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Israel, Hamas agree Gaza humanitarian truce

July 17, 2014 9:53 A.M. (Updated: July 18, 2014 11:16 A.M.)
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Israel and Hamas have agreed to a UN request to briefly halt hostilities Thursday on humanitarian grounds, after an Israeli strike killed four Palestinian children on a beach, while efforts intensify to secure a formal truce.

The sides announced the temporary lull in fighting after Israel resumed airstrikes following the failure of an Egyptian-brokered truce, which Hamas says was not discussed with the group before being made public.

Ahead of the five-hour pause, due to begin at 10 a.m., hostilities continued early Thursday with Israel's air strikes, on the 10th day of its campaign, taking the toll to 227 killed and 1,678 wounded, Gaza medical services said.

Muhammad Hassunah, 65, and Muhammad al-Hoot were killed by an Israeli missile at 4 a.m. while on their way to a mosque in Rafah for dawn prayers.

Medics said Hassunah's body was ripped to pieces in the attack.

Zaynab Muhammad al-Abadlah, 71, died Thursday morning from injuries sustained in an Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis and 22-year-old Muhammad Mahmoud al-Qadim died in an airstrike on central Gaza.

Also on Thursday morning, a 22-year-old man Muhammad Mahmoud al-Qadim succumbed to wounds he sustained in an Israeli raid in eastern Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.

Ahmad Rihan, 23, was killed in northern Gaza by an Israeli aerial attack.

The Israeli army said early on Thursday that Israel had conducted 37 raids overnight on Gaza, while seven rockets were fired from Gaza, four of which landed in fields and the rest were intercepted by Israel's missile defenses.

The Israeli army announced it would halt its bombardment of Gaza between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Thursday, following the UN request for a humanitarian truce.

Hamas later followed suit.

"The Palestinian factions agreed to accept the offer from the United Nations for a cooling-down on the ground for five hours starting from 10 in the morning," spokesman Sami Abu Zukhri told AFP.

In Cairo, a Hamas official met Egyptian leaders and President Mahmoud Abbas arrived to join the diplomatic efforts.

Israeli news website NRG said that "Israeli representatives" would also join the Cairo deliberations.

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Egypt's efforts to broker a ceasefire, offering Washington's full diplomatic support.

"Over the next 24 hours, we'll continue to stay in close contact with our friends and parties in the region, and we will use all of our diplomatic resources and relationships to support efforts of closing a deal on a ceasefire," he said.

Obama said that while he and the world were "heartbroken" by the deaths of civilians in the Gaza Strip, US ally Israel had the "right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize" its population.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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