Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

Israel, Hamas begin 12-hour halt in hostilities

Pause follows Israel's earlier rejection of Kerry-brokered plan for a 7-day halt in deadly conflict with Hamas

Israel and Hamas began a 12-hour pause in fighting Saturday morning after agreeing to the temporary truce just hours before. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip poured into the streets to recover their dead and stock up on food supplies. 

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the movement, together with all armed groups in Gaza, had agreed to the temporary cease-fire, which he said was mediated by the United Nations.

The halt in fighting started at 8 a.m. local time (0600 GMT). But the Israeli military warned Friday that it "shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit this time to attack IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) personnel or fire at Israeli civilians." 

The break in fighting would not halt Israel's efforts to destroy dozens of cross-border infiltration tunnels used by Hamas to threaten Israel’s southern villages and army bases, the Israeli military said on Twitter. 

The announcements of the pause came hours after Israel rejected a proposal by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for all parties to observe a week-long halt to the deadly conflict, which threatens to spill over into the occupied West Bank.

Kerry's proposal, which other countries in the region including Turkey and Qatar tried to broker, called for a seven-day humanitarian halt to the conflict while parties enter into intense negotiations to reach a mutually acceptable deal.

Gaza officials said more than 825 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have died in 18 days of conflict. More than 5,000 have reportedly been injured. Thursday’s death toll of 115 made it one of the deadliest days of the Israeli offensive.

Israel said 35 of its soldiers have died in the Gaza ground invasion, whose aim, it says, is to destroy dozens of cross-border tunnels. On Friday the Israeli military said that soldier Oron Shaul, whom Hamas' winged arm claimed to have captured earlier this week, was in fact killed in action in Gaza.

Three civilians have been killed in Israel by rocket and mortar fire from Gaza — the kind of attacks that surged last month amid Hamas anger at a crackdown on its activists in the West Bank, prompting the July 8 launch of the Israeli offensive.

In the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas governs in uneasy coordination with Israel, about 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza overnight Thursday – a scale recalling the events of mass uprisings of the past. Protesters surged against an Israeli army checkpoint, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and Palestinian medics said one was shot dead and 200 were wounded when troops opened fire.

The next day medics said five Palestinians were killed in separate incidents near the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron, including a shooting that witnesses blamed on what appeared to have been a Jewish settler.

On Friday, Israeli paramilitary police went on high alert for flare-ups at Jerusalem's most important mosque during prayers for the final stretch of the Ramadan Muslim holy month.

Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel's police minister and a member of the security cabinet, said he was shuttling between consultations on how to contain the rising hostilities.

"We have had a very difficult night," he told Israel's Army Radio. "I hope we can get through today all right."

Al Jazeera and wire services

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