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Updated: Fri, 25 Jul 2014 22:32:14 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Gaza conflict: Israel agrees to 12-hour ceasefire



Palestinians throw stones at members of the Israeli army during the funeral of three Palestinians, who medics said were killed during clashes with Israeli troops. Israel's military has said Israel will observe a 12-hour ceasefire in Gaza beginning Saturday morning at 8 a.m., but warned it will respond if Israel continues to be attacked. Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

Palestinians throw stones at members of the Israeli army during the funeral of three Palestinians, who medics said were killed during clashes with Israeli troops. Israel's military has said Israel will observe a 12-hour ceasefire in Gaza beginning Saturday morning at 8 a.m., but warned it will respond if Israel continues to be attacked. Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

Israel's military has agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian truce on fighting militants in Gaza, after an earlier bid on Friday by the U.S. secretary of state to broker a weeklong ceasefire did not succeed.

A spokeswoman with the Israeli military told the Reuters news agency the brief truce would begin at 8 a.m. Israeli time, and that troops would use the time to search tunnels used by militants. She warned that the military would "respond if terrorists choose to exploit this time to attack Israel Defence Forces personnel or fire at Israeli civilians."

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The break in fighting comes after U.S. State John Kerry said Friday in Cairo that he is continuing to work on reaching a deal between Israel and Hamas to call a seven-day humanitarian truce in fighting that has killed more than 820 Palestinians and 38 people in Israel.

Speaking alongside the UN secretary general and the Egyptian foreign minister, Kerry insisted that there was a general agreement on the "concept" of a truce but that both sides had concerns over details of carrying it out.

"Gaps have been significantly narrowed," he said. "It can be achieved, if we work through some of the issues that are important for the parties."

According to Israeli media, the country's security cabinet unanimously rejected the U.S. proposal for a truce mainly because it would mean Israel would have to cut short its effort to destroy Hamas's military tunnels under the Gaza-Israeli border.

"At this moment, we are working towards a brief seven days peace. Seven days of a humanitarian ceasefire in honour of Eid," Kerry said, referring to the Muslim holiday observed at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

He added that he hoped for a "down payment" with respect to a short-term ceasefire, during which the Israelis and Palestinians could work toward a more permanent solution.

'Serious progress'

Kerry said in Cairo said that "serious progress" had been made on a truce but there was more work to do.

Gaza fighting continued alongside the truce efforts. Israeli airstrikes hit more than 80 sites in Gaza, while militants in the tiny Mediterranean strip fired 50 rockets at Israel, the army said. Among the sites hit in Gaza were 30 homes, including that of a leader of the Islamic Jihad group who was killed along with his sons, Palestinian officials said.

Unrest sparked by the conflict intensified in the West Bank, where five Palestinians were killed during protests against the Israeli operation in Gaza.

Kerry's comments reflected the difficulty of reaching even a brief halt in fighting, with Israel determined to destroy Hamas's military tunnels from Gaza and rocket fire. After UN chief Ban Ki-moon raised the possibility of a far less ambitious 12-hour ceasefire, Kerry said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had "expressed a willingness to discuss such a possibility."

The U.S. top diplomat said the goal of halting fighting for seven days was to provide time to work out further talks to address each side's demands. He said some "terminology" on a truce's framework still needed work.

Hamas demands include the release of Palestinian prisoners, in addition to an end to the seven-year-old border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the group seized Gaza from the Western-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli TV reports said Israel's security cabinet unanimously rejected Kerry's proposal in its current form, mainly because it would mean Israel has to cut short the effort to destroy tunnels. But Kerry said he had not submitted a formal proposal to Israel for the cabinet to vote on.

Israeli government officials were not immediately available for comment.

Israel considers the tunnels to be a strategic threat because Gaza militants have launched them for staging surprise attacks. Israeli troops have so far destroyed about half of the 31 underground passages discovered during the Gaza operation.

The mayor of Hawara, Mouin Idmeidi, said he and hundreds of others from the village participated in a protest after emerging from a local mosque after Friday prayers.

Hawara is located along a main north-south thoroughfare that is also used by Israeli motorists. The mayor said an Israeli motorist slowed down as he passed the march and fired at the group.

The mayor said four people were wounded and that one of them, a 19-year-old, died at Rafidiyeh Hospital in Nablus of his injuries.

After the shooting, clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli troops who opened fire, killing a 22-year-old from Hawara, the mayor said.

Rafidiyeh Hospital confirmed the deaths.

An Israeli police spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld, said paramilitary border police opened fire to disperse violent protests at Hawara, and that masked Palestinians threw firebombs. He said he was unaware of a shooting involving an Israeli civilian.

In Beit Omar, clashes erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinian stone-throwers. Hebron hospital officials said three Palestinians were killed.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.

On Thursday, thousands of Palestinians clashes with Israeli forces at a West Bank checkpoint and in East Jerusalem, the largest protests in those areas in several years.

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