Israel Declares 7-Hour Truce in Gaza; Withdraws Most Troops

Palestinians dig through the rubble of a building searching for bodies after what police said was an Israeli air strike at Shati (Beach) refugee camp in Gaza City August 4, 2014. A seven-hour truce under which Israel would unilaterally hold fire in most of the Gaza Strip went into force on Monday and Palestinians immediately accused Israel of breaking the ceasefire by bombing a house in Gaza City. Gaza officials say 1,796 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and more than a quarter of the impoverished enclave's 1.8 million residents displaced. As many as 3,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged. Israel has lost 64 soldiers in combat and three civilians to Palestinian cross-border shelling that has emptied many of its southern villages. |

Israel declared a seven-hour unilateral humanitarian ceasefire in most of the Gaza Strip beginning Monday morning after the United Nations criticized its missile strike on a UN school sheltering Palestinians. Israel now appears to be winding down its ground operations by pulling out a majority of its troops from the region.

Israel will hold fire from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time Monday in Gaza, provided Hamas militants do not launch attacks, to allow the entry of humanitarian aid and for displaced Palestinians to return to their homes, Sky News quoted the Israeli military as saying.

The ceasefire, however, does not apply in the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, where clashes are still underway.

While Israel withdrew most of its ground troops from Gaza Sunday, Hamas officials vowed to continue their fight, according to The Associated Press.

An Israeli attack on a UN school in Rafah left 10 civilians dead and wounded another 30 on Sunday.

In a strongly worded statement, the United Nations called the strike "appalling" and "disgraceful."

Israeli soldiers arrive at a staging area near the border with Gaza Strip August 4, 2014. Palestinians accused Israel of breaking its own ceasefire on Monday by launching a bomb attack on a refugee camp in Gaza City that killed an eight-year-old girl and wounded 29 other people. An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was checking the report. |

The Israeli military says it has identified at least 32 fortified tunnels in Gaza, 11 of which run deep beneath the border and lead into Israel's territory.

"We've caused substantial damage to this network to an extent where we've basically taken this huge threat and made it minimal," Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, was quoted as saying Sunday.

Israel began its attacks on Gaza on July 8 in response to an increase in cross-border rocket strikes by Hamas militants. Since then, more than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed and over 440,000 people in Gaza have been displaced, according to Sky News. Israel says 63 soldiers and three civilians have been killed in the fighting.

Lerner added that Israel will continue to target Hamas' rocket-firing capabilities and its ability to infiltrate Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel rejected ceasefire talks attended by Egyptian and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo in Egypt on Sunday, citing continuation of firing of Hamas rockets from Gaza.

The UN condemnation of Israel came two days after the White House strongly criticized Gaza militants for violating a ceasefire, calling it "barbaric and outrageous."

"This is an outrageous action and we look to the rest of the world to join us in condemning it," White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told MSNBC.

"The Israelis, of course, are reporting this morning that that ceasefire was broken," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told CNN. "Apparently, Hamas individuals used the cover of a humanitarian ceasefire to attack Israeli soldiers and even to take one hostage. That would be a rather barbaric violation of the cease-fire."

Two Israeli soldiers were killed and another soldier, identified as 23-year-old Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was believed to be abducted after Hamas militants emerged from a tunnel in Gaza last week. However, Israel's military later said Goldin died in combat.

Last week, the U.S. Senate as well as the House approved a $225-million support for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier traveled to Egypt and France to help forge an agreement between Israel and Palestinian militants to end the fighting.

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