JERUSALEM — The Israeli military says a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza will start Saturday morning.
The military says in a statement that the lull will start at 8 a.m. local time Saturday and end at 8 p.m. local time. The statement warns that the military “shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit” the lull to attack Israeli troops “or fire at Israeli civilians.” It also says that “operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue.”
Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation “significantly.”
The stalled efforts to halt the fighting came amid ominous signs 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.
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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.
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 Friday 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.
For days, Kerry had been moving between the Egyptian capital, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and talking to officials from Qatar, who are in contact with Hamas. More meetings with his counterparts from European Union nations, Turkey and Qatar were scheduled for Saturday in France.
Speaking alongside U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and the Egyptian foreign minister, Kerry insisted there was a general agreement on the “concept” of a truce but that both sides had concerns over details of carrying it out.