War in Mideast rages despite truce pledges

Israel, Hamas launch new attacks as holiday nears

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel and Hamas launched new attacks Sunday in the raging Gaza war, despite going back and forth over proposals for a temporary halt to nearly three weeks of fighting ahead of a major Muslim holiday.

The failure to reach even a brief humanitarian lull in the fighting illustrated the difficulties in securing a more permanent truce as the sides remain far apart on their terms.

After initially rejecting an Israeli offer Saturday for a 24-hour truce, Hamas said Sunday that it had agreed to hold fire ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. But as Israel's Cabinet met to discuss the offer and the ongoing war, rockets rained down on southern Israel and Israeli strikes could be heard in Gaza.

Each side blamed the other for scuttling the efforts.

Hamas said that "due to the lack of commitment" by Israel, it resumed its fire. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas showed it could not be trusted after it violated other cease-fire efforts.

"Israel is not obliged and is not going to let a terrorist organization decide when it's convenient to fire at our cities, at our people, and when it's not," Netanyahu said in satellite interviews from Israel carried on U.S. network Sunday news programs.

In a phone call later Sunday, President Barack Obama told Netanyahu the United States is growing more concerned about the rising Palestinian death toll and the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza. The White House said Obama reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Hamas rocket attacks that have killed Israelis, but pushed for an immediate cease-fire.

International diplomats had hoped a temporary lull could be expanded into a more sustainable truce to end the bloodshed and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged the sides on Sunday to accept a 24-hour break in fighting. However, both sides were holding out for bigger gains in the Gaza war.

Hamas wants to break the seven-year blockade of Gaza and believes the only way to force serious negotiations on ending the closure is to keep fighting. Israel, which launched the war on July 8 to halt relentless Hamas rocket fire on its cities, wants more time to destroy Hamas' rocket arsenal and the military tunnels the Islamic militants use to infiltrate into Israel and smuggle weapons.

The 20-day war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Israel has lost 43 soldiers, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, the Israeli military said.

Following Hamas' call for a break in fighting, an Israeli airstrike killed one person in Gaza when it hit a vehicle carrying municipal workers on their way to fix water pipes, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.

Police said Israeli tanks fired shells on densely populated areas south of Gaza City. One shell hit an apartment building and several shells struck a building. Navy boats also resumed firing on Gaza's coast, police said. The Israeli military said it hit some 40 sites throughout Sunday.

In southern Israel, a person was injured and a house was damaged by a rocket launched from Gaza, Israeli police said. The Israeli military said more than 50 rockets were fired Sunday.

The Israeli military also acknowledged firing a mortar shell that hit the courtyard of a U.N. school in Gaza last week, but said the yard was empty at the time and that the shell could not have killed anyone.

Palestinian officials have said three Israeli tank shells hit the school in the town of Beit Hanoun on Thursday, killing 16 people and wounding scores.