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Israel declares 7-hour Gaza truce after fury over school strike

Aug. 4, 2014 1:25 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 5, 2014 1:18 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel announced it would be holding its fire in most of Gaza for seven hours Monday, amid world outrage over a deadly strike on a UN school in the Palestinian territory.

The unilateral truce, four weeks into fighting with Hamas, came after world powers fiercely condemned the attack that left 10 Palestinians sheltering at a school dead, as Israel was pulling some of its troops from Gaza.

The Israeli army said the seven-hour "humanitarian window" would take place between 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.in all of the Palestinian enclave except the area east of southern city Rafah, "where clashes were still ongoing and there was Israeli military presence."

The army warned in a statement that it would "respond to any attempt to exploit this window" and attack civilians and soldiers during the truce, the sixth Israel has declared since the July 8 beginning of the confrontation.

It also said that residents of Abasan al Kabira and Abasan al Saghira, two villages east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, could return home beginning 8:00 Monday.

The announcement was received with distrust by Hamas, whose spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called on Gazans to proceed with caution.

"The unilateral ceasefire announced by Israel is an attempt to divert the attention from Israeli massacres," he said.

Medical officials in Gaza said over 1,800 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the July 8 beginning of the confrontation.

The Israeli army said that it had on Sunday targeted three Islamic Jihad militants on a motorbike "in vicinity of an UNRWA school in Rafah," southern Gaza.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attack on the school sheltering some 3,000 Palestinians who had fled their homes due to the fighting "a moral outrage and a criminal act."

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was "appalled" by the attack and called for a "full and prompt" investigation.

"Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties," she said.

French President Francois Hollande said the bombing of the school was "unacceptable," backing calls by Ban "to ask that those responsible for this violation of international law answer for their actions," without saying who he considered responsible.

In an early Monday statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "Israel does not aim its fire at civilians and is sorry for any attack that unintentionally hits civilians," without directly addressing the attack on the school.
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