UPDATE (9:56 AM EST): Hostilities resume after brief 'humanitarian pause' in Gaza
Following several hours early on Thursday of an agreed cessation of violence, a report of rocket fire from Gaza seemed to indicate the temporary cease-fire between Israel and factions within the occupied Gaza Strip was over.
Amidst the updates surrounding the ongoing conflict Thursday, new reports of a more long-term cease fire agreement swirled with conflicting perspectives on the parameters of such a deal or how close any of the parties were to an agreement.
In an exclusive, the Electronic Intifada website released what its say are the five conditions set by Hamas for a full cease-fire. Translated by the site's editors from the original Arabic, the conditions are as follows:
First – Opening all the crossing with the Gaza Strip.
Second – Opening Rafah crossing, the link between Gaza and Egypt, on a permanent basis, 24 hours per day with international guarantees it will not be closed.
Third – A maritime corridor to Gaza.
Fourth – Allowing residents of the Gaza Strip to pray in the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Fifth – Israel will release the prisoners who were freed as part of the “Shalit” deal, and Israel will abide by the previous agreement reached by prisoners and the Israel Prison Service with Egyptian mediation in 2012.
Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, however, has dismissed reports of a new truce agreement and characterized reports of a deal as "far from reflecting reality."
And Ma'an reports from Gaza that a Hamas official there has "denied a ceasefire deal with Israel has been reached, rejecting claims from an Israeli official that they had agreed to halt fire early Friday."
"The news about a ceasefire is incorrect. There are continuing efforts but no agreement until now," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP on Thursday.
Meanwhile, The Guardian reports on a stash of weapons discovered by the United Nations in one of its school inside the Gaza Strip:
The UN's Relief and World for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA says it has discovered 20 rockets hidden in one of its empty school in the Gaza strip.
It condemned the placement of rockets in the school as a "flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law."
It says an investigation has been launched.
UNWRA's schools have housed for thousands of Palestinians seeking shelter during the current Israeli bombardment.
In a statement it said: "Palestinian civilians in Gaza rely on UNRWA to provide humanitarian assistance and shelter. At all times, and especially during escalations of violence, the sanctity and integrity of UN installations must be respected."
A momentary "pause" in hostilities was underway in the Gaza Strip on Thursday morning as a six-hour cease fire requested by the United Nations allowed Palestinians a brief window to move about freely and gather much-needed supplies after more than nine days of heavy bombardment by Israeli forces.
Valerie Amos, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), welcomed the commitment on both sides for the temporary respite but urged both sides to quickly find a more lasting settlement.
“This is the third major military confrontation in Gaza in six years," said Amos, "and civilians have borne the brunt each time. They are paying the price for a collective failure to break the cycle of violence and reach a lasting political solution."
The pause in fighting comes a day after four Palestinian children were killed by Israeli shelling on a beach in Gaza City, bringing the number of Palestinians killed to at least 225 people, with more than 1,500 wounded. On the Israeli side, one man was killed on Tuesday as he visited troops near the border after being struck by shrapnel from a rocket launched from Gaza.
Thursday morning was not without incident, as some rocket fire towards Israel from the Gaza Strip was reported as well as renewed shelling by Israeli tanks and at least one airstrike said to be in response to Palestinian fighters moving through a tunnel near the border.
According to Reuters:
Palestinians rushed to shops and banks on Thursday as a five-hour humanitarian truce agreed by Israel and Hamas came into force, hours after the Israeli military said it had fought off gunmen who infiltrated from Gaza.
During the ceasefire, air raid sirens went off briefly in southern Israel and the military said three mortars landed in open areas, but the truce appeared to be generally holding. No group in Gaza claimed responsibility for the mortar fire and there were no reports of Israeli retaliation.
Hours before the truce began, about a dozen Palestinian fighters tunnelled under the border, emerging near an Israeli community. At least one was killed when Israeli aircraft bombed the group, the military said.
Despite the welcome reduction of violence, fears continue to loom that what lies ahead is a larger-scale military operation by Israeli forces, including a ground operation. Numerous, though often 'unnamed,' Israeli officials have suggested that a land invasion is "likely" despite warnings from the United Nations and humanitarian aid organizations that such an assault would lead to even more Palestinian civilian casualties.