LAST_UPDATESun, 24 Jun 2018 3pm

Israel Declares 'Humanitarian Truce' In Gaza

Relatives of the children killed on the Gaza beach were distraughtRelatives of the children killed on the Gaza beach were distraughtIsrael says it will observe a "humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza on Thursday, after days of deadly rocket and missile exchanges with militants.

A statement from the Israeli military said it would hold fire from 10:00 to 15:00 (07:00-12:00 GMT), to allow residents to stock up on supplies.

Palestinian officials say Israeli raids have killed 220 Gazans and wounded almost 1,800 since 8 July.

Hamas militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets, killing one Israeli.

In an interview with BBC Arabic, a senior Israeli army officer, Brig Gen Yoav Mordechai, said the ceasefire had been requested by the UN and other international organisations.

But the statement by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) added that Israel would respond "firmly and decisively" should the humanitarian window be used by militants "for the purpose of launching attacks against Israeli civilian or military targets".

Killed on the beach

The move was announced hours after Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, confirmed that it had rejected an earlier ceasefire proposed by Egypt.

Israel initially observed the ceasefire on Tuesday, but resumed its strikes amid continued rocket fire from Gaza.

Yolande Knell, BBC News, Gaza

We heard loud thuds by the coast and saw smoke rise behind a beachside hotel used by journalists. The boys who were killed were from a family of fishermen who work in the nearby port. It's understood that they were playing by a shipping container. Witnesses said the site was hit twice.

Hamas described the attack as a war crime, and called for the United Nations to condemn it. Israel's military says it's investigating what happened. It often targets open areas by the sea which are used by militants to launch rockets into its territory.

Health officials here say 213 Palestinians have been killed in the past nine days. Earlier, in Israel, there was a funeral for the first Israeli civilian killed in this conflict. He was hit by a mortar shell fired from Gaza near the northern border with Israel.

Kevin Connolly, BBC Middle East correspondent, Jerusalem

Israel has acknowledged that at least one attack which caused civilian casualties earlier in this conflict was a tragedy - and while it will argue that such incidents take time to investigate, it may do so again.

But its underlying position does not change. It blames Hamas for civilian fatalities and injuries at two levels. First, it says Hamas bears overall responsibility for the flare-up of hostilities and second, it argues that the Israeli armed forces go to great length to avoid civilian casualties.

It says Palestinian militants use their own people as human shields. Palestinians don't accept any of that. They point angrily to the civilian death toll and feel they are being subjected to brutal collective punishment.

Israel takes every opportunity to make its case to the international community. By accepting the first Egyptian ceasefire proposal, when Hamas did not, it believes it has the political and diplomatic high ground. Attempts to broker a ceasefire may go on - but so does the fighting.

'Tragic outcome'

Four children were among those killed in Israeli strikes on Wednesday. They died while playing on a beach near Gaza City.

The Israel Defense Forces said they were "carefully investigating" the incident, adding that "based on preliminary results, the target of this strike was Hamas terrorist operatives".

"The reported civilian causalities from this strike are a tragic outcome," the statement said.

Israel launched its Operation Protective Edge on 8 July. Its stated objective is to halt Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, but the UN says most of those killed in Gaza have been civilians.

Gaza militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel on Wednesday.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters that the group did not accept Egypt's ceasefire proposal and that Israel would pay a heavy price for its strikes.

Hamas - designated a terrorist organisation by Israel and the US, among others - is demanding the easing of border closures in Gaza and the release of Hamas prisoners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas had "shut the door to a diplomatic solution" and bore "sole responsibility for the continuation of the violence".

A spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry told the BBC that it would continue talking to all the parties. "We have no other option," he said.



--BBC News