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Israel declares Gaza truce over

Over 50 Palestinians have been killed in renewed shelling with Israel claiming militants breached the truce.

Palestinians walks across the rubble of destroyed buildings and homes in Al-Salam neighbourhood, in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on 1 August 2014. Picture: AFP.

GAZA/JERUSALEM - Israel declared a Gaza ceasefire over on Friday and killed more than 50 Palestinians in renewed shelling, saying militants had breached the truce shortly after it began and apparently captured an Israeli soldier.

The 72-hour break announced by US Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting, and followed mounting international alarm over a rising Palestinian civilian death toll.

The ceasefire was to be followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution.

Egyptian officials said the invitation still stood, but some Palestinian representatives had asked for a postponement until Saturday or Sunday to allow a new truce to be reached.

The Israeli military said that 90 minutes into the truce, as Palestinian families who had fled neighbourhoods that had been turned into battlefields began to trek home, militants attacked soldiers searching for infiltration tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip.

"Out of a tunnel access point or several, terrorists came out of the ground. At least one was a suicide terrorist who detonated himself. There was an exchange of fire," said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Two of the soldiers were killed.

"The initial indication suggests that a soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident," he said in a conference call with reporters.

Asked if the ceasefire was over, Lerner replied: "Yes. We are continuing our activities on the ground." He said Israeli forces were mounting an "extensive effort" to locate the soldier.

The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 50 people were killed and 220 wounded by Israeli shelling after the incident near the southern town of Rafah.

WARREN OF TUNNELS

The truce had left Israeli ground forces in place in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip and a military spokeswoman had said operations would continue to destroy a warren of tunnels through which the Islamist group has menaced Israel's southern towns and army bases.

There was no immediate word from militant groups on whether any were holding the soldier, identified by the military as Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin (23).

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the dominant Hamas movement in Gaza, said Israel was trying to mislead the world and "cover up its Rafah massacre".

Israel launched its offensive in Gaza on 8 July, unleashing air and naval bombardments in response to a surge of cross-border rocket attacks. Tanks and infantry pushed into the territory of 1.8 million on 17 July.

Gaza officials say at least 1,509 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and 7,000 wounded. Sixty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than 400 hurt. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets in Israel.

Eight rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza at Israel after the ceasefire began, the military said, adding that one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system and seven hit open areas.

Amid strong public support in Israel for the Gaza campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had faced intense pressure from abroad to stand his forces down.

International calls for an end to the bloodshed intensified after shelling on Wednesday that killed 15 people sheltering in a UN-run school in Gaza's Jabalya refugee camp.

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