GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — An Israeli-declared temporary cease-fire and troop withdrawals slowed violence in the Gaza war Monday, though an attack on an Israeli bus that killed one person in Jerusalem underscored the tensions still simmering in the region.
Several cease-fires have broken down during the 3½-week war — including Friday when an internationally negotiated truce collapsed amid violence and mutual recrimination between Israel and Hamas.
But with Hamas rocket fire tapering off over the last 24 hours and Israel’s ground operation in Gaza winding down, violence in a war that officials say has killed more than 1,880 Palestinians and over 60 Israelis appeared — for the moment — to be waning.
The lull was broken by the Jerusalem assault, which saw a man ram the front end of a construction excavator into an Israeli bus. Police described the incident as a “terrorist attack,” indicating Palestinian involvement.
The attack occurred on a main thoroughfare near Jerusalem’s light-rail line. The area is located near the unofficial line between Jewish West Jerusalem and east Jerusalem, the section of the city captured by Israel in 1967 and which is home to most of the city’s Arab population. Israeli media said the attacker came from an Arab area of the city.
Israel’s Channel 10 TV showed cellphone video of what it said was the attack, with the yellow excavator slamming its large shovel into the bus. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a police officer in the area opened fire and killed the attacker. A pedestrian also was killed, said Jerusalem district police chief Yossi Piranti.
In the past, Palestinian attackers have gone on deadly rampages with bulldozers in Jerusalem traffic.
“Because of the quick reaction of the police an even graver incident was avoided,” Piranti said.
Shortly after the excavator attack, Israeli media reported that a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded an Israeli soldier. Police searched for the shooter in east Jerusalem.
“We believe there is a great likelihood this was a terrorist attack,” Piranti said.
Before the attacks, a seven-hour Israeli cease-fire in Gaza went into effect. And while Israel continued hitting at selected Palestinian targets, the level of the fighting was much lower than in previous days.
However, the Israeli military said the cease-fire would not apply to areas where troops were still operating and where they would respond to any attack. The southern strip town of Rafah, which saw heavy fighting Sunday, was excluded from the truce, the military said.
Shortly after the cease-fire started at 10 a.m. (0700 GMT), an Israeli strike hit a house at the Shati refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, killing three people and wounding at least 30, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. The Israeli military said it targeted an “operative threat” and rocket fire in the strike “around 10 a.m.”
A separate Israeli strike killed Daniel Mansour, a commander in the Islamic Jihad group — a close ally of Gaza’s militant Palestinian Hamas rulers, the group said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said his group remained skeptical about the announced Israeli truce.
“We do not trust such a calm and call on our people to take caution,” Zuhri said.
Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office said it was “urgently investigating” claims that a British aid worker had been killed in the Gaza town of Rafah. It declined to comment further.
Israel launched the military operation in Gaza on July 8 in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire. It has since carried out more than 4,600 airstrikes across the crowded seaside area. On July 17, it sent in ground forces in what it said was a mission to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks inside Israel.
Hamas has fired more than 3,200 rockets into Israel during the war, with some intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system and many of the crude missiles landing in open areas away from cities.
Since the war began, Palestinian health officials say at least 1,888 Palestinians have been killed. Most of the Palestinian casualties have been civilians, while all but three of the 64 people killed in Israel have been in the military. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under increasing international pressure to halt the fighting because of the heavy civilian death toll in Gaza.
Overnight, Israeli forces carried out new airstrikes while Israeli tanks and navy gunboats fired dozens of artillery shells, targeting houses, agricultural plots and open areas, Gaza police said. They said Israeli jet fighters destroyed three mosques, nine houses, five seaside chalets and a warehouse for construction material.
The Gaza police said Israeli navy boats also approached the northern coast of the strip and soldiers tried to land in the area. On the ground, there were clashes in the southern town of Rafah and southeast of Gaza City, they said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Sunday, an apparent Israeli strike killed 10 people at a U.N. school that had been converted into a shelter in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah.
The United States said it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” shelling and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Israel to do “more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the attack on the school a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and demanded a quick investigation. On Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Israel’s right to security does not justify the “killing of children and the massacre of civilians.”
The Israeli military said it had targeted three wanted militants on a motorcycle in the vicinity and was “reviewing the consequences of this strike.” Israel said that it attacked 63 sites on Sunday and that nearly 100 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel.
U.N. shelters in Gaza have been struck by fire seven times in the latest Israeli-Hamas round of fighting. UNRWA, the U.N. agency that assists Palestinian refugees, says Israel has been the source of fire in all instances. But it also has said it found caches of rockets in vacant UNRWA schools three times.
Israel accuses Hamas of using civilian areas for cover and says the Islamic militant group is responsible for the heavy death toll because it has been using civilians as “human shields.”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.