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Gaza death toll surpasses 1,000 as bodies recovered

July 26, 2014 5:55 P.M. (Updated: July 27, 2014 10:18 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip rose to over 1,000 on Saturday amid a brief truce, as some 135 bodies were pulled from the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli attacks throughout the besieged coastal enclave, medics said.

The bodies were found on the 19th day of Israel's assault on Gaza, during a 12-hour truce in which many Gaza residents picked through the ruins of their homes.

Meanwhile, Israeli TV said that Israel's security cabinet had approved a four-hour extension of the truce, prolonging the ceasefire until midnight.

As the brief period of calm took effect Saturday, survivors began to venture out of their homes to survey what was left, while those who had fled cautiously returned to see what had become of their abandoned houses.

The updated death toll was announced as Israeli officials considered extending the truce even longer, on the condition that the army continue targeting tunnels in Gaza, Israeli media said.

News site Ynet quoted a government source as saying an Israeli cabinet meeting was scheduled to take place at 9:30 pm to discuss the possibility.

It was initially unclear whether Hamas and other factions in Gaza would agree to extend the truce.

So far, Palestinian medical teams have used the ceasefire as an opportunity to recover dead bodies still buried under destroyed buildings.

Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Palestinian health ministry, said in a statement at 7:00 p.m. that 132 bodies had been recovered so far.

Many of the bodies were pulled from Gaza City's Shujaiyya neighborhood, which has experienced some of the heaviest Israeli shelling and airstrikes throughout the Gaza offensive. At least 70 people were killed in the neighborhood in one night of shelling last Sunday, a bombardment Palestinians have come to call "the Shujaiyya massacre."

Khuzaa in Khan Younis has been heavily targeted as well, but Israeli forces have refused to allow ambulances and search teams to access the village.

An Israeli army spokeswoman told Ma'an that Palestinians in the Khan Younis area had been told to leave their homes days ago and told not to return during the ceasefire, and that therefore rescue teams were "not allowed to search" in parts of the southern Gaza Strip.

More Israeli soldiers announced dead

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said in a statement that the number of soldiers killed during Israel's ground invasion of Gaza had risen to 40.

"Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, 40 IDF (army) officers and soldiers have been killed," the statement said.

The militant wing of the Popular Resistance Committees had announced earlier that their fighters had killed a soldier earlier in the day.

Hamas' al-Qassam Brigades announced Friday that its militants had killed "at least" 10 soldiers with explosives in eastern Beit Hanoun.

Palestinian militant groups have claimed that the Israeli army has yet to announce the deaths of a handful of its troops.

Even taking the army's numbers at face value, the amount of soldiers killed during Israel's current Gaza offensive is the largest military loss the country has faced since its war with Lebanon in 2006.

AFP contributed to this report.
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