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Israel Declares 7-Hour Gaza Truce

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No accounts of violence have been reported Monday since the time Israel said it would begin holding fire for seven hours in most of the Gaza Strip to allow Palestinians access to humanitarian aid and for displaced civilians to return to their homes.

However, just hours before the truce was scheduled to start, an Israeli airstrike killed a militant Palestinian leader. The Islamic Jihad group said its commander in the northern part of the the Gaza Strip, Daniel Mansour, died when the strike hit his home.

Israel positioned tanks near the Gaza border Monday before the cease-fire went into effect.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, is skeptical about the truce announcement, and urged Palestinians in Gaza "to take caution."

The truce was announced just hours after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza town of Rafah killed at least 10 civilians who had sought shelter in a United Nations school.

The Israeli military later said it had targeted three suspected militants near the school, and said it was "reviewing the consequences" of the strike. It also said Monday's truce will not apply to Rafah, where military operations were set to continue.

Witnesses said the school was struck as people were waiting in line for food. In the chaotic aftermath, several bodies, including those of children, were strewn across the ground in pools of blood.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the reported attack, the second to hit a school in less than a week, and the third strike in 10 days on a U.N. school used for refugees.

The latest attack drew a strong rebuke from U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who called it "a moral outrage and a criminal act."

In his most strongly worded statement yet on an attack against a U.N. facility in Gaza, Ban called it “yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law, which clearly requires protection by both parties of Palestinian civilians, U.N. staff and U.N. premises, among other civilian facilities.”

“This attack, along with other breaches of international law, must be swiftly investigated and those responsible held accountable. It is a moral outrage and a criminal act,” Ban said.

Watch related on-the-scene video by VOA's Scott Bobb:

US reaction

The U.S. State Department initially referred to the school strike as "a shelling," with spokeswoman Jen Psaki calling it "appalling" and "disgraceful."

“The United States is appalled by today's disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which at least ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed,” Psaki said in a statement.

She urged Israel to do more to prevent civilian casualties in its war against Hamas militants, and also called for an investigation into recent attacks on U.N. schools.

An Israeli military spokesman Sunday said Hamas fired several mortars from the vicinity of that school on Saturday. But the U.S. said the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put "so many innocent civilians" at risk.

Last Wednesday, at least 15 Palestinians who sought refuge in a U.N.-run school in Jabalya refugee camp were killed during fighting, and the U.N. said it appeared that Israeli artillery had hit the building. The Israeli military said gunmen had fired mortar bombs from near the school and it shot back in response.

Hospitals in Gaza on Sunday struggled to cope with a new influx of wounded from Israeli airstrikes in recent days.

Palestinian officials said 1,766 people had been killed in the fighting, most of whom were civilians, and nearly 10,000 wounded.

From left, Ayelet, Zur, Lea, Simcha and Haimi, the family of Israeli soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, mourn during his funeral in Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv, Israel, August 3, 2014.

From left, Ayelet, Zur, Lea, Simcha and Haimi, the family of Israeli soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, mourn during his funeral in Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv, Israel, August 3, 2014.

The Israeli military death toll rose to 64 after Israel announced that Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old infantry lieutenant feared captured in Gaza, was actually killed in battle. His funeral is later Sunday.

Goldin's remains were identified with his DNA, said an Israeli military spokesman.

The attack that caused his death was the incident that broke a short-lived cease-fire on Friday and brought renewed fighting in which 180 people reportedly have died.

Rocket attacks

Hamas fired at least 50 rockets toward Israel on Sunday, the Israeli military said, and has fired more than 3,000 rockets since the war began last month, killing three three Israeli civilians and damaging several homes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday the ground operation to destroy infiltration tunnels into Israel was nearly ended.

More than 30 tunnels and dozens of access shafts have been unearthed and were being blown up, military officials said.

Israel expected to complete its mission to eliminate tunnels “probably within the next 24 hours or so,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.

Netanyahu said Israeli Defense Forces would continue to work until the tunnels are destroyed. And he added the forces were prepared to continue operating according to Israel's defense needs until security is restored to Israel.

