Israel declares ‘humanitarian truce’ in Gaza

Irael attack

Israel says it will observe a “humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza on Thursday, after days of deadly rocket and missile exchanges with militants.

A statement from the Israeli military said it would hold fire from 10:00 to 15:00 (07:00-12:00 GMT), to allow residents to stock up on supplies.

Palestinian officials say Israeli raids have killed 220 Gazans and wounded almost 1,800 since 8 July.

Hamas militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets, killing one Israeli.

In an interview with BBC Arabic, a senior Israeli army officer, Brig Gen Yoav Mordechai, said the ceasefire had been requested by the UN and other international organisations.

But the statement by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) added that Israel would respond “firmly and decisively” should the humanitarian window be used by militants “for the purpose of launching attacks against Israeli civilian or military targets”.

Killed on the beach

The move was announced hours after Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, confirmed that it had rejected an earlier ceasefire proposed by Egypt.

Israel initially observed the ceasefire on Tuesday, but resumed its strikes amid continued rocket fire from Gaza.

‘Tragic outcome’

Four children were among those killed in Israeli strikes on Wednesday. They died while playing on a beach near Gaza City.

The Israel Defense Forces said they were “carefully investigating” the incident, adding that “based on preliminary results, the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives”.

“The reported civilian causalities from this strike are a tragic outcome,” the statement said.

Israel launched its Operation Protective Edge on 8 July. Its stated objective is to halt Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, but the UN says most of those killed in Gaza have been civilians.

Gaza militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Wednesday.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters that the group did not accept Egypt’s ceasefire proposal and that Israel would pay a heavy price for its strikes.

Hamas – designated a terrorist organisation by Israel and the US, among others – is demanding the easing of border closures in Gaza and the release of Hamas prisoners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas had “shut the door to a diplomatic solution” and bore “sole responsibility for the continuation of the violence”.

A spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry told the BBC that it would continue talking to all the parties. “We have no other option,” he said.

The IDF says its Iron Dome missile shield shot down 23 rockets launched from Gaza on Wednesday, while others struck without causing casualties.

Israel has mobilised tens of thousands of troops on the border with Gaza amid speculation a ground invasion could be launched.

The UN says at least 1,370 homes have been destroyed in Gaza and more than 18,000 people displaced in recent hostilities.