Gaza deaths over 1,049 as Israel extends ceasefire

Israel agreed to extend humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza to Sunday night, a government official said

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The Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip rose on Saturday to more than 1,049, with around 6,000 wounded, AFP quoted medics as saying, as Israel agreed to extend the temporary truce until Sunday night.

However, the Hamas group rejected the extention, and fired mortar rounds into Israel after the initial 12-hour truce ended on Saturday, AFP reported.

A military spokesman told the news agency three mortar rounds had been fired at Israel from Gaza, causing neither casualties nor damage.

“Rockets have just been fired at Israel despite the humanitarian truce being extended," former army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich wrote earlier on Twitter shortly after 17:00 GMT, when the original truce had been due to end.

Western foreign ministers meeting in Paris had called for extending the 12-hour cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.

"All of us call on the parties to extend the military cease-fire that is currently under way," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters after a gathering that included the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Turkey and the United States.

"All of us want to obtain, as quickly as possible, a durable, negotiated ceasefire that responds both to Israeli needs in terms of security and to Palestinian needs in terms of of the social-economic development [of Gaza] and access to the territory of Gaza," Fabius added.

The ministers, along with senior EU diplomat Pierre Vimont, met on the same day that Israel began a 12-hour ceasefire during which it said it would press on searching for tunnels used by militants. The Islamist group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, said all Palestinian factions would abide by the brief truce.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been spearheading international efforts to end 19 days of conflict in which hundreds of Palestinians, many of them civilians, have been killed. The diplomatic push was to continued on Saturday with the Paris meeting of the foreign ministers - including from Qatar and Turkey, which are prime interlocutors with Hamas.

The United States refuses to deal with Hamas because it regards the Palestinian faction as a terrorist group.

"The necessity right now is to stop the loss of life," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters.

"And we stop the loss of life by getting this ceasefire to roll over for 12 hours, 24 hours or 48 hours - and then again until we have established the level of confidence that allows the parties to sit round a table to talk about the substantive issues."

Meanwhile, the Israel army called on Palestinians who were asked to vacate their homes to “refrain from returning.”

“Gaza civilians who have been requested to vacate from their residence are to refrain from returning,” the military’s spokesperson said in a statement.

“The IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit this time to attack IDF personnel or fire at Israeli civilians,” the statement said.

“During this time, the operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue,” it added.

On Friday, two Israeli soldiers were reportedly killed in fighting in Gaza, taking the total number of military deaths since the start of ground operations there to 37.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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