December 26, 2014
Israel extends Gaza ceasefire for 24 hours, Hamas rejects terms
Israel extended a humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip for another 24 hours, but Hamas, which dominates the coastal enclave, said it would only accept the truce if Israeli troops left the territory.
Israeli ministers had signaled that a comprehensive deal to end the 20-day conflict with Hamas and its allies, in which at least 1,050 Gazans - mostly civilians - have been killed, and 42 soldiers and three civilians in Israel have died, was remote.
"At the request of the United Nations, the cabinet has approved a humanitarian hiatus until tomorrow at 2400 (midnight local time, 2100 GMT Sunday)," the official, who was not named, said in a statement after the cabinet session held in Tel Aviv had ended. "The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will act against any breach of the ceasefire."
Today, Gazans took advantage of the lull in fighting to recover their dead and stock up on food supplies, flooding into the streets after the ceasefire began at 8 am (0500 GMT) to discover scenes of massive destruction in some areas.
The positions of both Israel and Hamas regarding a long-lasting halt to hostilities have remained far apart.
Hamas wants an end to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza before agreeing to halt hostilities. Israeli officials said any ceasefire must allow the military to carry on hunting down the Hamas tunnel network that crisscrosses the Gaza border.
Israel says some of the tunnels reach into Israeli territory and are meant to carry out attacks on its citizens. Other underground passages serve as weapons caches and Hamas bunkers. The IDF said it had uncovered four such tunnel shafts inside Gaza during the truce today.
The Israeli official added that troops would continue to act against any breaches of the ceasefire, adding that the military would continue to act against the tunnels during the entire 24-hour period.
He said the cabinet would reconvene on Sunday to consider a continuation of the operation "until calm is restored to Israeli citizens for an extended period."
On the diplomatic front, international efforts to bring an end to hostilities and secure a longer-lasting truce were being led by US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris.
Kerry, who has been spearheading international efforts to end the fighting, arrived in Paris today where he met the foreign ministers of France, Italy, Britain, Germany, Turkey and Qatar.
"All of us call on the parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire that is currently under way," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after the meeting.
But an Israeli security cabinet minister, Gilad Erdan, said that a definitive deal looked remote, with no representatives from Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian Authority attending the Paris talks.
The deputy leader of Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied to Hamas, said Egypt's mediation efforts were still being considered but improvements were being sought and, in the meantime, the fight would go on.
"We are still open to the Egyptian initiative and there are hot contacts to improve it ... We are going to pursue the battle until the blockade is ended. The resistance carries our demands," he said in a text message to reporters.
Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said rescue teams had taken advantage of the truce to search wrecked neighbourhoods and had recovered some 147 bodies.