U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was holding talks with diplomats from various countries in France Saturday for a comprehensive truce deal between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza Strip even as both sides agreed for a 12-hour ceasefire.
Several foreign ministers were in Paris Saturday – the day a 12-hour humanitarian truce went into effect in Gaza Strip on a U.N. request – to help forge an agreement between Israel and Palestinian militants to end the fighting that has been going on for 19 days, according to Reuters.
"In support of initiatives currently under way, most notably Egypt's initiative, our objective is to converge all international efforts so that the conditions of a ceasefire can emerge as quickly as possible," a French diplomatic source told Reuters.
The meeting in Paris was to be attended by Turkey, Qatar, Germany, Italy, Britain and the European Union without any representation from Israel, Hamas or the Palestinian Authority.
It is being hoped that a comprehensive truce could be reached ahead of the Muslim festival next week.
Israel and Hamas were due to hold fire until 8 p.m. Saturday, but parts of Gaza came under heavy bombardment, with explosions and black smoke rising above Gaza City, minutes before the ceasefire went into effect, according to Sky News. Israeli tank shelling killed 18 members of the same Palestinian family in the southern Gaza Strip, it quoted Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qidra as saying.
Israel's military said it would continue with its search for tunnels used by Hamas militants after the ceasefire ends.
Kerry was in Egypt Friday for negotiations with regional power brokers as well as the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, for a seven-day truce between Israel and Palestine. The efforts failed. Kerry, however, said Israel had not rejected the offer.
"There was no formal proposal submitted to Israel," Kerry was quoted as saying. "Let's make that absolutely crystal clear. Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu called me a few minutes before this to tell me that that [rejection] was an error, and he's putting out a statement to that effect ... It's fair to say that Israel had some opposition to some concepts, but that doesn't mean a proposal by any means."
Israel says it is targeting terror tunnels and other targets that they say pose a direct threat to its people. It has also blamed Hamas for the civilian casualties, saying that the militants are using people as human shields.
Hamas has rejected the cease-fire proposal with Israel pushed by Kerry, saying the only way for truce is if the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza is lifted.
"When it comes to the balance of power in this crisis between us and Israel, they are the executioners, the aggressors, the occupiers, the settlers, and we are the true owners of the land," Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Wednesday, according to Fox News. "We will not accept anything but the end of the siege."
The Wall Street Journal noted that any lifting of the blockade will likely be resisted by Israel, which is concerned about the trade of weapons bound for Hamas.
About 600 Palestinians are said to have been killed so far, including women and children, while 27 Israeli soldiers have lost their lives.
Several Evangelical church leaders in Jerusalem have called for Christians around the world to join together in prayer for the people trapped in the violent conflict.
Of the two million people that live in Gaza, roughly 1,000 are Christians.