, GAZA CITY – Palestinians retrieved dozens of bodies from the rubble of Gaza homes Saturday during a brief truce in the fighting, as top diplomats huddled in Paris to discuss a long-term ceasefire.
With a fragile 12-hour humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas in place, ambulances sped along roads to neighbourhoods that have been too dangerous to enter for days.
Half-way through the truce, they had already found the bodies of 76 people in the rubble across Gaza, pushing the death toll beyond 950 Palestinians killed in the coastal enclave since the conflict began on July 8.
On the Israeli side, 37 soldiers have been killed, along with two Israeli civilians and Thai foreign worker.
Palestinians ventured onto Gaza’s streets after the truce took effect, some eager to check on homes they had fled, others to stock up on food and other items while it was still safe to do so.
In northern Beit Hanun, even the hospital was badly damaged by shelling, and AFP correspondents came across the charred body of a paramedic as emergency workers combed the debris for more dead.
Trails of blood on the ground were crossed by Israeli tank tracks, and there were holes where it appeared Israeli forces had been searching for Hamas tunnels.
There were similar scenes in Shejaiya, which has been subjected to days of relentless Israeli tank fire.
Stiff bodies lay on the floor of a room in one building, one caked in dried blood, all of them covered in dust.
To the east of southern Khan Yunis, residents hesitated to enter the Khuzaa neighbourhood, saying Israeli forces remained inside the border area.
In nearly Bani Suheila, women and children wept as they returned to discover their homes destroyed.
Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said so far during the truce rescue workers had recovered 25 bodies from Shejaiya and Zaitun in eastern Gaza City, 13 more in Deir al-Balah and Nusseirat in central Gaza, and 25 in north Gaza, and 13 in the southern Rafah and Khan Yunis districts.
Hamas said it and other militant groups in Gaza had reached “national consensus” for the truce. Israel later confirmed it would observe what it called “a humanitarian window” in Gaza.
The brief lull came after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposal for a seven-day truce during which the two sides would negotiate a longer-term deal was rejected by Israel’s security cabinet on Friday night.
Speaking after the rejection, at a news conference in Cairo with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Kerry said Israel and Hamas “still have some terminology” to agree to on a ceasefire, but added they had “fundamental framework” on a truce.
On Saturday afternoon, the US diplomat began talks in Paris with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and their counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Turkey and the European Union.
But the two sides remain at odds over the shape of a final deal to end the fighting.
Hamas says any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza, while in Israel there are calls for any deal to include the demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip.
The situation in Gaza has created tensions in the West Bank, where protests against Israel’s role in the conflict erupted after Friday prayers.
Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian teenagers early Saturday morning in separate clashes in the north and south of the West Bank.
That followed the deaths of six Palestinians on Friday, including five shot dead by Israeli troops and one killed by an Israeli settler.
In Gaza, there have been international concerns about the number of civilians killed in the conflict, including in a Thursday attack in which at least 15 people were killed in the alleged Israeli shelling of a UN school.
The facility was sheltering some of the 100,000 Palestinians who have fled their homes during fighting.
Rights groups say about 80 percent of the casualties so far have been civilians, and the UN agency for children UNICEF said Friday that 192 children had been killed during the conflict.
The Israeli army on Saturday announced the death of two soldiers in Gaza fighting on Friday evening. It named one as Staff Sergeant Guy Boyland, 21, but did not give further details.
Three civilians have been killed inside Israel by rocket fire from Gaza, which continued Saturday morning before the truce with three shot down by missile defences and one falling on open ground, the army said.
It said militants fired 60 rockets into southern Israel on Friday, with another 15 intercepted.