Massive Israeli shelling killed at least 50 people in the Hamas-ruled Gaza following the collapse of a 72-hour ceasefire shortly after it began on Friday, while two of its soldiers were killed and another was abducted by Palestinian militant groups.
The humanitarian ceasefire — brokered by the United States and the United Nations to end more than three weeks of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip — collapsed just two hours after it began on Friday morning.
At least 50 people were killed and more than 200 injured in massive Israeli artillery shelling in the southern Rafah since Friday morning, taking the Palestinian death toll to 1,509, mostly civilians, Palestinian health ministry said. The attacks have injured more than 7,000 Palestinians.
The 1,509 Palestinian toll in the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza surpassed that of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 as the conflict entered its 25th day.
According to the Palestinian centre for human rights, 1,417 Palestinians were killed during Operation Cast Lead, which was the longest conflict between the two sides lasting 22 days, before the current fighting began.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army said two of its soldiers were killed and a third one may have been abducted by militants in the southern Gaza Strip today, raising the death count to 63 soldiers, including two Indian-origin, as compared to 10 in 2008-09. Nearly 400 soldiers have been injured.
Three Israeli civilians and a Thai national also died in rocket and mortar attacks.
“Initial indications suggest that a soldier has been abducted by terrorists in an incident where terrorists breached the ceasefire,” Israeli Defence Forces spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner told reporters.
Hamas, which rules the narrow coastal strip, neither confirmed nor denied the abduction of the Israeli soldier. But it said Israel’s announcement of the abduction was simply an excuse to “justify Israel’s retreat from the truce.”
Israel and Hamas have blamed each other for the collapse of the fragile ceasefire. It was not immediately clear as to which side broke the truce amid claims and counter-claims.
“Once again, Hamas and the terror organisations in Gaza have blatantly broken the cease-fire to which they committed, this time before the American secretary of state and the UN secretary general,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
On Friday morning, two Code Red sirens were heard in Eshkol Regional Council. Two rockets landed in an open area, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.
The announcement of the truce was made in a statement released in New Delhi during US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit.
In a statement, UN special coordinator for Middle East peace Robert Serry said the United Nations was informed by Israel of “a serious incident in the morning after the start of the humanitarian ceasefire at 8:00 am (local time) involving a tunnel behind IDF (army) lines in the Rafah area.”
“If corroborated, this would constitute a serious violation of the humanitarian ceasefire… by Gazan militant factions, which should be condemned in the strongest terms,” the statement said.
The temporary ceasefire came into effect early on Friday after Israel accepted a joint proposal from the US and the UN which took into consideration a key demand by it.
Israel had been demanding that any ceasefire deal include a condition that allows its troops to remain in Gaza over the 72-hour truce which it says it would utilise to locate and neutralise tunnels infiltrating into Israel.
Representatives of the Palestinian authority, which controls the West Bank, and an Israeli delegation are in Cairo to work on a sustainable truce.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders are also camping in the Egyptian capital but talks with Israel are carried out informally through mediators as the militant factions do not recognise the Jewish state.
Image: Smoke and flames are seen following what witnesses said were Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 1, 2014. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters