Israel appeared to hold off on a threatened escalation of its week-old Gaza Strip barrage on Monday despite having balked at Western calls for a ceasefire with an equally defiant Hamas.
On Sunday, the Israeli military warned residents of the northern border town of Beit Lahiya to leave or risk their lives when, after nightfall, it planned to intensify air strikes against suspected Palestinian rocket launchers among civilian homes.
A U.N. aid agency said around a quarter of Beit Lahiya's 70,000 residents fled, fearing Israeli attacks which, according to Gaza officials, have killed more than 166 people, most of them non-combatants, since the cross-border shelling war began.
But other than a lone air strike on farmland outside the town, which the Palestinians said caused no casualties, Beit Lahiya was largely quiet in the early hours of Monday. Israel said one rocket was fired from Gaza, without inflicting damage.
Asked about the delay in the Israeli escalation, a military officer declined comment other than to cite "situational assessments" - a term that could potentially refer to the scope of Beit Lahiya's evacuation or broader strategic deliberations.
Israel's Army Radio said there had been "definite signals" that Gaza's dominant Hamas Islamists sought to tamp down the violence, though the report did not elaborate nor cite sources.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, whose bid to broker a wider peace deal collapsed in April when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called off negotiations with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over his surprise power-share with Hamas, offered on Sunday to help secure a Gaza truce.
The call was echoed by France and by Germany, which will send its foreign minister to the region on Monday. But with the United States and European Union, like Israel, shunning Hamas as a terrorist group, Middle Eastern intermediaries were mooted.
A U.S. official said that Kerry, in a phone conversation with Netanyahu, "described his engagement with leaders in the region to help to stop the rocket fire so calm can be restored and civilian casualties prevented, and underscored the United States' readiness to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement".