Gaza truce efforts go up in smoke

The Islamist Hamas movement continued firing rockets at Israel Sunday, despite claims it had accepted a UN request for a 24-hour extension of a humanitarian truce in war-torn Gaza.

Hamas's belated acceptance of diplomatic calls for a temporary ceasefire was announced several hours after Israel resumed a devastating military assault on the enclave after a pause of more than 24 hours.

Although Hamas said its militants would halt their fire from 1100 GMT in response to a request from the United Nations, there was no response from Israel.

And rockets continued to fall, with 11 striking Israel in the two hours after the reportedly truce went into effect, prompting a derisive response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"They are violating their own ceasefire," he told the CNN news network.

In a separate interview with CBS, Netanyahu said Israel would not allow "a ruthless terror organisation... to decide when it's convenient for them to stop for a moment, rearm, and continue firing on our citizens and our people".

The abortive announcement came shortly after Israel said it would no longer abide by a unilateral ceasefire while coming under "incessant" fire from Hamas.

Shortly afterwards, Israeli troops resumed their punishing air strikes and tank shelling, killing 10 people across the territory, including an elderly Christian woman, medics said.

Another three people also succumbed to their wounds, hiking the toll on day 20 of Israel's devastating military campaign to 1,062.

The renewed violence came after a rare 12-hour break in the hostilities on Saturday, which was respected by both sides, with world powers urging both Israel and Hamas to extend the temporary truce by another 24 hours.

But Saturday's relative calm quickly became a distant memory

"I was praying at church when my father called me and told me to go home quickly," said Antonio Ayad, a Christian whose elderly mother was killed when a missile struck their home in western Gaza City.

"They are targeting Christians in Gaza," he said.

"I'm not Hamas, I'm not Fatah - I don't belong to any Palestinian faction. Where is the world? Where is the pope?" he asked.

From the pulpit in Rome, Pope Francis issued his own call, pleading for an end to the bloodshed which has killed over a thousand victims, around a quarter of them children.

"Stop, please stop! I beg you with all my heart," he said in the weekly Angelus prayer.

- Black smoke over truce efforts -

Following Saturday's humanitarian lull, which was respected by both sides, Israel's security cabinet agreed to extend the calm by 24 hours, but Hamas rejected the move, firing rockets over the border, one of which killed a soldier.

But after 12 hours of holding its fire, Israel said it was resuming its operations following "incessant" rocket fire from Hamas.

Shortly afterwards, the skies over Gaza were filled with the familiar sound of explosions, as plumes of black smoke quickly rose on the horizon, an AFP correspondent in Gaza City said.

Ambulance sirens wailed as medics sprang into action, cars racing down the streets which quickly emptied of people who had ventured out to make the most of the lull.

For Israelis, the quiet skies had ended late on Saturday with sirens sounding up the coastal plain as rockets fell on the south and centre, killing a soldier and raising to 43 the number of troops killed since the July 17 start of a ground operation to destroy a sophisticated network of tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.

Two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have also been killed by rocket fire.

By Sunday morning, there appeared to be little appetite in Israel to prolong the one-sided truce, with 86.5 percent of Israelis opposing any truce in the current climate, army radio said, quoting pollsters Mina Tzemah.

"It is clear that Hamas isn't interested in this ceasefire so I think we should renew the fighting and maybe even more so," said Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, a security cabinet member who had voted late on Saturday in favour of extending the truce by 24 hours.

"After what we've seen last night and this morning, I'm fairly certain that we should renew our fire even stronger," he said, while Israel was initially observing a ceasefire.