Some Israeli ground troops on Sunday were seen leaving Gaza and re-deploying along the boundary with the territory.

Redeployment of Israeli troops

Lerner stopped short of calling the move a withdrawal, but said residents from some evacuated Palestinian neighborhoods had been told by the army they could return.

“The troops are in the midst of a redeployment to other parts of the border,” Lerner said. “Indeed we are releasing troops from the front line but the mission is ongoing. Ground forces are operating. Air forces are operating.”

A few Palestinians returned to their homes on Sunday but mostly to recover personal property and inspect their homes.

Eman al-Kahlot, whose extended family of 18 had taken refuge in the U.N.-run Remal Primary School in Gaza, said they would not be going home.

Kahlot said her family does not believe what Israel says because yesterday a family returned. The Israelis bombarded and they died. So we don't believe them, she said, because they always say one thing and do something else.

She said her family would return home only if there was a real cease-fire.

In Rafah, Fatah faction leader and local resident Ashraf Goma said Israeli forces were bombarding the town from air, ground and sea and locals were unable to deal with the wounded and the dead.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said that so far on Sunday at least 13 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel. One was intercepted by Israel's anti-missile system and the rest landed in open areas.

Humanitarian aid

For the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator in the occupied Palestinian territory, James Rawley, Gaza is facing an imminent health disaster of widespread proportions as a result of the prolonged Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking on Sunday, in Gaza City, Rawley said the enclave was already facing a real humanitarian disaster.

Hours before the interview an Isareli missile hit a U.N.-run school in Rafah killing at least 10 people, many of them children, and Rawley said nowhere in the enclave was safe for Palestinians and that it was worse for children.

"I have spoken to residents of Gaza that have moved from their homes, not once, not twice, but three times and they ask me: 'Mr Rawley, you work for the UN, where can I go?' and I have to tell them, 'I don't have an answer. There's no safe place in Gaza,' " he said.

"So we're seeing a real humanitarian disaster here, and let just say the impact on children is just absolutely appalling," Rawley said.

Rawley said the Gaza City UNDP building was sheltering around 250 U.N. workers and their families.

Earlier Sunday, a senior Palestinian diplomat expressed outrage over killings and bloodshed on both sides in Gaza and called for negotiations to end the savage fighting that has gone on for nearly a month.

“What we need now is to stop this fighting, to address the tragic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip,” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., said on NBC's Meet the Press, adding “these things need to be stopped.”

Cease-fire terms

Israel is demanding the de-militarization of Gaza as part of any cease-fire accord. Hamas said it will keep on fighting until the seven-year Israeli blockade of Gaza is lifted.

Meanwhile, delegations from the Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have arrived in Cairo on Sunday to discuss a cease-fire proposal. The talks are being conducted by Egyptian and U.S. officials.

Sunday afternoon, Qais Abu Laila, a senior leader from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine who was in Cairo, said the different Palestinian factions had agreed on a unified list of conditions.

“Ceasefire, the pullout of Israeli forces, ending the blockade, releasing the prisoners ... and starting the reconstruction process,” he told Reuters by phone.

But Israel said it saw no point in sending negotiators to the Egyptian capital, citing what it said were Hamas breaches of previous cease-fires that quickly collapsed.

Netanyahu said Saturday that hundreds of Hamas militants have been killed since Israel launched its ground and air operations almost a month ago. Netanyahu warned that Hamas would pay an "intolerable" price if it failed to stop rocket attacks on Israel.

Netanyahu stressed that Israel has nothing against the "peaceful citizens of Gaza." He said he was very sorry for each civilian killed or wounded.

Netanyahu said Gaza's dominant Hamas faction bears ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties, accusing gunmen and rocket-launching squads of using residents in densely populated areas as “human shields.”

He also encouraged international support to help rebuild Gaza.

The United Nations said 460,000 people had been displaced by the fighting - nearly a quarter of Gaza's population.

Palestinians say Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed 1,800 Palestinians, most of them civilians. More than 8,000 have been wounded. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed.

Scott Bobb contributed to this from Gaza. Some information for this report was provided by Reuters, AP and AFP.

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