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Renewed calls for 'humanitarian ceasefire' in Gaza

UN says number of displaced in Gaza reached 435,000 as aid workers call for 'immediate ceasefire' to help hundreds of thousands of children
Palestinians carry a child killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza (MEE/Mohammed Asad)

UN aid workers stepped up calls Thursday for an urgent Gaza ceasefire, warning that spiralling violence endangered their ability to respond to the needs of the 1.8 million affected population.

The head of UNICEF's field office in Gaza, Anne-Claire Dufay, told AFP that renewed hostilities were threatening the delivery of aid to hundreds of thousands of children with acute needs.

"We urgently need a few hours of ceasefire per day so we can provide support to affected children and families," Dufay told AFP.

Work to repair infrastructure damaged during the six-week Israeli offensive has temporarily halted since hostilities resumed on Tuesday as truce talks unravelled, she said.

UNICEF teams had also had their movement restricted, Dufay said.

"In the current context we should at least have a few hours a day for a humanitarian ceasefire corridor," she said.

Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Gaza and the West Bank, said there was an "urgent need for an immediate ceasefire".

The number of displaced Palestinians has risen to 435,000, the UN says, since truce talks collapsed in Cairo.

The United Nations warned that the number of displaced is expected to increase further with an extra 23,000 people already seeking shelter at 82 UN and seven government schools.

Rajasingham said constant movement between homes and shelters, when ceasefires begin and end, was traumatic, particularly for children.

"It is extremely difficult for us to do our job, to save lives, protect and assist those in need, including for medical staff to save lives, of aid workers to meet needs, for specialists to clear unexploded munitions, or for technicians to repair damage to infrastructure vital to the population," he said.

"In the long run, a permanent halt in violence stemming from a durable ceasefire is crucial to mitigating the humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip," he added.

Israeli strikes kill 24 Palestinians on day 45 of offensive

Three senior Hamas commanders and four children were among 24 Palestinians killed in Gaza Thursday as Israel stepped up air strikes on day 45 of the bloody military offensive.

Aside from the 24 people killed in air strikes, rescue workers also found the body of a child under the rubble who had been killed on Tuesday and a man died of his injuries sustained earlier in the conflict, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Their deaths raised the overall toll in Gaza to 2,075, with more than 10,310 wounded, he said. Of that number, 58 have been killed since violence resumed following the collapse of a truce agreement on Tuesday afternoon.

The leaders in the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades were among at least 10 people killed when Israeli missiles destroyed a four-storey home in the southern city of Rafah before dawn.

The Brigades, the military wing of Hamas which holds de facto power in Gaza, identified the three as Mohammed Abu Shamala, Raed al-Atar and Mohammed Barhum.

The deadly raid came 36 hours after the wife and infant son of the Brigades' top military leader, Mohammed Deif, were killed in an Israeli strike on Gaza City late Tuesday.

Rescue workers on Thursday also pulled the body of Deif's three-year-old daughter Sara from the ruins, Qudra said.

During the morning, two strikes hit people in the street in the northern town of Beit Lahiya and in Gaza City, killing seven, four of them children.

Two more strikes on Gaza City killed two men in a car, and another four at a graveyard, whom medics said were attending a funeral.

A man was also killed in a raid on Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza. Another man in the same camp also died of injuries sustained earlier in the conflict, Qudra said.

The UN says around three-quarters of the victims in Gaza are civilians.

Sixty-seven people have died on the Israeli side.

One civilian was severely wounded by mortar shells fired from Gaza on Thursday, the military said.

Israeli football premier league delayed over rocket fear

Israel's Football Association on Thursday postponed the start of the new premier league season scheduled for this weekend over fears of Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.

"We have cancelled all matches following instructions from the civil defence authority," a football association official told AFP, without specifying a new date for the new season to begin.

Several recent friendlies planned in southern Israel, the hardest hit area by Palestinian rockets, were also cancelled for security reasons.

Since Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip began on July 8, the civil defence authorities have also banned some events including weddings and concerts, citing security concerns.

The 2014-2015 first division season had been due to begin on Saturday.

The postponement could also affect plans for the Israeli national team to host Belgium in its first Euro 2016 qualifier on September 9.