THE LEVANT EXCLUSIVE – Gaza residents on Saturday used a 12-hour humanitarian truce agreed to by Israel and Hamas on a UN request to pull out several bodies from mounds of rubble and metal of bombed homes, as the Palestinian death toll climbed to nearly 1,000.
With the temporary ceasefire on, Palestinians frantically scoured through the rubble with medics saying 85 bodies had been retrieved across the Gaza Strip.
The discovery of the bodies under mounds of rubble had pushed the death toll to 985 Palestinians killed in the coastal enclave since the conflict began on July 8.
On the Israeli side, 37 soldiers have been killed, along with two Israeli civilians and a Thai foreign worker.
Israel said it would continue to “locate and neutralise” Hamas tunnels during the pause, which began at 0800 local time. So far 31 tunnels have been discovered, with about half destroyed, Israeli’s military said.
Before the truce began, Israeli strikes killed at least 19 Palestinians overnight at a family home near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Images showed relatives weeping as the bodies of five children were taken to a local morgue.
Two Israeli soldiers were also killed overnight, Israel’s military confirmed.
The Iron Dome defence system intercepted three rockets fired towards the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon overnight.
The truce came as 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.
“We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire,” France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters after the meeting.
As the truce took effect, Palestinians returned to areas where heavy Israeli bombardment had taken place to look for bodies and also started to stock up food supplies.
The scene was gruesome with buildings completely pulverised, cars thrown 50 metres into the air on top of buildings and the facades of some block of flats completely ripped off.
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.
US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday said that he was still confident of a longer ceasefire.
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”.