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Last-ditch US effort on Gaza truce; Israel cool

  • Two and a half-year-old Muhammad Al Masri rests on his mother's legs in a classroom at a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    Two and a half-year-old Muhammad Al Masri rests on his mother's legs in a classroom at a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • A painting depicting Palestinian rural life decorates a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    A painting depicting Palestinian rural life decorates a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over the Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. An Israeli defense official says the Israeli Security Cabinet is meeting to discuss international ceasefire efforts, but also the option of expanding its eight-day-old ground operation in Gaza. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over the Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. An Israeli defense official says the Israeli Security Cabinet is meeting to discuss international ceasefire efforts, but also the option of expanding its eight-day-old ground operation in Gaza. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • Palestinian boys stand next to wall with murals and Arabic writing that reads "Tiba standard nursery," next to a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

    Palestinian boys stand next to wall with murals and Arabic writing that reads "Tiba standard nursery," next to a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Israeli tank rides near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

    Israeli tank rides near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

  • Three-month-old Palestinian baby girl Mayar Al Masri sleeps in a classroom at a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

    Three-month-old Palestinian baby girl Mayar Al Masri sleeps in a classroom at a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

  • A Palestinian man walks next to a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

    A Palestinian man walks next to a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Israeli soldiers work on their armored personnel carriers near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

    Israeli soldiers work on their armored personnel carriers near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

  • A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

    A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Israeli soldiers work on their tanks near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

    Israeli soldiers work on their tanks near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

  • A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

    A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

  • Palestinians pray the Friday prayer inside a destroyed Al Farouk mosque which was destroyed by an overnight Israeli strike on Tuesday, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. The U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a new attempt Friday to nail down a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, as Israel's 18-day military operation in the Gaza Strip fueled new unrest in the West Bank, where several Palestinians were killed during protests. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

    Palestinians pray the Friday prayer inside a destroyed Al Farouk mosque which was destroyed by an overnight Israeli strike on Tuesday, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. The U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a new attempt Friday to nail down a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, as Israel's 18-day military operation in the Gaza Strip fueled new unrest in the West Bank, where several Palestinians were killed during protests. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

  • Relatives of Palestinian Mohammad Najar, an Islamic Jihad militant, cry when mourners carry out his body from his family house during his funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. Najar was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the beach road in Khan Younis, according to Gaza health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

    Relatives of Palestinian Mohammad Najar, an Islamic Jihad militant, cry when mourners carry out his body from his family house during his funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. Najar was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the beach road in Khan Younis, according to Gaza health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

  • Relatives of Palestinian Mohammad Najar, an Islamic Jihad militant, mourn over his body at his family house during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. Najar was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the beach road in Khan Younis, according to Gaza health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

    Relatives of Palestinian Mohammad Najar, an Islamic Jihad militant, mourn over his body at his family house during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. Najar was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the beach road in Khan Younis, according to Gaza health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

  • Two and a half-year-old Muhammad Al Masri rests on his mother's legs in a classroom at a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • A painting depicting Palestinian rural life decorates a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over the Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. An Israeli defense official says the Israeli Security Cabinet is meeting to discuss international ceasefire efforts, but also the option of expanding its eight-day-old ground operation in Gaza. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • Palestinian boys stand next to wall with murals and Arabic writing that reads "Tiba standard nursery," next to a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Israeli tank rides near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
  • Three-month-old Palestinian baby girl Mayar Al Masri sleeps in a classroom at a United Nations school where hundreds of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes, in Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Friday, July 25, 2014. Over 140,000 Palestinians are seeking shelter in 83 UNRWA schools, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. The number of Palestinians seeking shelter since the ground operation began has increased seven-fold. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
  • A Palestinian man walks next to a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Israeli soldiers work on their armored personnel carriers near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
  • A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Israeli soldiers work on their tanks near the Israel and Gaza border Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
  • A Palestinian man inspects the damage of a destroyed house following an overnight Israeli strike in Gaza City Friday, July 25, 2014. Early Friday, Israeli warplanes struck tens of houses throughout the Gaza Strip as international efforts continue to broker a cease fire in the 18 day-old war. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
  • Palestinians pray the Friday prayer inside a destroyed Al Farouk mosque which was destroyed by an overnight Israeli strike on Tuesday, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. The U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made a new attempt Friday to nail down a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, as Israel's 18-day military operation in the Gaza Strip fueled new unrest in the West Bank, where several Palestinians were killed during protests. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
  • Relatives of Palestinian Mohammad Najar, an Islamic Jihad militant, cry when mourners carry out his body from his family house during his funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. Najar was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the beach road in Khan Younis, according to Gaza health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)
  • Relatives of Palestinian Mohammad Najar, an Islamic Jihad militant, mourn over his body at his family house during his funeral in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, July 25, 2014. Najar was killed in an Israeli airstrike on the beach road in Khan Younis, according to Gaza health ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed yesterday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation “significantly.”

Hours after the U.S.-led efforts stalled, the two sides agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire to begin today. However, the temporary lull was unlikely to change the trajectory of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the Gaza war is spilling over into the West Bank.

In a “Day of Rage,” Palestinians across the territory, which had been relatively calm for years, staged protests against Israel’s Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there. In the West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.

The latest diplomatic setbacks, after several days of high-level diplomacy in the region, signaled that both sides are digging in and that the fighting in Gaza is likely to drag on.

Israel wants more time to destroy Hamas military tunnels and rocket launching sites in Gaza, while the territory’s Hamas rulers want international guarantees that a Gaza border blockade will be lifted before they cease fire.

The Israeli military said in a statement that today’s 12-hour pause in fighting would start at 8 a.m. But it warned that the military “shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit” the lull to attack Israeli troops “or fire at Israeli civilians.” The military also said that “operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue.”

A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said earlier yesterday that the group had agreed to the 12-hour lull, intended to allow civilians to receive aid and evacuate to safer areas.

Civilians on both sides have been hardest hit over the past 18 days.

In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes and tank shelling have killed more than 860 Palestinians, wounded more than 5,700, displaced tens of thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes, Palestinian officials said. In dozens of cases, Israeli attacks killed three or more members of the same family, according to U.N. figures, and civilians make up three-quarters of the dead.

Gaza militants have fired close to 2,500 rockets at Israel since July 8, exposing most of Israel’s population to an indiscriminate threat that has killed three civilians. Thirty-six soldiers have also been killed in battle in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said yesterday that Israel’s military would continue to strike Hamas hard, in order to deter it from firing rockets at Israel in the future.

“At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future,” Yaalon was quoted as telling soldiers manning an Iron Dome anti-missile battery. “You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will order the military to significantly broaden ground activity in Gaza.”

“Hamas is paying a very heavy price and will pay an even heavier price,” he said, according to a statement by his office.

The warning came shortly after Kerry announced in Cairo that he had been unable to broker a weeklong truce during which both sides were to talk about security arrangements and a possible easing of Gaza’s border blockade.

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