Gaza residents on Saturday used a 12-hour humanitarian truce agreed to by Israel and Hamas on a UN request to pull out bodies from mounds of rubble and metal of bombed homes, as the Palestinian death toll in the conflict rose to over 1,000 with mostly civilian casualties.
The discovery of the bodies under mounds of rubble had pushed the death toll to over 1,000 Palestinians killed in the coastal enclave since the conflict began on July 8. Three Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of today before the humanitarian truce started, the army said.
The new deaths raised the losses on the side of the Israeli military to 40, along with two Israeli civilians and one Thai worker killed on the Israeli side during 19 days of conflict.
Israel said it would continue to "locate and neutralise" Hamas tunnels during the pause, which began at 0800 local time. So far 31 tunnels have been discovered, with about half destroyed, Israeli's military said.
Before the truce began, Israeli strikes killed at least 19 Palestinians overnight at a family home near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Images showed relatives weeping as the bodies of five children were taken to a local morgue.
Two Israeli soldiers were also killed overnight, Israel's military confirmed.
The Iron Dome defence system intercepted three rockets fired towards the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon overnight.
The truce came as international efforts to negotiate a longer seven-day ceasefire continued with foreign ministers from the US, UK, Turkey and Qatar meeting in Paris today to try to negotiate a long-term truce.
"We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian ceasefire currently in force, by 24 hours that could be renewed," France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters after the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.
"We all want to obtain a lasting ceasefire as quickly as possible that addresses both Israeli requirements in terms of security and Palestinian requirements in terms of socio-economic development," said Fabius.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Fabius met with their counterparts from Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar and Turkey, as well as a representative from the European Union.
As the truce took effect, Palestinians returned to areas where heavy Israeli bombardment had taken place to look for bodies and also started to stock up food supplies.
The scene was gruesome with buildings completely pulverised, cars thrown 50 metres into the air on top of buildings and the facades of some block of flats completely ripped off.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said late Friday night that there was "national consensus on a humanitarian truce....for 12 hours on Saturday".
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) later confirmed the truce. US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday said that he was still confident of a longer ceasefire.
The announcement of the humanitarian window came shortly after Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon warned that ground operations in Gaza could soon be broadened "significantly". "You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will instruct the military to significantly broaden the ground operation in Gaza," Ya'alon told soldiers.
Hamas has insisted that it would not agree to any long-term truce that did not lead to an end to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and made provisions to open crossings to allow free movement of people and goods.
Israel launched its military offensive with the declared objective of stopping Hamas from firing rockets into Israel. It has since extended its operation to destroy tunnels dug by militants to infiltrate Israel.
According to the UN, more than 118,000 people are now sheltering in UN schools and people are running out of food.
Meanwhile, the violence also spread to the West Bank with seven Palestinian protesters being killed in clashes with Israeli police in the last 48 hours. Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinian teenagers early this morning in separate clashes in the north and south of the West Bank.
Protests were held in Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem and Jerusalem neighbourhoods yesterday in what was described by Palestinian leaders as a "Day of Rage" against Israel.
Three protesters were killed by Israeli soldiers yesterday near the southern city of Hebron, while Israeli settlers fired on a group of Palestinians, killing one person in Nablus. One more protester was killed in subsequent clashes there.
Earlier, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for an immediate "humanitarian pause" lasting through the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr. "On this, the last Friday of Ramadan, I call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian pause in the fighting in Gaza and Israel. This pause would last through the Eid al-Fitr holiday period," he had said in a statement yesterday.
The UN chief's appeal came after several meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian and Qatari officials aimed at ending the bloodshed.