A relative lull descended on the war-torn Gaza Strip at the start of a major Muslim holiday today, as international efforts intensified to end the three-week war between Israel and Hamas and the UN called for an “immediate” ceasefire.

The calm came as Muslims started celebrating the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

The Israeli military said it had not carried out any attacks in Gaza since 9.30pm local time yesterday 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 early hours today, but that there was no damage or casualties.

Smoke rises after an Israeli strike over the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Jinipix/Israel Sun

Smoke rises after an Israeli strike over the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: Jinipix/Israel Sun

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 UN Security Council called for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire,” its strongest statement yet on the conflict that has already killed 1,030 Palestinians and 43 Israeli soldiers.

Two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel have also died in rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.

The pressure for a ceasefire followed new attacks launched by Israel and Hamas yesterday despite back-and-forth proposals for another temporary halt to the fighting.

The Security Council urged Israel and Hamas “to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire 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 ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative.”

Israel did not immediately comment on the statement.

Yesterday, US President Barack Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express his concern over the mounting Palestinian casualties.

The White House said Mr Obama reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks.

He said a lasting peace will ultimately require a demilitarised Gaza and dismantling of terror groups.

The president is also pushing for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire that would allowIsraeli 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.