Middle East

Israel agrees to 24-hour Gaza ceasefire

Israel has accepted a UN request for a 24-hour ceasefire in Gaza, but warns the army will act if the pause is breached by Palestinian militants.

A crisis cabinet meeting extended Saturday's truce until midnight on Sunday (21:00 GMT).

The move comes despite Hamas militants firing rockets after they rejected an earlier attempt to prolong the truce.

Hamas said it would not accept a truce unless Israeli troops left Gaza and the displaced were allowed to return home.

Israel said that it would continue operations against tunnels used by Hamas during the truce period.

Hamas has accused Israel of using previous ceasefires to prepare more attacks, and claimed that there had been truce violations during Saturday.

The Israeli military said a soldier was killed by a mortar shell fired from Gaza early on Sunday morning, bringing the death toll among its armed forces to 43. Two Israeli civilians and a Thai farm labourer working in Israel have also been killed in recent hostilities.

The health ministry in Gaza says 1,033 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and about 5,900 wounded since Israel launched its Gaza offensive 19 days ago.

Bodies recovered

Rocket sirens continued to sound across Israeli cities into Sunday. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said some 20 rockets had been launched toward Israel since Saturday night.

The military earlier told the BBC that three mortars had been fired from Gaza and hit Israel in the Eshkol region shortly after 20:00 local time on Saturday.

Hamas' armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, said they had fired a number of short- and longer-range missiles into Israel.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The full extent of the destruction was in evidence during the Israeli truce on Saturday
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Many Gazans used the pause to return to their houses and assess the damage

The original truce expired at 20:00 local time (17:00 GMT) on Saturday. Gazans had been using the pause to recover bodies and gather supplies.

Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said that almost 150 bodies had been found in the rubble on Saturday.

After talks in Paris on Saturday, foreign ministers from the US, Turkey, Qatar and several European countries urged both sides to extend the truce.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC it was vital to get "the ceasefire to roll over... again and again, until we've established the level of confidence that allows the parties to sit round a table to talk around the substantive issues".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Thousands of Israeli army reservists have been called up to take part in the campaign
Image copyright AP
Image caption Tel Aviv saw rival demonstrations for and against the military campaign - here anti-war protesters spell out the Arabic and Hebrew for "sorry" in candles

However, Israeli cabinet minister Gilad Erdan told Reuters on Saturday that a definitive deal looked remote, with no representatives from Israel, Egypt or the Palestinian Authority attending the Paris talks.

Also on Saturday, pro-Palestinian demonstrations took place in several global capitals.

Around 5,000 people rallied in Paris in defiance of a ban by the French authorities - about 50 people were arrested during clashes with police. Thousands also took part in a protest in London against Israel's military campaign.

Israel launched its military offensive with the declared objective of stopping Hamas firing rockets from Gaza into Israel.

It also began a ground offensive on 18 July, saying it was necessary to destroy tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate Israel.