TIME Military

Tentative Deal Reached on VA Reform

Conference Committee Held For Veterans Affairs Reform Bill
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol July 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., scheduled a news conference Monday to talk about a compromise plan to improve veterans’ care.

Miller chairs the House veterans panel, while Sanders chairs the Senate panel.

A spokesman for Sanders said Sunday the men have reached a tentative agreement. The deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, and votes in the full House and Senate.

Miller and Sanders said in a joint statement that they “made significant progress” over the weekend toward agreement on legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, which has been rocked by reports of patients dying while awaiting VA treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays. The resulting election-year firestorm forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in late May.

The plan set to be announced Monday is intended to “make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals,” Miller and Sanders said.

Few details of the agreement were released, but the bill is expected to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care.

Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said the deal would provide crucial help to veterans who have been waiting months or even years for VA health care.

“There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That’s what this is all about,” Celli said Sunday.

An updated audit by the VA this month showed that about 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment. About 46,000 veterans have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, the report said, and an additional 7,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade never got them.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson has said the VA is making improvements, but said veterans in many communities still are waiting too long to receive needed care. The VA provides health care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans.

A veteran died last month after collapsing in an Albuquerque, New Mexico, veterans hospital cafeteria. The man waited 30 minutes for an ambulance, officials said.

Sanders proposed a bill last week that would cost about $25 billion over three years. Miller countered with a plan to approve $10 billion in emergency spending, with a promise of more spending in future years under the normal congressional budget process.

Miller’s bill would keep most of the provisions in a Senate-passed bill and would authorize about $100 million for the Veterans Affairs Department to address shortfalls in the current budget year.

Both bills cost significantly less than bills approved last month by the House and Senate.

Negotiations had appeared in jeopardy Thursday after Miller and Sanders announced their competing plans, then held separate news conferences lashing out at each other. The men resumed talks in private Thursday night.

The House and Senate are set to adjourn at the end of the week until early September, and lawmakers from both parties have said completing a bill on veterans’ health care is a top priority.

The Senate is expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

TIME

Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali Wins Tour de France

Race leader Astana team rider Nibali of Italy rides near the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the final 21st stage of the Tour de France in Paris
Race leader Astana team rider Vincenzo Nibali of Italy rides near the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the final 21st stage of the Tour de France cycle race in Paris, July 27, 2014. Jean-Paul Pelissier—Reuters

PARIS — Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France on Sunday, becoming the first Italian in 16 years to triumph in cycling’s greatest race by chiseling a lead over his main rivals a few seconds at a time and dominating them in the mountains.

The 29-year-old Sicilian, who called himself “a flag-bearer of anti-doping” during the race, finished in the pack behind Marcel Kittel, who won the 21st stage in a sprint finish.

Nibali’s victory comes after the pre-race favorites — 2013 champion Chris Froome and two-time winner Alberto Contador — crashed out with injuries in the first half of this year’s Tour.

Astana team leader Nibali is only the sixth rider to win all three Grand Tours — France, Italy and Spain. The last Italian to win the Tour de France was Marco Pantani in 1998.

After cruising after Kittel, a German who got his fourth stage win, Nibali got pats on the back, kissed his wife and infant daughter, and was mobbed by cameras as race organizers hustled him away to prepare for the final awards ceremony.

“Unbelievable,” said Kittel, whose victories bookended this Tour. He won Stage 1 when British rival Mark Cavendish crashed out in the final sprint.

Nibali also won four stages, a feat not equaled by a Tour winner since Lance Armstrong won five a decade ago. He wore the yellow jersey for all but two stages since Stage 1. His 7 minute, 52 second margin over runner-up Jean-Christophe Peraud is the largest since Jan Ullrich of Germany beat second-placed Richard Virenque by just over 9 minutes in 1997.

In one of the subplots of this race, Peraud and third-placed Thibaut Pinot became the first Frenchmen to reach the Tour podium since Virenque in that same year.

But such comparisons, many cycling insiders have noted, miss the mark. Armstrong, Ullrich and Virenque were three of the big-name riders caught in nearly a generation of doping scandals in cycling. Armstrong, in the biggest scandal ever in the sport, admitted to doping and was stripped of his record seven Tour titles.

