Both sides agree Gaza ceasefire

Wed, Nov 21, 2012, 00:00

Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt on the eighth day of intensive Israeli fire on the Gaza Strip and militant rocket attacks out of the enclave, Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian sources said.

First word of the truce came from a Palestinian official who has knowledge of the negotiations in Cairo, where US secretary of state Hillary Clinton was also pursuing peace efforts. An Egyptian source said the truce included an end to "assassinations" and "incursions" and would ease movement of Palestinians.

At a press conference in Cairo this evening, Egyptian foreign minister Kamel Armr confirmed the ceasefire will go ahead and would start at 7pm Irish time.

Mrs Clinton said the the US and Egypt will work together to support the next steps and would "consolidate progress, improve conditions for people of Gaza and provide security for people of Israel."

"There is no substitute for a just and lasting peace," she said.

Medical officials in Gaza said 144 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, including 36 children, have been killed in Israel's offensive. Nearly 1,400 rockets have been fired into Israel, killing four civilians and a soldier, the military said.

Mrs Clinton said Egypt's new government had assumed "a role of responsibility and leadership" in the crisis but warned that the rocket attacks must end for the truce to last.

"The people of this region deserve the chance to live free of fear and violence," the US secretary of state said.

The ceasefire was forged despite a bus bomb explosion that wounded 15 Israelis in Tel Aviv earlier in the day and despite more Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Israel's government has agreed to give the Egypt-negotiated agreement a chance, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the announcement.

The agreement aims to halt air strikes that have left more than 150 people dead in Gaza, and rocket attacks that have killed five Israelis, according to officials. Israel has hit more than 1,500 targets and Palestinians launched more than 1,400 missiles.

"I know there are citizens who would have expected a tougher military operation and that still may be required, but at this point the right thing for the state of Israel is to take this opportunity to achieve a ceasefire," Mr Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast on Israeli television.

The exiled leader of Hamas said that Israel had failed in its "adventure" when it launched attacks on Gaza and and accepted Palestinian terms.

"It failed, praise be to God," Khaled Meshaal told a news conference in Cairo, adding that Israel had "failed in its adventure".

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon urged Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement to stick to pledges under the deal.

"We urge the parties who agreed to the ceasefire to keep their promises. There may be challenges implementing this agreement," Ban told reporters after talks with King Abdullah at the monarch's residence in the Jordanian capital. Mr Ban urged the two sides to exercise "maximum restraint".

The negotiations took place as Israeli air strikes pummeled the Palestinian enclave and a bomb exploded on a Tel Aviv bus.

After talks in Ramallah with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Mrs Clinton held a second meeting with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu before travelling to Egypt for discussions with president Mohamed Mursi, whose country is the main broker in efforts to end eight days of fighting.

While diplomatic efforts continued, Israel struck more than 100 targets in Gaza, including a cluster of government buildings, in attacks that medical officials said killed 10 people, among them a two-year-old boy.

Palestinian militants fired more than 30 rockets at Israel, causing no casualties, and the Iron Dome interceptor system shot down 14 of them, police said.

In Tel Aviv, targeted by rockets from Gaza that either did not hit the city or were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome interceptor system, 15 people were wounded when a commuter bus was blown up near the Defence Ministry and military headquarters.

The accord says that "Israel shall stop all hostilities on the Gaza Strip, land, sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals," Egypt's state-run Ahram Gate reported. It also says that "all Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel, including rocket attacks and attacks along the border."

US president Barack Obama spoke with Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi to thank him for his efforts, the White House said in a statement tonight.

"There was tremendous US pressure on the Egyptians, who in turn pressured Hamas to accept terms which are not set in stone, including it seems regarding the Gaza blockade," said Gerald Steinberg, political science professor at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv.

"The Obama administration has now placed itself as the guarantor of the agreement's terms, including the halt in rocket attacks, and they are probably going to be tested very quickly," he said.

Israel says any truce must guarantee the end of rocket attacks, while Hamas is demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza and the permanent opening of its border with Egypt. It also called in the accord for free movement across Gaza's borders, Ahram Gate said.

Israel has massed armour on its border east of Gaza and is calling up 75,000 reservists for a possible ground operation. An incursion would be the first since December 2008, when fighting left more than 1,100 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

"Egypt stresses its historical commitment to the Palestinian issue and to the necessity of finding a fair and comprehensive solution," Mr Amr said.

"It will continue its efforts to realize this noble goal through working" to end Palestinian divisions, he said.

"Egypt calls everyone to follow up on the implementation of what has been reached, under Egyptian sponsorship, and to guarantee that all the sides abide by what has been reached," Mr Amr said.

The accord stipulates refraining from targeting residents in border areas and said that procedures of "implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the cease- fire." It also says that "Egypt shall receive assurances from each party that the party commits to what was agreed upon," the state-run Middle East News Agency (Mena) reported.

The deal, outlined in two main parts, says each side "commits itself not to perform any acts" that would breach the agreement and that Egypt, as the "sponsor of this understanding" would be asked to follow up in the case of any violations of the deal, Mena said.

Agencies

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