A FRESH attempt to secure a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas was launched yesterday by the United Nations and the US Secretary of State.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and America’s John Kerry made their appeals as five Palestinians were killed in West Bank protests against Israel’s bloody 18-day military operation in the Gaza Strip.
In a news conference in Cairo before he was due to fly to Paris, Mr Kerry said he wanted to see a seven-day humanitarian truce to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, which follows the holy month of Ramadan, as a first step towards a more permanent resolution of the conflict.
He attempted to sidestep Israel’s rejection of the ceasefire plan, which he wanted to start tomorrow, saying Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was committed to securing a peaceful solution. He said the plan was still on the table though there was “still some terminology … to work through”.
Despite the truce efforts, Israeli air strikes hit more than 80 sites in Gaza yesterday, while militants fired 50 rockets at Israel, the army said.
Among the sites hit in Gaza were 30 homes, including that of a leader of the Islamic Jihad group, killed along with his sons, Palestinian officials said.
Israel claims it wants to diminish Hamas’ ability to fire rockets and to destroy tunnels dug under its border. Hamas wants Israel and Egypt to end a seven-year blockade of Gaza.
The worst round of Israeli-Arab fighting in more than five years has killed 828 Palestinians and wounded more than 5,200, said Palestinian health officials.
The UN said civilians make up 75 per cent of the dead and most of the wounded. On the Israeli side, 38 people have been killed, 35 of them soldiers killed during the ground invasion.
The army yesterday claimed that an Israeli soldier Hamas said it captured this week had died in battle on that day. The army said it believed Sergeant Oron Shaul was one of seven soldiers killed in a vehicle hit by an anti-tank missile in Gaza on Sunday. Meanwhile, Mr Kerry met Mr Ban and Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shukri on two occasions yesterday in a bid to bring a week-long pause in the Israel-Hamas fighting. Mr Kerry initially sought a ceasefire from today.
Mr Kerry delayed his anticipated departure from Cairo for several hours to talk again by phone to Qatari officials serving as go-betweens with Hamas, which the US has labelled a terrorist group and with which it says it will not directly negotiate.
Over the past week, in his travels from Cairo to Ramallah to Israel, Mr Kerry has made clear that he wants to secure at least a temporary truce before he returns to Washington.
US efforts have been frustrated by distrust between Israeli and Palestinian officials and among Middle East nations with their own agendas.
The US wants at least a temporary truce before it tries to usher Israel and Hamas into negotiations. The last ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the US took effect in November 2012, before a military coup in Egypt overthrew the democratically elected pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi.
Hamas demands the release of prisoners and an end to the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the group seized Gaza from the pro-western government of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who now works alongside Hamas.
As the Gaza fighting drags on, the West Bank is becoming increasingly restive. Protests erupted yesterday in the northern village of Hawara, near Nablus, and the southern village of Beit Omar, near Hebron. Palestinian hospital officials said three Palestinians were killed in Beit Omar and two in Hawara.
The mayor of Hawara, Mouin Idmeidi, said the protest began after people emerged from a mosque after Friday prayers.
He said an Israeli motorist slowed his car as it passed the march and opened fire with a gun. He said four people were wounded and one of them, a 19-year-old, later died at in hospital in Nablus of his injuries.
After the shooting, clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli troops who opened fire, killing a 22-year-old from Hawara, the mayor said.
An Israeli police spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld, said paramilitary border police opened fire to disperse violent protests at Hawara, and that masked Palestinians threw firebombs.
In Beit Omar, clashes erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinian stone-throwers. Hebron hospital officials said three Palestinians were killed.