Nibali and many others in the peloton say that era is past. But his own victories in the 2010 Vuelta and the Italian Giro last year were tarnished by high-profile doping cases involving other riders. While cycling’s governing body, the UCI, has made great efforts to halt use of drugs and other performance-enhancers, such as through the biological passport program, few cycling observers believe the pack is fully clean.

Many naysayers may argue that Nibali was the best of the riders still in this Tour. Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, who won the Giro d’Italia in May, did not ride. Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour champ, was passed over so his Sky Team could focus on Froome. Then Froome and Contador pulled out due to injuries.

But even before they left, Nibali had gained a 2-second advantage on them by winning Stage 2, surprising even himself. Then, in Stage 5 after Froome crashed out, the Italian excelled on cobblestone patches that slowed down Contador, who lost more than 2 1/2 minutes to Nibali. The Spaniard was forced into a need to attack.

On a downhill in Stage 10, Contador crashed and fractured his tibia. But Nibali, who is known as “The Shark of the Strait” — a nod to the waterway near his hometown of Messina, Sicily — didn’t stop there. He went on to win that stage into La Planche des Belles Filles. It was the first of three stages with uphill finishes that he won, adding one in the Alps (Chamrousse) and another in the Pyrenees (Hautacam).

Nibali said this Tour layout, announced last fall, “was almost made to measure for me.”

The 101st edition began in Yorkshire, England, and guided riders over 3,664 kilometers (2,277 miles) including cobblestones, wind-swept flats and climbs in the Vosges, Alps and Pyrenees.

With the Arc de Triomphe in Paris as the backdrop, other riders getting TV time on the winner’s podium included Peter Sagan of Slovakia, winner of the green jersey given to the race’s best sprinter; Rafal Majka of Poland, the best climber; and Pinot, the best young rider born since the start of 1989.

TIME Ukraine

Police Visit to MH17 Disaster Site Canceled

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Rescue workers search for bodies in a field near the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove (Grabove), in Donetsk region on July 26, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

DONETSK, Ukraine — A team of international police officers that had been due to visit the site of the Malaysian plane disaster in eastern Ukraine canceled the trip Sunday after receiving reports of fighting in the area.

Alexander Hug, the deputy head of a monitoring team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said it was too dangerous for the unarmed officers to travel to the site from its current location in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.

Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down with a surface-to-air missile over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists on July 17, killing all 298 people on board. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say it was shot down by a missile from rebel territory, most likely by mistake.

While it was not immediately clear where precisely clashes had broken out, a Ukrainian defense official said Sunday that government forces are now undertaking efforts to clear the areas around the Boeing 777 crash site from separatist rebels.

Hug said the police mission, which is comprised of officers from the Netherlands and Australia, will reconsider resuming operations if security improves.

“We continue to reassess the situation continuously and we will start to redeploy tomorrow morning back to the site if the situation changes,” Hug said.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott had said earlier Sunday that unarmed Australian police would be sent to the crash site as part of a Dutch-led police force to secure the area and help recover victims’ remains.

Concerns about the integrity of the site were raised further on Saturday when a couple that had flown from their home in Perth, Australia, visited the wreckage-strewn fields outside the village of Hrabove and even sat down on part of the debris.

Flights from Ukraine to the Netherlands have taken 227 coffins containing victims of the plane disaster. Officials say the exact number of people held in the coffins still needs to be determined by forensic experts in the Netherlands.

Ukraine’s National Security Council spokesman Andrei Lysenko said that Ukrainian troops were engaging rebels in fighting at several locations Sunday, including near the town of Debaltseve, which is 15 miles (25 kilometers) northwest of the crash site.

There was also fighting on the outskirts of Horlivka, one of the separatists’ key strongholds, Lysenko said.

Lysenko said more than 20 rebel fighters were killed and eight of their armored vehicles destroyed during fighting in Horlivka. One government soldier has been killed over the previous day’s fighting, he said.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported Sunday that a column of Ukrainian armored personnel carriers, trucks and tanks had entered the town of Shakhtarsk, 10 miles (15 kilometers) west of the site of the crash.

Shakhtarsk is a strategic town in the area. By controlling the town, the Ukrainian army would be cutting off the regional capital, Donetsk, from the highway leading to the Russian border.

