives,” it said in a statement.

The current conflict was largely triggered by the killing of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank last month and the death on July 2 of a Palestinian youth in a suspected revenge murder.

Israel was to indict later on Thursday three Israelis suspected of having killed the 16-year-old Palestinian in Jerusalem.