Ceasefire Fails In Gaza


UPDATED: Friday August 1, 2014 6:23 AM

CBS NEWS - GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- A three-day cease-fire in the Gaza Strip went into effect Friday following heavy Israel-Hamas fighting that killed 17 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers, but was almost immediately marred by reports of rockets from Gaza and the deaths of four Palestinians from alleged Israeli tank fire.

About four hours into the truce window, there were reports on Israeli TV that the military had decided to end the cease-fire, blaming Hamas militants for violating its terms. The Israeli Defense Ministry would not confirm to CBS News that it had officially decided to end the truce.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement that, "once again, Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza have blatantly broken the cease-fire to which they committed, this time before the American Secretary of State and the U.N. Secretary General."

"Ending the ceasefire will be a governmental decision, but as you see, Hamas breached the temporary ceasefire window," added an IDF official.

The cease-fire, announced by the U.S. and the U.N. hours earlier, took effect at 8:00 a.m. local time (1 a.m. EDT) Friday. Negotiations on a more durable truce were supposed to take place during the lull under the terms of the deal worked out by the U.S. and U.N.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned Thursday that there were "no guarantees" that the cease-fire would bring an end to the Gaza war, now in its fourth week.

As ever, Israel and Hamas both said they would respect the cease-fire but would respond to attacks, and Kerry's cautionary note of the previous day proved well-founded just two hours into the halt in fighting.

A CBS News team approaching the Kerem Shalom border crossing at the far southern end of the Gaza Strip, from the Israeli side, heard explosions and was told by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel that rocket fire was coming into the area from the Gaza side.

Soon after, Gaza officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli shelling near the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Israel said it was looking into the reports.

An hour later, an Israeli Army spokesman confirmed a heavy exchange of fire had erupted in the Rafah area, without providing further details.

At least eight rockets landed in southern Israel, causing no damage, according to the IDF.

An IDF spokesman told CBS News the military was looking into reports that an Israeli soldier might have been captured in southern Gaza.

Terms of the cease-fire included a halt to rocket fire and a freezing of ground troop positions, according to CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan. However, Israel's operations to destroy Hamas' elaborate tunnel network were expected to continue.

Israel said most of the 32 tunnels it had uncovered had been demolished and getting rid of the remainder would take no more than a few days.

The truce was announced hours after Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas' tunnel network "with or without a cease-fire."

Aides said Kerry made more than 100 calls over the last 10 days, including several dozen on Thursday alone, to broker the agreement that he failed to reach a week ago in Cairo to much ridicule and indignation from Israelis who accused him of going soft on Hamas. He announced the deal in the middle of the night Friday with an air of weariness, and solemnity, rather than declaring victory.

"This is not a time for congratulations and joy, or anything except a serious determination, a focus, by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead," Kerry told a half-dozen reporters who were hastily summoned to his hotel suite only 45 minutes after the deal was struck. "This is a respite. It's a moment of opportunity, not an end; it's not a solution. It's the opportunity to find the solution."

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the cease-fire was the result of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's trip recent trip to the region as well as 48 hours of "extremely active diplomacy at all levels" - including Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

At least four short humanitarian cease-fires have been announced since the conflict began, but each has been broken within a few hours by renewed fighting.

Hours before the latest cease-fire was to take effect, 17 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes, including 10 people from the same family, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health official. He said the family members were killed in an airstrike on their home in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.

Israel's military said five of its soldiers were killed along the Gaza border Thursday evening when a mortar round was fired at them.

More than 1,450 Palestinians have been killed since hostilities began July 8, according to Palestinian officials. Israel says 61 of its soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed.

In the hours before the cease-fire took effect Friday, Gaza police reported heavy Israeli tank shelling in northern and eastern Gaza, and the loud exchange of fire between Israeli troops and militants was audible throughout Gaza City. Tank shells landed on homes in the city, setting homes and shops ablaze.

Hamas fighters hit an Israeli tank with an anti-tank missile, Gaza police said, and then attacked Israeli troops who came to evacuate the tank crew. Clashes continued into the early morning hours, police said.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the matter.