The Malaysia Airlines disaster prompted some expectation in the West that Russia would scale back its involvement in the uprising in Ukraine’s east, but 10 days later the opposite seems to be the case.

Russia launched artillery attacks from its soil into Ukraine on Friday, while the United States said it has seen powerful rocket systems moving closer to the Ukraine border.

TIME

Hamas Agrees to 24-Hour Holiday Truce in Gaza War

APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
Smoke from Israeli strikes rises over Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, July 27, 2014. Adel Hana—AP

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Hamas on Sunday agreed to observe a 24-hour humanitarian truce after initially rejecting such an offer by Israel, as fighting resumed and the two sides wrangled over the terms of a lull the international community hopes can be expanded into a more sustainable truce.

Between the rival announcements Palestinian militants fired rockets deep into Israel, prompting it to resume an offensive aimed at destroying rocket launchers and cross-border attack tunnels used by Hamas.

Hours later Hamas said it would be willing to abide by a new 24-hour humanitarian truce ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the truce would go into effect at 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) Sunday. The three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday is expected to begin Monday or Tuesday, depending on the sighting of the new moon.

Israel had offered a 24-hour truce late Saturday, but Hamas — which has demanded the lifting of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza as well as the release of Palestinian prisoners — rejected it.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, did not say if Israel would hold its fire during the time requested by Hamas, but said troops would continue demolishing militant tunnels.

The 20-day war has killed more than 1,050 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel has lost 43 soldiers. Two civilians and a Thai worker in Israel were killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.

The military had earlier said about a dozen rockets were fired toward Israel since midnight — without causing casualties or damage — and that as a result it would “resume its aerial, naval and ground activity in the Gaza Strip.” The Israeli military released a video showing a rocket being fired from what it said was a Gaza school.

“Once again Hamas is cynically using the people of Gaza as a human shield,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

The 12-hour lull on Saturday — agreed to by both sides following intense U.S. and U.N. mediation efforts — saw Palestinians return to neighborhoods reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.

The Israeli military says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including by sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way.

Hamas and other militants in Gaza have fired more than 2,400 rockets at Israel since hostilities began on July 8, many deep into the Israeli heartland and toward most of the country’s major cities.

Casualties on the Israeli side have stayed relatively low thanks to Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome aerial defense system and because residents have been vigilant about seeking shelter quickly upon hearing the air raid sirens.

Before the announcement of the holiday cease-fire, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri had said any truce must include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and that tens of thousands of displaced people must be allowed to return to their homes. Israel’s current terms were “not acceptable,” he said in a text message to journalists.

Israel’s acceptance of the cease-fire extension was premised on its soldiers remaining in Gaza to destroy the more than 30 tunnels the military says it has found in the densely populated coastal strip.

TIME

Israel Says It’s Extending Gaza Truce for 24 Hours

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
Palestinians recover the body of a man killed when his home was hit the previous night by Israeli fire in the northern district of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip during an humanitarian truce, on July 26, 2014. Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

(BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip) — Hamas resumed rocket fire Saturday on Israel after rejecting Israel’s offer to extend a humanitarian cease-fire, the latest setback in international efforts to negotiate an end to the Gaza war.

Despite the Hamas rejection, Israel’s Cabinet decided to extend a truce for 24 hours, until midnight (2100 GMT) Sunday. However, it warned that its military would respond to any fire from Gaza and would continue to demolish Hamas military tunnels during this period.

A temporary lull on Saturday saw Palestinians return to neighborhoods reduced to rubble and allowed medics to collect close to 150 bodies, Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

With the retrieval of the corpses, the number of Palestinians killed reached 1,047 in 19 days of fighting, while more than 6,000 were wounded, he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European foreign ministers, meeting in Paris, had hoped to transform the cease-fire into a more sustainable truce. That effort was thrown into doubt with the Hamas’ rejection of the extension.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said any truce must include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and that tens of thousands of displaced people must be allowed to return to their homes. Israel’s current terms are “not acceptable,” he said in a text message to journalists.

In the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, scores of homes had been pulverized, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets. Hardest-hit were areas close to the border with Israel, areas from where Gaza militants typically fire rockets.

Manal Kefarneh, 30, wept as she inspected her damaged home.

