Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have agreed to a three-day humanitarian cease-fire and will start talks on a more lasting settlement, the U.S. and United Nations said.
Secretary of State John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon announced the accord in a joint statement, saying that the UN has “received assurances that all parties have agreed” to it. The 72-hour truce will start at 8 a.m. local time today, and will give “innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence,” they said.
The fighting in Gaza has left more than 1,400 Palestinians and almost 60 Israelis dead since it escalated on July 8. Kerry and Ban failed last week in efforts to broker a temporary halt to allow discussion of underlying disputes. Israel says Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, should be disarmed under any agreement, while Hamas demands the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian embargo on the territory.
During the truce period, “forces on the ground will remain in place,” Kerry and Ban said. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will head to Cairo for negotiations “aimed at reaching a durable cease-fire,” they said. The White House issued a statement urging a permanent agreement.
Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to the U.S. government, said he’s skeptical that the truce will hold for 24 hours or that the Cairo talks will produce a durable accord. “I’ve seen this movie so many times,” Miller, vice president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said in an interview. “There are so many ways it can run off the highway.”
While several humanitarian pauses in the fighting have been declared since July 8, none lasted more than a few hours. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he won’t sign a truce that curtails Israel’s ability to destroy the tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported that Israel accepted the temporary cease-fire, citing an unnamed Israeli official, and CNN television cited aides to Netanyahu saying Israel agreed to the truce. Netanyahu’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Izzat al-Resheq, a Hamas leader, confirmed acceptance of the plan on his Facebook page, saying Hamas will abide by it as long as Israel does.
Kerry told reporters in New Delhi that both parties will desist from “offensive military” action during the truce period, though Israel can continue “defensive operations for those tunnels that are behind its lines.”
Calling the cease-fire “a lull of opportunity,” Kerry said, “It is up to the parties —- all of them —- to take advantage of this moment. There are no guarantees.”
He said the U.S. will send a small delegation to the Cairo talks, which may begin as early as today.
Egypt will broker the negotiations, while Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar also helped in putting together today’s cease-fire accord, a U.S. official said, asking not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the talks.
The official said that representatives of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah group, which runs the West Bank and recently reconciled with Hamas, will head the Palestinian delegation in Cairo, with Hamas members also part of it. U.S. and Israeli negotiators won’t talk directly to Hamas, according to the official.
Gaza officials said 11 people were killed in an air strike on a home in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza late yesterday, bringing the total death toll from 25 days of Israeli air and artillery strikes to 1,434.
With the casualties growing, Miller said the Israelis were open to the truce proposal “because they had to find a way to change the channel. The pictures were horrific.”
The U.S., which has backed Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza, yesterday joined the UN in criticizing its ally over an artillery strike that killed at least 19 people at a UN-operated refuge on July 30. The UN Relief and Works Agency has accused Israel of carrying out the attack in violation of international law.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there’s little doubt who carried out the attack, and called it “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible.” He told reporters that “we need our allies in Israel to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves.”
Brigadier General Moti Almoz, an Israeli army spokesman, said yesterday that troops were responding to shooting from near the UN building, and that it may have been hit by Hamas fire. Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, labels Hamas a terrorist organization.
More than 2,800 rockets have been fired at Israel since the conflict escalated on July 8, according to the army. Israel yesterday called up an additional 16,000 reservists, bringing the total to 86,000.