Israel, Palestinians accept Egypt’s bid for 72-hour truce

Posted Aug. 04, 2014, at 3:20 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 04, 2014, at 7:21 p.m.

GAZA — Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement agreed Monday to an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire to end four weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash to the violence.

Egypt’s plan called for a 72-hour truce to begin Tuesday and then for representatives of Israeli and Palestinian factions to attend talks in Cairo to negotiate a longer-term agreement.

Palestinian groups, including envoys of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, met the head of Egyptian intelligence in Cairo earlier Monday to formulate a plan to end the violence.

A few hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet agreed to accept Egypt’s proposal, an official in his office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Israel has notified Egypt of its acceptance of its proposal for a cease-fire,” the official said.

Afterward, Hamas Islamists who dominate Gaza announced their agreement to the truce as well.

“Hamas told Egypt a short while ago of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 after a surge in Hamas rocket salvoes. It escalated from air and naval barrages to overland incursions centered on Gaza’s tunnel-riddled eastern frontier, but also pushed into densely populated towns.

Gaza officials say 1,834 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed, and more than a quarter of the impoverished enclave’s 1.8 million residents displaced. As many as 3,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers in combat and three civilians to Palestinian cross-border rocket and mortar fire that has emptied many of its southern villages. “Iron Dome” missile interceptors, air raid sirens and public shelters have helped stem Israeli casualties.

Tensions from the fighting seemed to spread Monday to Jerusalem, where a Palestinian driving an excavator ran over and killed an Israeli and then overturned a bus in what police described as a terrorist or nationalistically motivated attack.

Surveillance video broadcast on Israeli television showed the yellow excavator’s mechanical arm tearing into the side of the bus as it lay on the sidewalk. There were no passengers on the bus.

Israeli police shot the excavator driver dead. Police identified him as a Palestinian from East Jerusalem and described the incident as a terrorist attack.

Several hours later, a gunmen fired at a soldier, wounding him in the stomach, a few minutes’ walk away. Police said the assailant then jumped on a waiting motorcycle and sped away.

“We very much suspect that this was a terrorist attack,” said Yossi Parienti, Jerusalem district police chief, told Channel Two television.

Several previous truces barely held with each side refusing to accept terms put by the other, while this time, Egypt plans to convene the parties in negotiations for a longer term deal.

Earlier Monday, Palestinians said Israel had bombed a refugee camp in Gaza City, killing an 8-year-old girl and wounding 29 other people, in an air attack they said disrupted the start of a previous truce effort.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said there had been no airstrikes in Gaza for seven hours Monday, during which time Israel said it was abiding by a humanitarian cease-fire to free up aid and allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the war to go home.

Israel said Gaza militants continued firing rockets and mortars during the truce period. There were no reported casualties.

The military was wrapping up the main objective of the ground assault, the destruction of cross-border infiltration tunnels from Gaza, and it has told residents of some towns they could return home.

A military spokeswoman said some forces were still in action inside Gaza, but the operation was drawing to a close. Media reports said troops had destroyed the last tunnel on their list of targets.

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