Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to a 72-hour truce in the Gaza Strip to take effect today, the latest effort to end four weeks of fighting.
Under the Egyptian-brokered accord, hostilities will cease at 8 a.m. local time with no conditions attached, Israel’s Channel 2 television station said. Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, has accepted the truce, spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in an e-mail.
While Israel hasn’t sent a delegation to the Egyptian capital, it will consider going if militants abide by the cease-fire, an official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter. If quiet is maintained throughout the 72 hours, the Israeli military won’t have to remain in Gaza, he said.
The Gaza offensive, which Israel says is intended to destroy the rockets that militants fire at the Jewish state and the tunnels they use to launch attacks, has been the deadliest in the territory since Israeli settlers and soldiers left in 2005. At least 1,868 Palestinians have been killed, many of them civilians, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra. Sixty-seven people have been killed on the Israeli side, 64 of them soldiers.
U.S., Palestinian and Egyptian envoys have been meeting in Cairo in search of an end to the third major conflict between Israel and Gaza militants in less than six years. A previous cease-fire broke down last week within hours.
Israel and Hamas want a cease-fire that addresses issues earlier agreements didn’t resolve. Hamas is pressing to lift the blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt, while Israel wants militants disarmed.
Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Palestinian delegation, is from the Fatah group that heads the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and recently reconciled with Hamas after a seven-year rift.
The U.S. aim is to negotiate an accord that would strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s role in Gaza at the expense of Hamas, giving the Authority control over borders with Israel and Egypt and responsibility for paying government officials in Gaza, according to two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss continuing negotiations led by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Israel, which opposed the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, isn’t yet negotiating on the plan. Kerry is hoping that its military success in destroying Hamas infrastructure in Gaza, coupled with growing international criticism of the civilian casualties there, will prompt the Israeli government to join the Cairo talks, the officials said.
They said incentives to a deal include financial support from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, which back Fatah and distrust Hamas, and the control to be exerted over the Egyptian border crossing by another anti-Hamas government in Cairo.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
The reports of a new cease-fire deal came after Israel’s military said it was on course to destroy all known tunnels dug by Hamas guerrillas in the Gaza Strip, meeting one of its stated objectives for the campaign.
“In the next few hours, we’ll complete the tunnel operation,” Major General Sami Turgeman, head of Israel’s southern command, said on Channel 2 television. Israel has said it discovered more than 30 underground passages.
While Israel has been reducing troop levels, the violence hasn’t let up. Al-Qedra’s ministry said yesterday that an 8-year-old girl was killed in an airstrike on Gaza City. The Israeli military said it was checking the report. Palestinian officials said 50 bodies were removed from bombed-out buildings in the territory yesterday.
Since the Israeli operation began, Hamas and other Gaza militant groups have fired 3,330 rockets at Israeli towns and cities and have staged armed raids against Israel through tunnels and by sea. Israel has hit more than 4,700 targets in the seaside strip, according to the army.
Two attacks yesterday in Jerusalem yesterday raised concerns of spillover from the Gaza conflict.
The driver of a construction excavator, identified by police as an east Jerusalem Palestinian, was shot dead by an officer after he rammed his vehicle into a bus, killing one person and injuring the bus driver and five others, police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.
An hour later, a man was shot in the stomach near the city’s Hebrew University campus on Mount Scopus by an assailant on a motorbike, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat told Israel Radio the man who was shot was a soldier. Roadblocks were set up in the area.