As Fighting Rages In Gaza, U.S. Seeks Cease-Fire

July 20, 2014

Updated at 10:00 a.m. ET.

Israeli says it has agreed to extend a brief “humanitarian truce” in the Gaza Strip as Secretary of State John Kerry said he expects to be asked soon to be dispatched to the Middle East to help broker a more lasting cease-fire.

The initial two-hour halt in fighting, meant to allow both sides to tend to the wounded, was brokered by the Red Cross. But the Israeli Defense Forces says Hamas broke the truce by firing at its soldiers. There was no independent verification of the IDF claim. Even so, Israel now says it will extend the truce for another two hours.

In an interview with CNN, Kerry says President Obama will ask him to go to the Mideast soon to help broker a more permanent halt to the fighting.

“We need to have a cease-fire” in Gaza, he said.

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Kerry emphasized that Israel “has every right in the world to defend itself” from Hamas attacks.

The 12-day Israeli offensive, aimed at destroying Hamas launch sites that have been used to fire hundreds of rockets into Israel’s territory, has killed at least 360 Palestinians and wounded some 3,000. At least eight Israelis have been killed in the latest fighting.

Israel says it is stepping up the ground war, sending more troops into Gaza and intensifying tank fire and airstrikes, NPR’s Daniel Estrin tells our Newscast desk.

The cease-fire was specifically aimed at treating the wounded in a northeastern Gaza neighborhood known as Shejaia after the IDF intensified shelling there, The Jerusalem Post reports. Reuters, citing witnesses and health officials, says at least 50 Palestinians were killed there and that “bodies were strewn in the street and thousands fled for shelter to a hospital packed with wounded.”

The news agency says the casualties in Shejaia are the heaviest since Israel launched its offensive on July 8 after cross-border rocket strikes by militants intensified.

According to Reuters:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the occupied West Bank, accused Israel of carrying out a massacre and declared three days of mourning.”

“The Israeli military said on Sunday Hamas had deployed rockets and built tunnels and command centres in Shejaia. ‘Two days ago, residents of Shejaia received recorded messages to evacuate the area in order to protect their lives,’ an Israeli military spokeswoman said.”

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