Jerusalem, July 28 :
Israel embarked on an “unlimited ceasefire” policy in Gaza Monday morning after 21 days of conflict claimed over 1,030 Palestinian lives.
The new policy, adopted amid mounting international pressure to halt hostilities, means the Israeli military will halt the deliberate attacks in Gaza and will open fire only in retaliation to Gaza militant fire, an Israeli official told Xinhua.
“We are now on ‘unlimited ceasefire’, as decided by the political echelon,” the source said. The Prime Minister’s Office was not immediately available for comment.
However, according to local media reports although the military seems to be holding fire on the ground and from the air, it will continue to destroy Hamas’s cross-border tunnels.
Rocket fire from Gaza also declined sharply Monday, with only a single incident in which a rocket was fired this morning at the city of Ashkelon on Israel’s southern coast hitting an open field.
An Israeli military spokesperson said that following the incident, “the Israel Defence Forces retaliated towards Beit Lahyia area from which the rocket was fired”.
The ongoing fighting between the Hamas and the Israeli army in Gaza, which started July 8, has claimed the lives of more than 1,030 Palestinians, at least 720 of them civilians, according to UN and Palestinian health officials. On the Israeli side, 46 people were killed, 43 of them soldiers, according to the Israeli military and police.
The new ceasefire policy comes a day after US President Barack Obama spoke on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, demanding “an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement” brokered by Egypt.
On Monday morning, the UN Security Council joined Obama’s call and urged “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire, allowing for the delivery of urgently needed assistance” in Gaza.
The pressure for a ceasefire came after Israel and Hamas launched fresh attacks at each other Sunday despite going back-and-forth over proposals for another temporary truce. Following intense US and UN mediation efforts, both sides agreed to a 12-hour ceasefire Saturday, but that lull could not be sustained.
Representatives of Palestine and Israel to the UN Monday voiced disappointment at the Security Council statement endorsing a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
The presidential statement, which was adopted at an emergency council meeting in the early hours of the day, expressed “strong support for the call by international partners and the secretary-general of the UN for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian permanent observer to the UN, was the first to speak of disappointment.
“We were expecting to see the Security Council deal with the issue of providing protection for our people and to deal with legitimate concerns of our people in the Gaza Strip,” Mansour said.
“These elements were not reflected in this statement and we are disappointed in that sense,” he said.
“We thought that a resolution should be in order and we will continue pressing the Security Council to shoulder its responsibility to put an end to this aggression.”
The presidential statement, while being an official proclamation endorsed by all members of the council, does not carry the weight of international law as does a resolution.
For his part, Ambassador Ron Prosor of Israel was also disappointed that there was no mention of Hamas, which rules over Gaza.
“We heard a presidential statement right now from the Security Council that miraculously managed not to mention Hamas or rockets or Israel’s right to defend its citizens,” he said.
“Hamas sends suicide bombers to our schools, buses and cities,” Prosor said. “They dig tunnels of terror that reach the doorsteps of our homes, schools and kindergartens.”