Renewed conflicts in Gaza leave 72-hour truce in jeopardy

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Addis Ababa, 02 August 2014 (WIC) - Only hours into the newly- reached UN-sponsored three-day humanitarian truce, bombings, rocket firings and killings have returned to the conflict-torn Gaza Strip on Friday, putting the hard-earn ceasefire on a line.

According to medical sources in Gaza, three Palestinians are confirmed dead shortly after the 72-hour ceasefire went into effect Friday morning.

Among the three dead, two lost their lives under Israeli fire in Rafah, a town in the southern part of the Strip, while one was killed in the east neighborhood of Gaza city.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported that two rockets fired into southern Israel. There is no immediate response from the Palestinian militants.

There were at least four short humanitarian cease-fires announced since the conflict began, but each has been breached by renewed fighting.

Also on Friday, an Israeli military spokesman said a mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip on Thursday killed five of its soldiers near the border area.

"Yesterday evening, five Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers were killed during operational activity along the border with the Gaza Strip when a mortar was fired at the forces," a military statement said, adding that the shell hit a spot where the soldiers were gathering and waiting to enter the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Earlier last month, Israel launched its military offensive in Hamas-dominated Gaza, employing air and naval bombardments in response to a surge of cross-border rocket attacks. A ground incursion was later ordered on July 17.

So far, a total of 61 Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed, while on the Palestinian side, at least 1,459 people were killed, mostly civilians, according the Gaza Health Ministry, adding that some 8,360 more people were wounded.

Overnight, all Palestinian fractions and Israel agreed to a 72- hour humanitarian ceasefire proposed by UN. The Palestinians, including Hamas, said that as long as Israel stays committed to the truce, they would do the same.

The 72-hour respite was announced in a joint statement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon late last night.

"This humanitarian ceasefire will commence at 8:00 am local time on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. It will last for a period of 72 hours unless extended. During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place," said the statement.

"We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire," said the two who have been quite engaged in facilitating a comprehensive truce deal, adding that "This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence."

However, the top U.S. diplomat, who is on a visit to India, said that Israel will keep up "defensive" operations to destroy tunnels during the newly-agreed truce in Gaza. Earlier, Israel said it is determined to root out the Hamas tunnels with or without a truce.

Cairo talks

The ceasefire, though currently seems to be in jeopardy, was also followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution.

According to a senior State Department official accompanying Kerry in India, the U.S. delegation heading toward the Cairo talks includes U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, who will arrive in Cairo on Saturday, while Frank Lowenstein, the acting U. S envoy for Middle East affairs, and another U.S. official Jonathan Schwartz, would be there on Friday.

The U.S. official said he believed the Palestinians would be in the Egyptian capital on Friday, while the Israelis could be expected to arrive on Saturday.

Hamas is reported to be a part of the Palestinian delegation, along with Fatah and other Islamist militant groups.

UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman told CNN that the Egyptians played a key role, adding that the Qataris and the Turkeys have both made contributions, making this "a collective effort."

Previous attempts to broker a ceasefire between the warring parties has been largely ineffective as both sides failed to compromise with each other. Hamas stressed that any acceptable ceasefire should include a lift of years of blockade on the coastal enclave.

Speaking to reporters in New Delhi, Kerry urged all parties to find a way to address Israel's security concerns and to ensure the people of Gaza could live in safety and dignity.

"Israel has to be able to live in peace and security, without terror attacks and rockets and tunnels and sirens going off," Kerry said.

He added that "the Palestinians need to be able to live with the opportunity to educate their children and move freely and share in the rest of the world and lead a life that is different from the one they have long suffered." (xinhuanet.com)