JERUSALEM (AP) — A relative lull descended on the war-torn Gaza Strip at the start of a major Muslim holiday on Monday, as international efforts intensified to end the three-week conflict between Israel and Hamas and the U.N. called for an "immediate" cease-fire.
The calm came as Muslims started celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
But there was fear and mourning instead of holiday cheer in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian families huddled inside their homes, fearing more airstrikes. At a cemetery in Gaza City's Sheik Radwan neighborhood, those who came to pay traditional respects at their ancestors' graves gathered around a large crater from an airstrike a week ago that had broken up several graves.
The Israeli military said it had not carried out any attacks in Gaza since 9:30 p.m. on Sunday but that troops on the ground were pressing on with efforts to destroy the cross-border tunnels constructed by Hamas for attacks inside Israel.
The military also said that Hamas fired a single rocket into Israel in the morning hours Monday, but that there was no damage or casualties.
The Israeli army opened artillery fire on Beit Lahia in northern Gaza in response to the rocket fired at Ashkelon, said the office of Israel's military spokesman. "Quiet will be met with quiet," the office statement said.
In New York, an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council called for "an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire."
While it was the council's strongest statement yet on the conflict that has already killed 1,030 Palestinians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side, it was not a resolution and therefore not binding.
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour did not hide his disappointment. He said the Council should have adopted a strong and legally binding resolution a long time ago demanding an immediate halt to Israel's "aggression," providing the Palestinian people with protection and lifting the siege in the Gaza Strip so goods and people can move freely.
"You cannot keep 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip in this huge prison," he told reporters. "That is a recipe for disaster, It is inhumane, and it has to be stopped and it has to be lifted."
Israeli U.N. ambassador Ron Prosor also criticized the statement — though from a very different perspective — saying it lacked balance because it didn't mention Hamas, the firing of rockets into Israel or Israel's right to defend itself.
Israel says it started its Gaza operation on July 8 to stop the rocket fire from the coastal territory and intensified it on July 17 to neutralize Hamas cross-border tunnels built to carry out attacks on Israeli territory.
The pressure for a cease-fire followed new attacks launched by Israel and Hamas on Sunday despite back-and-forth over proposals for another temporary halt to the fighting. The Security Council urged Israel and Hamas "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire into the Eid period and beyond." It said this would allow for the delivery of urgently needed assistance.
The council's presidential statement also called on the parties "to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire, based on the Egyptian initiative."
On Sunday, President Barack Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express his concern over the mounting Palestinian casualties.
The White House said Obama reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Hamas' rocket attacks. Obama said a lasting peace will ultimately require a demilitarized Gaza and dismantling of terror groups. The U.S. president also pushing for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire that would allow Israeli and Palestinian civilians to return to normalcy.
International diplomats have hoped that a temporary lull in the fighting could be expanded into a more sustainable truce to end the bloodshed.
Laub reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.