Oliver Weiken / EPA

'Humanitarian' truce ends in Gaza, three kids reported killed in fighting

The UN requested the pause in fighting so besieged Gaza residents could gather supplies, repair infrastructure

Soon after the "humanitarian" cease-fire between Israel and Hamas ended Thursday afternoon, four Palestinians, three of them children, were reportedly killed in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City, the strip's main urban center. Their deaths came after four Palestinian children were killed Wednesday in an Israeli strike on a Gazan beach.

The children killed Thursday, two boys and a girl aged between 8 and 10, were on their roof in Gaza City when shrapnel hit them. The children were all members of the same family, according to a Gaza Health Ministry spokesman.

Their grandfather, Marzouk Shahaibar, said they had gone on the roof of his home in Gaza's Zeitoun neighborhood to feed pigeons when they were killed.

TV footage from the scene showed a doll and a sandal near pools of blood on the roof of the home. 

Their deaths came just after Palestinians rushed to shops and banks during the five-hour “humanitarian” cease-fire agreed to by Israel and Hamas. Hours earlier, the Israeli military said it had fought off gunmen who infiltrated from Gaza.

During the cease-fire, air raid sirens went off briefly in southern Israel, and the military said three mortars landed in open areas two hours after the cease-fire went into effect, but the truce appeared to hold, and Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said there were no injuries. No group in Gaza claimed responsibility for the mortar fire, and there were no reports of Israeli retaliation.

Israel and Hamas agreed to the break in 10 days of fighting to allow residents of the Gaza Strip to gather supplies and repair damage to infrastructure such as water mains and power. The United Nations proposed the humanitarian pause in fighting.

Amid the cease-fire, Israeli military personnel told Al Jazeera that the probability of a ground offensive in Gaza was “increasing.”

Israel has activated 40,000 troops and currently has approval for another 8,000, said the military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

In 2012, during the last Israeli campaign in Gaza, the military called up 70,000 troops, but did not invade.

Police in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, near the border crossing with Egypt, said tank shells landed on a house, killing at least three civilians, two hours before the cease-fire at 10 a.m. local time Thursday.

The Israeli military said 15 rockets were fired into Israel Thursday morning. It also said it prevented an attack by 13 fighters who infiltrated into Israel through a tunnel from Gaza.

The cross-border fighting has so far killed more than 259 Palestinians and one Israeli, according to officials. Israel has launched more than 1,825 airstrikes on the densely populated Gaza Strip, killing many civilians. Of the Palestinians killed so far in Operation Protective Edge, at least 67 were women and children and 11 were elderly, according to Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 1,800 people have been injured, and Gaza hospitals have reported severe medical supply shortages.

The first Israeli death was reported Tuesday, after shrapnel from a rocket hit a civilian handing out food to soldiers near the Gaza border.

The “humanitarian” cease-fire came after Israel intensified airstrikes overnight on Wednesday, as it promised to ramp up its offensive and ordered some 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate their homes ahead of more strikes.

The four Palestinian children who were killed Wednesday on a Gaza beach died when Israel's naval gunboats shelled the area, according to journalists and medics at the scene. Another boy was seriously injured in the shelling. 

"The kids were playing football on the beach. They were all ... under the age of 15," Ahmed Abu Hassera, 22, told Reuters.

Qedra, the Health Ministry spokesman, called it a “cowardly crime.”

Earlier Wednesday, the Israeli army dropped leaflets and issued prerecorded phone calls to residents of northeastern Gaza, telling them to evacuate.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Wednesday that "providing warnings does not make an otherwise unlawful attack lawful," and condemned both Israeli and Gazan attacks on civilians. Israeli airstrikes investigated by HRW revealed the targeting of civilian structures, often resulting in the unlawful killing of civilians. "Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes," the rights group said.

Indiscriminate attacks by armed groups in Gaza aimed at the Israeli population were also criticized by the organization.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel would intensify attacks on Gaza after Hamas didn't adhere to a cease-fire proposed by Egypt

Hamas said it never received a cease-fire proposal, and added that any deal that did not address its preconditions could not be approved.

Among those conditions, the group is demanding an end to Israel’s seven-year blockade of the occupied territory, recommitment by Israel to the terms of the 2012 cease-fire that ended the last offensive and the release of scores of Hamas members arrested across the West Bank in past weeks.

Islamic Jihad, the second largest armed group in Gaza, said Wednesday it would continue fighting until Israel met its demands. It offered a 10-year truce if Israel agreed to 10 conditions it set, Maan News reported.

Hamas also wants Egypt to ease its Rafah border closure, which along with Israel's control of Gaza's other borders has economically strangled the strip and restricted the movement of its residents.

The Israeli military has served demolition orders to residents of homes belonging to Hamas members, Haaretz reported. Israel said the members were involved in the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, which was followed by an intense military crackdown on Hamas in the occupied West Bank. Hamas has denied involvement in the crime.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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