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At least 76 bodies found as Gaza truce kicks

26 July 2014, 15:24

Gaza City - A 12-hour truce between Israel and Hamas entered into force on Saturday, with emergency workers taking advantage of the lull to uncover 76 bodies from the rubble of Gaza inhomes.

The bodies were retrieved in the first few hours of the "humanitarian" truce that came into effect at 05:00 GMT as top diplomats gathered in Paris to press efforts for a longer-term ceasefire.

They took the overall Palestinian death toll in the 19-day conflict to 926, many of them civilians.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said two more soldiers had been killed, taking its toll to 37 dead.

Soon after the fragile ceasefire took effect, Palestinians ventured out into the streets of Gaza, with many returning to areas that had been too dangerous to enter for days.

Bodies in the streets

In northern Beit Hanun, southern Khan Yunis and eastern Shejaiya and Zaitun, they found scenes of utter destruction, with homes flattened and bodies lying in the streets and under rubble.

In Beit Hanun even the hospital was badly damaged by shelling, and AFP correspondents came across the charred body of a paramedic as emergency workers combed the debris for more dead.

Trails of blood on the ground were crossed by Israeli tank tracks, and there were holes where it appeared Israeli forces had been searching for Hamas tunnels.

Palestinian television showed footage of similar scenes in Shejaiya, which has been subjected to days of relentless Israeli tank fire.

Stiff bodies lay on the floor of a room in one building, one caked in dried blood, all of them covered in dust.

Emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said the three hours into the truce, rescue workers recovered 13 bodies in Shejaiya in eastern Gaza City, 13 more in Deir al-Balah and Nusseirat in central Gaza, and nine in north Gaza.

'Humanitarian window'

Hamas said it and other militant groups in Gaza had reached "national consensus" for the truce. Israel later confirmed it would observe what it called "a humanitarian window" in Gaza.

The brief lull came after US Secretary of State John Kerry's proposal for a seven-day truce during which the two sides would negotiate a longer-term deal was rejected by Israel's security cabinet on Friday night.

Speaking after the rejection, at a news conference in Cairo with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Kerry said Israel and Hamas "still have some terminology" to agree to on a ceasefire, but added they had "fundamental framework" on a truce.

On Saturday, the US diplomat flew to Paris where French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was to host him and their counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Turkey and the European Union.

At odds over final deal

On Friday, Ban had urged a truce that would last through the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, which is expected to fall around Monday.

But the two sides remain at odds over the shape of a final deal to end the fighting.

Hamas says any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel's eight-year blockade of Gaza, while in Israel there are calls for any deal to include the demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip.

The situation in Gaza has created tensions in the West Bank, where protests against Israel's role in the conflict erupted after Friday prayers.

Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian teenagers early Saturday morning in separate clashes in the north and south of the West Bank.

That followed the deaths of six Palestinians on Friday, including five shot dead by Israeli troops and one killed by an Israeli settler.

In Gaza, there have been international concerns about the number of civilians killed in the conflict, including in a Thursday attack in which at least 15 people were killed in the alleged Israeli shelling of a UN school.

The facility was sheltering some of the 100 000 Palestinians who have fled their homes during fighting.

Rights groups say about 80% of the casualties so far have been civilians, and the UN agency for children Unicef said on Friday that 192 children had been killed during the conflict.

The Israeli army on Saturday announced the death of two soldiers in Gaza fighting on Friday evening. It named one as Staff Sergeant Guy Boyland, 21, but did not give further details.

Three civilians have been killed inside Israel by rocket fire from Gaza, which continued on Saturday morning before the truce with three shot down by missile defences and one falling on open ground, the army said.

It said militants fired 60 rockets into southern Israel on Friday, with another 15 intercepted.



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