On an unfinished top floor, she and her husband had been raising chickens. The couple collected those dead and replenished water for the living in hopes they will survive the war.

“What did we do to deserve this?” she asked. “All of the Arab leaders watch what’s going on here like it’s a Bollywood film.”

Israeli strikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 in targeted hits, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee, according to Palestinian rights groups.

Across Gaza, 147 bodies were pulled from the rubble Saturday, officials said. In southern Gaza, a tank shell killed 20 members of an extended family who sought refuge inside a building, al-Kidra said.

Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way.

Israel has lost 42 soldiers and two civilians, and a Thai worker also has been killed.

Israeli legislator Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party said Israeli troops are “fighting with an enemy dug in within the civilian population, dug in underground or within the houses there.” Referring to the widespread destruction, he said that “those are the consequences of such a fight.”

The military took some Israeli journalists into the Gaza border areas where troops were operating. Footage broadcast on Israeli television station Channel 10 showed homes booby-trapped with explosives, as well as grenades, mines and rockets stored there. Tunnels opened up inside houses.

Soldiers said some buildings blew up after being hit by gunfire from all the explosives inside. Col. Ofer Vinter, head of the Givati infantry brigade, said almost every house was booby-trapped with explosives and that Gaza fighters “emerge from the ground all the time.”

Standing over a tunnel concealed in a house, he said: “We cannot leave here before we finish dealing with all the tunnels.”

Israel launched a major air campaign in Gaza on July 8 and later sent ground troops into the Hamas-ruled territory in an operation it said was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire and destroying cross-border tunnels it views as a threat.

Shelah, the legislator, said about 50 tunnels have been discovered so far.

On Friday, Israel rejected a Kerry proposal for a weeklong truce because it had no provisions for the Israeli military continuing to demolish tunnels, Israeli media reported at the time.

Under the Kerry proposal, talks would begin during the temporary truce on easing the border blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Hamas has said it would not halt fire until it wins guarantees that the border blockade, enforced by Israel and Egypt, would be lifted.

Any new border arrangements for Gaza would likely give a role to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the main political rival of Hamas. Hamas had seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, triggering the Gaza blockade by Israel and Egypt.

However, Abbas, who heads the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, reached a power-sharing deal earlier this year with Hamas. Under the deal, a government of technocrats headed by Abbas was to prepare for new elections in the West Bank and Gaza.

Egypt wants forces loyal to Abbas to be posted on the Gaza side of the mutual border before considering open the Rafah crossing there, Gaza’s main gate to the world. Hamas officials have said they do not oppose such an arrangement, but would not surrender control over its thousands-strong security forces, meaning Hamas would remain the de facto power in Gaza.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris on Saturday that he and his counterparts from other nations are calling on both sides to negotiate a sustainable cease-fire.

Such a truce should meet Israeli security concerns, but also “the Palestinians’ expectations in terms of economic development and access to Gaza,” he said. “We are convinced of the need to involve the Palestinian Authority in achieving these objectives.”

Israel initially decided to extend Saturday’s 12-hour truce by four hours, to midnight (2100 GMT) Saturday. Hamas swiftly rejected the idea of an extension.

Shortly after the Hamas announcement, Gaza militants fired eight rockets and three mortars at Israel, the military said. Gaza militants said they fired 42 rockets, including two that were aimed at Tel Aviv, Israel’s second largest city, where police dispersed a peace rally attended by several thousand people.

In Gaza, a 36-year-old Palestinian man was killed by a sniper near the central Gaza town of Deir el-Balah shortly after the 12-hour truce ended.

Meanwhile, anger over Israel’s Gaza operation has sparked a series of protests in the West Bank. Since Thursday, nine Palestinians have been killed in clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians protesters.

Among those were two Palestinians killed by army fire Saturday, including a 23-year-old in the town of Jenin and a 16-year-old near the town of Bethlehem, hospital officials said.

TIME

3 Rockets Hit Israel as Hamas Rejects Gaza Truce

(JERUSALEM) — The Israeli military says three rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel despite a proposed extension of a humanitarian truce in the Gaza war.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group rejected Israel’s proposal to extend an original 12-hour lull by four hours, until midnight (2100 GMT) Saturday.

The military says the three rockets were fired more than an hour after the period for the initial lull had ended.

