United Nations/Gaza/Jerusalem, Aug 1 :
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday condemned “in the strongest terms” Hamas’s violation of a mutually agreed ceasefire in the Gaza Strip even as the toll in the ongoing Israeli offensive rose to 1,463
In a statement, Ban urged Israelis and Palestinians to exercise maximum restraint and return to the ceasefire which began earlier in the day, Xinhua reported.
“The secretary-general condemns in the strongest terms the reported violation by Hamas of the mutually agreed humanitarian ceasefire which commenced this morning,” he said in the statement read out to the press at world body’s headquarters by his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“He is shocked and profoundly disappointed by these developments,” Dujarric said.
“The secretary-general notes that the UN has no independent means to verify exactly what happened,” the statement said.
“According to the latest reports, two IDF (Israel Defence Forces) soldiers were killed and one taken captive after the humanitarian ceasefire came into effect.
“This would constitute a grave violation of the ceasefire, and one that is likely to have very serious consequences for the people of Gaza, Israel and beyond,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, at least 27 Palestinians were killed and 200 wounded Friday in Israeli air raids and artillery attacks on the city of Rafah, in the south of Gaza, breaking the 72-hour humanitarian truce agreed by Israel and Hamas.
Local sources in Rafah reported intense fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian militias in the area, which borders Egypt, Efe news agency reported.
The fighting broke out only hours after the humanitarian truce took effect at 8 a.m.
Earlier, the Palestinian news agency Maan said a man was shot dead in Gaza City and two others were killed in an Israeli air raid.
Israel, on its part, had accused Hamas of firing eight rockets on its territory despite the truce brokered by the US and the UN.
Israel, which has vowed to continue its offensive on Gaza until all the underground tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks are destroyed, had agreed to the truce but had made it clear that its troops would remain on the ground.
Another 16,000 reservists were called up on Wednesday to reinforce the ground offensive launched on July 17, bringing to 86,000 the number of Israeli troops involved in Operation Protective Edge.
Palestinian militias on Friday found four bodies as they searched the ruins of buildings just after the beginning of the truce.
According to a Xinhua report, the Israeli military said Friday a US/UN-backed Gaza ceasefire that went into effect earlier Friday was over while military operations continued on the ground.
At a media conference call, Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, confirmed the termination of the 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire, saying: “We are continuing our activities on the ground.”
Israeli media reported that Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has informed the UN that the ceasefire was over due to rocket firing. However, a spokesperson with the COGAT office declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military said that eight rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel after the truce went into effect.
“One was intercepted and seven hit open areas,” the spokesperson said. No casualties or damages were reported.
Also Friday, Israel said in a statement that one of its soldiers might have been kidnapped earlier in the day by Gaza militants during clashes in the southern Gaza Strip.
According to a Israeli military spokesperson, at around 9.30 a.m., militants in Gaza opened fire at Israeli troops in the southern Gaza Strip.
“Preliminary information indicates that a soldier may have been kidnapped,” the spokesperson said.
The military was deploying large air and ground forces, including intelligence efforts, in order to locate the missing soldier.
According to the Efe report, 1,463 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and over 8,000 wounded since the Israeli offensive began 25 days ago.