Israel enters partial Gaza cease-fire amid outrage over UN school blast

Israel entered into a short, unilateral and partial cease-fire in Gaza on Monday, allowing for a seven-hour “humanitarian window” that comes as global condemnation swirled over a third deadly strike on a UN school and rising civilian deaths.

The announcement, made first to Palestinian media, was met with suspicion from Hamas, which labeled it a distraction, and followed unusually strong censure from Washington at the apparent Israeli shelling on Sunday of another U.N.-run complex. That attack killed 10 people, adding to the 1,800-plus fatalities — most of them civilians and many of them young — during the near month-long offensive.

And despite the partial Israeli truce, Palestinian officials said shelling continued soon after the seven-hour window opened. Ashraf al-Qudra, a Gaza Health Ministry spokesman, said one child died and 30 people were wounded in a strike Monday at a refugee camp.

An Israel military officials said they were checking the report into that attack. Earlier Israel had said that its limited cease-fire would only apply to parts of the Gaza Strip where there is currently no military activity. To date, temporary ceasefires imposed since Israel’s offensive began on July 8 have not been successful, even when sponsored by the U.N.

Attacks on Gaza continued on Monday ahead of the opening of the “humanitarian window” and killed 11 people, among them a senior
commander of the Islamic Jihad — a Palestinian group fighting alongside Hamas. Islamic Jihad identified him as Danyal Mansour, head of the group’s northern command, and said he was killed in a bombing of a house in Jablaya.

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The killings raised the death toll since the July 8 beginning of the confrontation to over 1,820 according to Palestinian medical sources. Nearly 70 Israelis, almost all soldiers, were killed in the fighting since July 8.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri warned the local population to be wary of the truce.

“Israel’s so-called humanitarian cease-fire is unilateral and it comes in a time when the Zionist enemy wants to distract the world from the massacres they have committed against our people in Gaza,” Abu Zuhri told Hamas’s Al Aqsa television station.

“We don’t trust their intentions and we ask our people to take extreme caution.”

The Israeli army said the seven-hour
“humanitarian window” would take place between 3 and 10 a.m. ET in all of the Gaza Strip except the area east of the southern city of Rafah, “where clashes were still ongoing and there was Israeli military presence.”

The army warned in a statement that it would “respond to any attempt to exploit this window” and attack civilians and soldiers during the truce.

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“If the truce is breached, the military will return fire during the declared duration of the truce,” an Israeli defense official said.

It also said that residents of Abasan al Kabira and Abasan al Saghira, two villages east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, could return home. In certain places such as Beit Lahiya, where attacks on civilian targets killed dozens, it was reported people have been too frightened to go home even after receiving reassurance from Israeli officials to do so.

Israel appears to be winding down its offensive, withdrawing most of its ground troops from Gaza on Sunday. It says the military is close to completing its main objective of destroying cross- border infiltration tunnels but is prepared to resume strikes in response to any attacks by the Palestinians. The Israeli chief military spokesman said forces were being deployed along both sides of the Gaza border.

“Redeployment lets us work on the tunnels, provides defense (of Israeli communities nearby) and lets the forces set up for further activity.

There is no ending here, perhaps an interim phase,” Brigadier-General Motti Almoz told Army Radio.

U.N. school attacks

The apparent pullback of troops and a partial cease-fire comes as Israel faces accusations that it is not doing enough to safeguard the lives of civilians in Gaza.

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Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary-general, called Sunday’s attack near the school sheltering some 3,000 Palestinians who had fled their homes due to the fighting “a moral outrage and a criminal act.”
“This madness must stop,” he said.

Jen Psaki, State Department spokesperson, said the United States was “appalled” by the attack and called for a “full and prompt” investigation.

“Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties,” she said in usually blunt criticism of Israel by Washington.

The Israeli army said it was targetting three Islamic Jihad fighters on a motorbike “in [the] vicinity of a … school in Rafah.”

In a statement early on Monday, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Israel does not aim its fire at civilians and is sorry for any attack that unintentionally hits civilians,” without directly addressing the Rafah attack.