Three-day ceasefire to begin in Gaza as Cairo talks continue

Israeli delegation to join talks in Egypt to work out a long-term truce

Part of the Shejaia neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive. Photograph: Reuters/Suhaib Salem

Part of the Shejaia neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive. Photograph: Reuters/Suhaib Salem

 

Israel and the Palestinians last night agreed to a 72-hour truce in the Gaza Strip to start this morning, the latest effort to end four weeks of fighting.

Under the Egyptian-brokered deal, hostilities will cease at 8am local-time with no conditions.

The Israeli government accepted the proposal, with a senior official saying Israel will be watching “with a certain amount of scepticism,” since previous ceasefire plans have quickly collapsed.

Palestinian negotiators in Cairo agreed terms with Ziad al-Nakhala, deputy secretary-general of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, told the Guardian that he believed a deal would be reached. The key issue for Israel of tunnels had not been discussed, he said, but promises had been made about an end to the blockade on Gaza, he said.

Gamal Shobky, the Palestinian Authority’s envoy to Egypt, who was also present at the talks in Cairo, said that while nothing had been finalised, he hoped for at least a temporary truce by this morning.

An Israeli delegation will head to Egypt for talks to work out a long-term truce in the next three days.

From 10am to 5pm yesterday, Israel had announced its own unilateral humanitarian truce in most parts of Gaza, significantly reducing the level of violence.

Many residents used the lull to stock up on basic supplies or to return to their homes, following the withdrawal of Israeli troops. Hundreds of lorries carrying food, medicine and fuel entered Gaza via Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.

Palestinians accused Israel of breaking its ceasefire during the morning by launching a bomb attack on a refugee camp in Gaza City that killed an eight-year-old girl and wounded 29 other people. Last night, there was still no official comment about the strike from the Israeli military.

Clashes also continued in the southern city of Rafah, which was excluded from the truce.

Hamas refused to hold fire, accusing Israel of a public relations exercise to divert world attention from its “massacres” in Gaza. Militants fired more than 60 projectiles into Israel yesterday.

Most Israeli soldiers have now left Gaza, while others have redeployed to positions close to the Israeli border.

The Palestinian death toll in the Gaza conflict has risen to more than 1,800, most of them civilians. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have been killed, along with three civilians.

In Jerusalem yesterday, two attacks by Palestinians left one Israeli dead and seven wounded. Police believe both incidents were acts of solidarity linked to the Gaza conflict.

In the first attack, a Palestinian construction site worker, driving an industrial digger, killed a pedestrian before overturning a bus, wounding six people. He was shot and killed by a passing security guard.

The assailant, from east Jerusalem, was not linked to militant groups. Relatives said the Israeli authorities had recently demolished his cousin’s home.

Harsh criticism

A few hours later, a man shot and seriously wounded a soldier close to Jerusalem’s Hebrew university mount Scopus campus, before driving away on a motorbike to a nearby Palestinian neighbourhood.

There has been harsh international criticism over the attack on Sunday by Israel which killed at least seven people in a UN-run school in Rafah.

United Nations secretary- general Ban Ki-moon called the attack a “moral outrage and a criminal act”.

US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Washington was “appalled by the disgraceful shelling” and urged Israel to do more to “avoid civilian casualties” and to protect UN facilities.

Army spokesman Capt Eytan Buchman said the target was three Palestinian militants riding past the school on a motorcycle. “We identified a successful hit on the target. We definitely don’t target civilians or schools.”

French President François Hollande described Israel’s killings in Gaza as “massacres” and called for action to end the violence. Earlier in the day, one of the strongest condemnations of Israel’s tactics in Gaza came from French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who said security concerns did not justify “the slaughter of civilians”.
Additional reporting - Guardian service