Israel eased its assaults in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian rocket fire from the enclave declined sharply on Monday, the military said, with both the United States and United Nations calling for a durable ceasefire.
As international pressure mounted to end a 21-day conflict in which more than 1,000 people have been killed, an Israeli military official said the army would only fire in response to attacks, adding that this would be for an “unlimited” period. However, Israeli troops continued to hunt and destroy cross-border militant tunnels inside Gaza, and it was not clear if Hamas Islamists who control the small enclave were ready to agree to a prolonged pause. Hamas said on Sunday it wanted a 24-hour truce to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which started on Monday.
In the hours after its announcement, Gaza gradually fell quiet. Just one rocket was fired out of the battered coastal territory at the Israeli city of Ashkelon in the first nine hours of Monday, the military said. Gaza residents reported brief bursts of tank shelling and no casualties. “This ceasefire or abatement is dynamic on the ground. If we need to, we will respond,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brigadier General Motti Almoz, told local media.
US President Barack Obama on Sunday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold fire unconditionally, while the UN Security Council agreed a statement that called on both sides to implement a humanitarian truce that stretched beyond Eid.
Netanyahu’s security cabinet met into the early hours of Monday to debate ceasefire proposals and also a possible escalation of the Gaza offensive, which Israel says was needed to halt Hamas rocket fire and destroy its tunnel network. Israeli air, sea and ground attacks have killed some 1,031 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, Gaza officials say. Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.