Ceasefire long enough 'to feed the cat'

Last updated 12:16 16/07/2014

CEASEFIRE OVER: Israelis take cover on the side of a road as a siren sounds warning of incoming rockets outside the northern Gaza Strip.

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It was a brief, one-sided lull.

But six hours without Israeli bombardment was enough to give ordinary people in Gaza some hope on Tuesday that an end to fighting might be near.

For Hassan Abu Ali, a retired police officer who used the pause to check in at his family's home in northern Gaza, it was just enough time "to feed the cat''.

After more than a week of steady attacks, Israel halted its air attacks at 9am on Tuesday, heeding an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire.

Temporary shelters in Gaza City began to empty. Many of the tens of thousands who evacuated the northern tier of Gaza began to return home.

But Hamas militants did not agree to the ceasefire. The military wing of the Islamist organisation started lobbing mortar rounds at Israel within minutes after Israel's attacks stopped. During Abu Ali's visit home, the sound of Hamas rockets passing overhead reverberated through the skies.

It was clear that Hamas' defiance would be answered, but the few Palestinians who had supported a ceasefire found themselves loudly shouted down.

At the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, crowds gathered to throw shoes and eggs at the Palestinian Authority's health minister, who represents the crumbling "unity government" in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The minister was turned away before he reached the hospital, which has become a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.

From a loudspeaker at a mosque across the street, a protester called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his government "traitors" and "collaborators" for allegedly supporting the ceasefire proposal.

Israel said that more than 140 rockets and mortars were launched at it from Gaza during the day. One of the attacks caused the first fatality on the Israeli side when a man was struck by a mortar shell Tuesday evening. He was a volunteer bringing food to Israeli soldiers stationed near the Erez crossing point.

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had had enough. He ordered a resumption of airstrikes to counter the volleys by Hamas.

One of the first targets hit was a house belonging to Suhail al-Husari, 44, a tailor. He stood in front of wreckage in Gaza City and said, "I have saved all my life to build my home".

Husari lived next door to a Hamas operative, who was the target, neighbours said. Israel telephoned the man, dropped two non-lethal warning rockets on the roof, and then levelled the whole building five minutes later. There were no injuries.

Before midnight, there were reports that the Israeli military was again telephoning and warning residents to flee the northern tier of Gaza and to evacuate two other neighbourhoods west of Gaza City.

The sand dunes and agricultural fields in northern Gaza have become a particularly dangerous zone over the past week, particularly at night. The Israeli military hit a site this week at Erez because rockets were being fired at Israel from a nearby launchpad.

With the Gaza crossing into Egypt at Rafah closed and crossings into Israel severely limited, the strip had already been mostly sealed off. But the Hamas government took a further step on Tuesday by closing its side of the Erez crossing, the only turnstile for people in Gaza to travel to Israel.

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At least for now, this means that no one can come and go from Gaza, including patients who rely on the Erez crossing to go to Israel for medical treatments. Because of a partial Israeli military blockade, Gaza has no airport or seaport.

 - Washington Post

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