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Gaza temporary ceasefire extended for 24 hours

UN offers to monitor Gaza construction material, assures Tel Aviv that that it will fulfil Israel's 'security concerns'
A Palestinian woman collects her usable belongings among the debris of buildings destroyed in Israeli shelling in Johr al-Deek village of Gaza City on August 17, 2014 (AA)

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed on Monday to extend a temporary ceasefire in Gaza by 24 hours to conduct more talks on a long-term truce, a senior Palestinian official said.

The current five-day ceasefire was set to expire at midnight local time (2100 GMT).

"Both sides have agreed to a 24-hour ceasefire," the official with the Palestinian delegation in Cairo said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is ready to check imports of construction material sent to Gaza in order to ease Israel's concerns that supplies could be used to rebuild Hamas tunnels, a UN envoy said Monday.

UN Mideast envoy Robert Serry told the UN Security Council that reconstruction of Gaza remained the main priority once a durable ceasefire is agreed between Hamas and Israel.

"Construction material must be allowed into Gaza to this effect -- aggregate, bar and cement. And their access to Gaza must be facilitated in such a way that fulfils Israel's security concerns," Serry said.

"The United Nations stands ready to lend its support in this regard."

Negotiations over the reconstruction of Gaza are expected to run into resistance from Israel which has in the past severely curtailed the flow of supplies as part of its blockade.

Serry said some 16,800 housing units have been destroyed or severely damaged in the fighting that erupted on July 8, with the devastation three times worse than during the last Gaza conflict in 2008-2009.

He voiced hope that UN monitoring could be agreed before a major donors conference announced by Norway takes place in Cairo to raise funds for reconstruction.

The Security Council discussed the situation in Gaza just hours before a five-day truce was set to expire at 2100 GMT and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held talks in Cairo.

Serry said the sides should aim "at the very least" to agree on extending the temporary truce that he said had left almost 2,000 Palestinians dead, more than two-thirds of whom are civilians.

Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor separately accused the United Nations of bias.

"Have you wondered where the UN gets its casualty figures from? I'll tell you where - from Hamas," Prosor told journalists.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric rejected the claim, saying the figures came from the UN Human Rights Commission, which sourced them from various non-governmental organizations.

Destruction

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA says 209,459 people are still sheltering in 87 schools run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), down from a high of 273,000 on August 4.

Another 15,400 are staying in seven government shelters supported by UNRWA and nearly 115,000 are staying with host families, OCHA says.

A UNRWA spokesperson on Monday said there were 237,659 displaced people in 81 UNRWA shelters in Gaza, adding that services were being provided to an additional 28,000 in non-UNRWA schools.

OCHA estimates that 8,832 housing units were completely destroyed, and another 7,960 were severely damaged and rendered uninhabitable without major repairs. Another 5,635 sustained major damage but are partly inhabitable while 33,625 sustained minor damage.

A total of 230 schools (90 belonging to UNRWA and 140 run by the Gaza government) were damaged, among them 25 which were entirely destroyed or severely damaged.

Health facilities were also damaged, with 43 of Gaza's 88 clinics damaged in the fighting. Of that number, 15 are still closed: seven due to damage and eight others which were shut because they were in dangerous areas.

According to Israeli army figures, Palestinians fired 3,515 rockets, of which 2,764 hit Israel while another 600 were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile defences.

Israel says it struck approximately 5,000 targets across the Gaza Strip.

The army said it destroyed more than 3,000 rockets, and razed 32 cross-border tunnels.

Death toll

In Gaza, 2,016 Palestinians have been killed and 10,196 wounded since the start of the Israeli offensive, the health ministry said.

Among the dead were 541 children, 250 women and 95 elderly men.

Figures released by OCHA, which were correct at 0800 GMT on August 14, gave a total of 1,973 dead Palestinians.

Of those whose identities have been verified, 1,416 were civilians, or 72 percent, OCHA said. The number includes 459 children and 238 women.

OCHA says 230 of the dead have been identified as members of armed groups.

In Israel, 64 soldiers were killed after the ground offensive began on July 17, five of whom died in "friendly fire" incidents, the army said on Monday.

Most died in fighting in Gaza but others were killed by fighters who infiltrated southern Israel.

Three civilians were killed by Palestinian rocket attacks -- two Israelis and a Thai worker.

Israel's military losses are the heaviest since its 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The army does not disclose the number of soldiers admitted to hospitals.