Israeli shelling near the southern Gaza town of Rafah killed at least 25 people on Friday, the Palestinian Interior Ministry said, as a cease-fire that went into effect only hours earlier appeared to be crumbling. An official later told The Associated Press that Israeli tank fire had killed 27 Palestinians, and more than 150 had been wounded.
Israel accused Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups of violating the U.S.- and U.N.-mediated truce, but did not elaborate, amid Israeli media reports that gunmen had fired at Israeli soldiers in the Rafah area. The Israeli Defence Forces also said an Israeli soldier is missing and feared kidnapped by Gaza militants.
“This morning, our forces in Gaza on the ground were attacked,” Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview Friday morning.
“Hamas has destroyed the possibility of a humanitarian cease-fire.”
The 72-hour cease-fire had been brokered by the United States and United Nations. It kicked in at 8 a.m. local time on Friday — about 1 a.m. ET. Mediators hailed the truce as a potential crucial step toward a lasting truce. It was the most ambitious attempt at ending three-and-a-half weeks of fighting in the region, and Israeli and Palestinian officials were scheduled to go to Cairo for negotiations with Egypt’s government aimed at ending the fighting.
Israel launched its offensive in Hamas Islamist-dominated Gaza on July 8, unleashing air and naval bombardments in response to a surge of cross-border rocket attacks. Tanks and infantry pushed into the territory of 1.8 million on July 17.
Gaza officials say at least 1,459 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and 7,000 wounded. Sixty-one Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets in Israel.
(Reuters reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Giles Elgood)
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