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 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. 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, which began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), had prompted Palestinian families to trek back to battle-devastated neighbourhoods where rows of homes have been reduced to rubble. It was to be followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution.
The Israeli military said that 90 minutes into the truce, militants attacked soldiers searching for tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip.
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.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a special meeting of his security cabinet for later on Friday. A statement from his office said the Israeli leader spoke by telephone with Kerry and told him “the Palestinians had blatantly breached the humanitarian ceasefire and attacked our soldiers”.