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May 27, 2017

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Hamas asks for new truce as assault resumes

GAZA CITY/PARIS -- The Islamist Hamas movement on Sunday belatedly accepted diplomatic calls for an extension of a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza shortly after Israel said it was resuming its devastating military assault.

There was no immediate word on whether Israel would reciprocate, with a Hamas spokesman saying the movement had agreed to halt its fire from 1100 GMT in response to a request from the United Nations.

The move came just hours after Israel said it would no longer abide by a unilateral cease-fire that had been rejected out of hand by Hamas as unacceptable without a full withdrawal of Israeli armor from the war-torn Gaza Strip.

With the situation rapidly changing, there was no immediate indication that either side had halted their fire, with several loud explosions heard in Gaza City, an AFP correspondent said.

The renewed violence came after a rare 12-hour break in the hostilities on Saturday, which was respected by both sides, with world powers urging both Israel and Hamas to extend the temporary truce.

"We all call on parties to extend the humanitarian cease-fire currently in force, by 24 hours that could be renewed," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a Paris summit also attended by the top diplomats from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Italy, Qatar, Turkey and the EU.

And U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon also issued a statement, saying he "urgently appeals once again to all parties to declare a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza" where the fighting has claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Palestinians and 46 people in Israel.

Pope Francis called on warring parties to put an end to violence that is wounding and killing countless children.

"Stop, please stop! I beg you with all my heart," the pontiff pleaded in the weekly Angelus prayer.

"I think of the children, who are robbed of the hope of a dignified life, of a future. Dead children, wounded children, mutilated children, orphans, children who, for toys, have the debris of war. Children who do not know how to smile," he said.

On Saturday night, Israel's security cabinet agreed to extend the temporary truce by 24 hours, but Hamas rejected the move, firing rockets over the border, one of which killed a soldier.

But after 12 hours of holding its fire, Israel said it was resuming its operations following "incessant" rocket fire from Hamas.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, this morning have ordered the IDF to resume operations against the Hamas terrorists who violated the humanitarian truce which the U.N. requested for the residents of Gaza," it said.

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