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50 Palestinians killed in renewed Israeli shelling


An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards the Gaza Strip on Friday. Photo: Reuters

Gaza/Jerusalem: Israel declared a Gaza ceasefire on Friday, saying Hamas militants breached the truce soon after it came in effect and apparently captured an Israeli officer while killing two other soldiers.

Renewed Israeli shelling killed 50 Palestinians and wounded some 220, hospital officials said. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into special session and publicly warned Hamas and other militant groups they would "bear the consequences of their actions".

The 72-hour break announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting, and followed mounting international alarm over a rising Palestinian civilian death toll.

The ceasefire, which began at 8am (0500 GMT), had prompted Palestinian families to trek back to battle-devastated neighbourhoods where rows of homes have been reduced to rubble. It was to be followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution.

Egyptian officials said the invitation to negotiators still stood, but some Palestinian representatives had asked for a postponement until Saturday or Sunday to allow a new truce to be reached.

The Israeli military said that 90 minutes into the truce, militants attacked soldiers searching for tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip used to infiltrate fighters into Israel.

"Out of a tunnel access point or several, terrorists came out of the ground. At least one was a suicide terrorist who detonated himself. There was an exchange of fire," said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Two of the soldiers were killed.

"The initial indication suggests that a soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident," he said in a conference call with reporters. Mark Regev, a Netanyahu spokesman, said Hamas was responsible for the attack.

Asked if the ceasefire was over, Lerner replied: "Yes. We are continuing our activities on the ground." He said Israeli forces were mounting an "extensive effort" to locate the soldier.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest called on Hamas to release the soldier, identified by Israel as Second-Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23. Britain's Foreign Office said it was urgently looking into reports that he also held British nationality. "We would encourage those who have influence with Hamas to get them back on the terms of the ceasefire and get them to abide by the agreements that they struck just yesterday," Earnest said on CNN.

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