Meanwhile, the military warned residents of areas where there had been heavy fighting against returning there.

TIME

Hamas Rejects 4-Hour Gaza War Truce Extension

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
Palestinians recover the body of a man killed when his home was hit the previous night by Israeli fire in the northern district of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip during an humanitarian truce, on July 26, 2014. Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

(BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip) — A Hamas official says the group has rejected a four-hour extension of a humanitarian truce proposed by Israel.

Sami Abu Zuhri sent a text message to reporters Saturday, saying: “No agreement to extending the calm for an additional four hours.”

Israel has set its own terms for the lull, saying it would continue demolishing Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.

In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European foreign minister were discussing how to build on the initial 12-hour lull Saturday and transform it into a sustainable truce.

TIME

Israel Agrees to Extend Gaza War Truce by 4 Hours

A Palestinian woman pauses amid destroyed buildings in the northern district of Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip during an humanitarian truce on July 26, 2014.
A Palestinian woman pauses amid destroyed buildings in the northern district of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip during an humanitarian truce on July 26, 2014. Mohammed Abed—AFP/Getty Images

(JERUSALEM) — An Israeli Cabinet minister says Israel has agreed to extend a 12-hour humanitarian truce in the Gaza war by four hours.

The minister, Yuval Steinitz, spoke Saturday on Israeli television station Channel 10.

The initial lull agreed to by Israel and Hamas had begun at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) Saturday.

Steinitz confirmed reports that Israel decided to extend it by four hours, until midnight Saturday.

He says the decision was made by the Israeli prime minister and defense minister.

Steinitz says a further extension would be considered at a Cabinet meeting later Saturday.

NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Thousands of Gaza residents who had fled Israel-Hamas fighting streamed back to devastated border areas during a lull Saturday to find large-scale destruction: scores of homes were pulverized, wreckage blocked roads and power cables dangled in the streets.

The 12-hour truce was the only apparent outcome from a high-level mediation mission by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon over the past week. They failed to broker a weeklong cease-fire as a precursor to a broader deal, as they had hoped.

Instead, Israel’s defense minister warned he might soon expand the ground operation in Gaza “significantly.”

In the northern town of Beit Hanoun, residents encountered widespread destruction. Most had fled days earlier, following Israeli warnings that the town would be shelled.

Siham Kafarneh, 37, sat on the steps of a small grocery, weeping. The mother of eight said the home she had spent 10 years saving up for and moved into two months earlier had been destroyed.

“Nothing is left. Everything I have is gone,” she said.

Israel launched a major air campaign in Gaza on July 8 and later sent ground troops into the Hamas-ruled territory in an operation it said was aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire and destroying cross-border tunnels used by militants to stage attacks.

At least 985 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed and more than 6,000 wounded over the past 19 days, according to Palestinian officials. Israeli strikes have destroyed hundreds of homes, including close to 500 in targeted hits, and forced tens of thousands of people to flee, according to Palestinian rights groups.

More than 160,000 displaced Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of U.N. schools, an eight-fold increase since the start of Israel’s ground operation more than a week ago, the U.N. said.

Israel says it is doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, including sending evacuation warnings to residents in targeted areas, and blames Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way. Israel has lost 37 soldiers and two civilians, and a Thai worker has also been killed.

Saturday’s 12-hour lull appeared unlikely to change the course of the current hostilities, with both sides digging in.

Israel wants to create deterrence. “At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Friday.

Hamas, in turn, is unwilling to halt fire until it receives international assurances that Gaza’s seven-year-old border blockade will be lifted. Israel and Egypt tightened the blockade after Hamas seized Gaza in 2007.

After the temporary truce took effect at 8 a.m. Saturday, the streets of Gaza quickly filled with residents trying to stock up on supplies or returning to devastated areas to inspect their homes.

Ambulances of the Red Crescent reached the hardest-hit areas, including Beit Hanoun and the eastern Shijaiyah district of Gaza City, to recover bodies.

Eighty-five bodies were pulled from the rubble Saturday, many of them partially decomposed, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Fighters were among the dead, said Gaza Civil Defense spokesman Said al-Saoudi.

In two border areas, ambulances were unable to approach because tanks fired warning shots at the vehicles, the Red Crescent said.

