Channel NewsAsia

Fragile Israel-Hamas humanitarian truce takes effect

Israel tank fire killed three people in Gaza on Thursday, just minutes before a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire took effect, bringing a temporary reprieve from nine days of fighting.

GAZA CITY: A fragile humanitarian truce was being observed in Gaza on Thursday, with both Israel and Hamas agreeing to halt fire for five hours, bringing a temporary reprieve from nine days of fighting.

As relative calm returned to the skies over Gaza for the first time since July 8, Egypt continued regional efforts to broker a full ceasefire.

But there seemed little appetite from either side to end their confrontation, with militants firing three mortar shells at southern Israel just two hours into the agreement, the army said.

Shortly before the truce began at 0700 GMT, Israeli tank fire killed three people in southern Gaza, and militants in the coastal enclave fired more rockets into the Jewish state.

At least 230 people have been killed in Gaza since the fighting began 10 days ago, and one Israeli has been killed.

On Thursday, Israel's army said it had foiled an early morning "infiltration" into southern Israel by Gaza militants, who emerged through a tunnel in the early morning and were headed towards a kibbutz.

The two sides agreed to suspend hostilities from 0700 GMT until 1200 GMT following a UN request after an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire fell through on Tuesday.

"We are holding our fire until 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) today in order to enable a humanitarian window in Gaza. If Hamas fires, we will respond with force," Israel's army said on its Twitter account.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri confirmed Gaza militants were sticking to the agreement.

A senior UN official said Israel would be opening the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Gaza to allow aid in.

Earlier, he had said no aid was expected to arrive, but later updated this saying that the crossing would in fact open and the entry of medical aid was the priority.

The truce was also a chance for Palestinians to leave their homes and stock up on supplies, or return to homes they had evacuated to gather belongings.

Just minutes before the ceasefire came into effect an Israeli tank fired on a house in southern Gaza killing three people, medics said.

Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said four other people were seriously wounded in the attack on the house in Rafah.

The latest deaths took the Palestinian toll since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 -- aimed at stamping out rocket fire by Gaza militants -- to 230 killed and 1,690 wounded.

A Gaza-based rights group has said more than 80 per cent of the Palestinian casualties are civilians.

The army said Israel had conducted at least 37 raids overnight on Gaza, while seven rockets were fired from the Strip, four of which landed in fields and the rest were intercepted by Israel's missile defences.

Since July 8, militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets at Israel, according to the Israeli military. They claimed their first Israeli life on Tuesday.

The early morning "infiltration" was ended by an air strike, which killed one militant and sent the others scurrying back to the tunnel, an Israeli officer said.

"This morning our forces successfully foiled a terror attack," army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told journalists in a telephone briefing.

Thirteen militants emerged from a tunnel under the southern Gaza border, and were headed towards Sufa kibbutz, a small community just over a kilometre (mile) away, when they were spotted, Lerner said.

Israel forces killed at least one of the militants in an air raid, he said, leaving the rest rushing back towards the tunnel.

Hamas, the Palestinian movement that is the main power in Gaza, claimed the raid and said it carried out a successful "mission" into Israel -- without specifying what that was -- but denied any of its members were killed in a strike.

In Egypt meanwhile, discussions on a possible truce were set to resume with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

An initial Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire followed by negotiations was accepted by Israel but rejected by Hamas, which said it had not been consulted.

But on Wednesday, a Hamas official met Egyptian leaders and Israeli news website NRG said that "Israeli representatives" would also join the deliberations.

Abbas on Wednesday in Cairo met with Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzuq, who insisted on changes to the Egyptian truce plan including guarantees on opening border crossings to the besieged Gaza Strip.

US President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Egypt's efforts to broker a ceasefire, offering Washington's full diplomatic support.

Tweet photos, videos and updates on this story to  @channelnewsasia