In the southern town of Khan Younis, 20 members of the same extended family, including at least 10 children, were killed by tank fire that hit a building on the edge of town, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

The house partially collapsed and people were buried under the rubble. The family had recently moved into the building after fleeing fighting in a nearby village, said al-Kidra.

Hundreds of men marched in a funeral procession in Khan Younis Saturday afternoon, chanting “there is only God” while carrying the bodies, all wrapped in white cloth and some with bloody stains.

The Israeli military said troops would respond to any violations of the lull and continue “operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip.”

The army has so far uncovered 31 tunnels and destroyed half of them. Israel considers the tunnels to be a strategic threat because militants have used them to launch surprise attacks inside the country.

The Israeli government has also begun suggesting that Gaza be demilitarized as a condition for a permanent cease-fire so that Hamas cannot rearm itself. The current war is the third in Gaza in just over five years.

Gaza militants have fired close to 2,500 rockets at Israel since July 8, exposing most of Israel’s population to an indiscriminate threat that has killed three civilians.

In Beit Hanoun, the streets were filled at midmorning with frantic residents, many of whom had walked several miles from temporary shelters to inspect the damage to their homes and retrieve belongings.

Ambulances with wailing sirens and donkey carts loaded with mattresses and pots soon clogged the streets. Two masked fighters, one with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder, walked by — a rare sighting since they typically don’t appear in the open.

At the Beit Hanoun hospital, six patients and 33 medical staff had spent a terrifying night huddled in the X-ray department as the neighborhood was being shelled, said director Bassam Abu Warda.

A tank shell had hit the second floor of the building, leaving a gaping hole, and the facade was peppered with holes from large-caliber bullets.

On Saturday, the remaining patients were evacuated, including 85-year-old Nasra Naim.

The elderly woman and a second patient were resting on mattresses on the ground floor of the hospital, amid debris and glass shards.

Naim’s daughter, Naame, said her home was destroyed in the shelling.

“I don’t know where to go,” she said. “They (Israelis) killed our children, they took our land and now they are still following us.”

Two Red Crescent ambulances were hit in Beit Hanoun overnight, killing a medic and wounding three, one critically, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

On Saturday, rescue workers pulled the scorched body of the medic from the wrecked vehicle, which had been hit about 200 meters from the hospital.

“Targeting ambulances, hospitals and medical workers is a serious violation of the law of war,” said Jacques de Maio, head of the ICRC delegation for Israel and the occupied territories.

Hardest-hit were Beit Hanoun neighborhoods close to the border with Israel, areas from where Gaza militants typically fire rockets.

Manal Kefarneh, 30, wept as she inspected her damaged home. On an unfinished top floor, she and her husband had been raising chickens, and she now found some of them dead. They collected the dead birds and replenished water for the living in hopes they will survive the war.

“What did we do to deserve this?” she asked. “All of the Arab leaders watch what’s going on here like it’s a Bollywood film.”

TIME

Official: Over 1,000 Palestinians Dead in Gaza War

(BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip) — A Palestinian official says more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ongoing Gaza war as Israel battles Hamas militants.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said that officials recovered more than 100 bodies alone on Saturday.

The higher death toll came as fighting lulled Saturday during a 12-hour truce, the only immediate outcome from a high-level mediation mission by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon over the past week. They failed to broker a weeklong cease-fire as a precursor to a broader deal, as they had hoped.

Instead, Israel’s defense minister warned he might soon expand the ground operation in Gaza “significantly.”

TIME

Official: Israel Leans Toward Extending Gaza Truce

A Palestinian woman pauses amid destroyed buildings in the northern district of Beit Hanun in the Gaza Strip during an humanitarian truce on July 26, 2014.
A Palestinian woman pauses amid destroyed buildings in the northern district of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip during an humanitarian truce on July 26, 2014. Mohammed Abed—AFP/Getty Images

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — An Israeli government official says Israel is “leaning toward” extending a 12-hour humanitarian truce in the Gaza war by at least four hours.

The truce was to end at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT) Saturday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the ongoing discussions, said Israel’s government was leaning toward extending the lull.

Israeli media reported that Israel’s Security Cabinet would convene on Saturday night.

Separately, the office of the top United Nations envoy in the region, Robert Serry, said he is urging Israel and Hamas to extend the truce by 24 hours.

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