JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and Hamas on Monday accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal meant to halt a bruising monthlong war that has claimed nearly 2,000 lives, raising hopes that the bloodiest round of fighting between the bitter enemies could finally be coming to an end.
Still, both sides signaled a rough road ahead, with an Israeli official expressing skepticism given previous failures, and a Palestinian negotiator saying "it's going to be tough."
A last-minute burst of violence, including a deadly Palestinian attack in Jerusalem, continued bloodshed in Gaza and the reported execution of a number of suspected collaborators with Israel, served as reminders of the lingering risk of renewed violence.
After weeks of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, and a previous truce that collapsed within hours on Friday, Israel and Hamas both announced late Monday that they had accepted the proposal for a preliminary 72-hour cease-fire, beginning at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) Tuesday. Egypt was then set to host indirect talks to work out a long-term truce over the next three days.
"At 8 a.m. local time tomorrow a cease-fire starts and Israel will cease all military operations against terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. "Israel will honor the cease-fire and will be watching to see if Hamas does, too."
The war broke out on July 8 when Israel launched an air offensive in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Hamas-controlled Gaza. It expanded the operation on July 17 by sending in ground forces in what it described as a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks. Israel says the last of the tunnels has nearly been destroyed.
The war has taken nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives, most of them civilians caught in fighting inside Gaza's crowded urban landscape, according to Hamas medical officials. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers have also died, as well as two Israeli civilians and a Thai laborer who worked in Israel. The heavy death toll has eclipsed that of previous rounds of fighting in 2009 and 2012.
A delegation of Palestinian officials from various factions, including Hamas, has been negotiating with Egypt in recent days. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group had accepted the plan.
"It's clear now that the interest of all parties is to have a cease-fire," said Bassam Salhi, a member of the Palestinian delegation. "It's going to be tough negotiations because Israel has demands too. We don't have any guarantees the siege will be removed."
State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki late Monday said the U.S. strongly supports the latest cease-fire proposal and urges "both parties to respect it completely." A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he urged the parties to begin talks as soon as possible in Cairo on a durable cease-fire "and the underlying issues."
Hamas is seeking a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, an end to an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the territory, the release of Hamas prisoners held by Israel and international assistance in the reconstruction of Gaza.
Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to its destruction, from arming. But the Palestinians and members of the international community have criticized the blockade as collective punishment. The blockade, known to the Palestinians as "the siege," has ground Gaza's economy to a standstill.
Israel has demanded that Gaza become "demilitarized," requiring the unlikely cooperation of Hamas in giving up its significant arsenal.
"We will be putting first on our agenda preventing Hamas from rearming," Regev said. "Ultimately the Palestinians have a written commitment that Gaza should be demilitarized and it's time the international community held them to that commitment."
Israel had been signaling in recent days that it was winding down its military campaign. On Sunday, it withdrew most of its ground forces from Gaza, and the army said the pullout was continuing Monday.
In addition, Israel declared a seven-hour pause Monday in its air campaign for what it called a "window" to allow much-needed humanitarian aid into Gaza.
Supermarkets were open for business and more cars were on the streets than during any of the short-lived cease-fires since the war began. Fresh fruits and vegetables were available in outdoor markets.
Despite a drop in military activity, Israel still attacked 38 targets, though well below the levels of recent days.
At least 20 people were killed Monday, including three children — an 8-year-old girl in the Shati refugee camp and a 12-year-old boy and his 5-year-old sister in the southern border town of Rafah, according to Palestinian medical officials. Still, that was far below the levels during the heaviest fighting.
Israel's chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, disputed Palestinian claims that the vast majority of the dead were civilians.
"We estimate that between 700 and 900 terrorists were killed in direct contact with Israeli soldiers," he told Channel 2 TV. "That's a number that could rise because there were many terrorists inside the tunnels that were probably killed when the tunnels were blown up."
Almoz said Israel expected to destroy the last of the tunnels, allegedly built by militants to stage attacks across the border, in the coming hours.
As the fighting appeared to be tapering off, a Palestinian website close to the Hamas internal security service in Gaza said an unspecified number of Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel were executed.
It said the alleged collaborators were caught "red-handed" providing information to Israel, including details on certain houses and alerts about planned ambushes. "The resistance will show no mercy to anyone tempted to provide information to the enemy," the al-Majad website said.
In Jerusalem, an assault carried out with a construction vehicle served as another reminder of the tense climate.
Israeli TV stations broadcast a series of amateur videos of the attack, in which a Palestinian man used the front shovel of a construction excavator to ram a bus and tip it over.
Police said a man who worked at the site was run over and killed by the construction vehicle. He was identified as a 29-year-old religious inspector whose job was to ensure that ancient graves were not damaged by construction work.
A policeman who happened to be in the area shot the driver, who was identified as a resident of a Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem. The man's uncle, Hisham Jaabis, said the incident was a traffic accident and that his nephew had been gunned down in cold blood while trying to dodge the bus. "All of them started shooting at him," he said.
In the past, Palestinian attackers have gone on deadly rampages with bulldozers in Jerusalem traffic.
Shortly after the excavator attack, a gunman on a motorcycle shot and seriously wounded an Israeli soldier in Jerusalem. Police called it a "terrorist" attack, signaling alleged Palestinian involvement, and searched for the shooter in east Jerusalem.
Federman reported from Jerusalem. Yousur Alhlou and Peter Enav in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed to this report.
The White House on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks and do what they can to protect civilians after Egyptian-mediated negotiations failed to extend a ceasefire and rocket fire resumed.
"The United States is very concerned about today's developments in Gaza," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
"We condemn the renewed rocket fire and we are concerned about the safety and security of civilians on both sides of that conflict," he said.
Five Palestinians, including a 10-year-old boy, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza since a ceasefire fell apart on Friday, a Palestinian medical official reported to Agence France Presse.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army said Palestinian militants fired 35 rockets into Israel on Friday, injuring a soldier and a civilian.
The father of a ten-year old Palestinian boy, who was killed in an Israeli air strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza City, mourns at the city's Al-Shifa hospital, on August 8, 2014. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian factions will remain in Cairo and press on with Egyptian-mediated talks despite the end of the ceasefire in Gaza, the head of the delegation, Fatah official Azzam Ahmed, said on Friday.
"We are not for escalation. We are ready to continue through our Egyptian brothers in negotiating to reach a final agreement that would return the rights to their owners," Ahmed said. "I mean here lifting the blockade of Gaza."
Ahmed said Palestinian negotiators were due to meet Egyptian intelligence officials, who have been mediating the talks, later in the day. He said Palestinian factions were united in their decision not to extend the 72-hour truce that ended at 0500 GMT and had been clear about their basic demands to end the conflict.
Egypt called on Friday for an immediate resumption of the ceasefire in Gaza and a return to the negotiating table, saying that only a few outstanding issues remained in negotiations it was mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The foreign ministry calls on all sides to rise to their responsibilities ... and to return immediately to the ceasefire commitment and exploit the opportunity available to resume negotiations on the very limited sticking points that remain in the fastest possible time," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
BREAKING: Israel says it's resumed strikes on Gaza in response to rocket fire, after end of 3-day truce.
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 8, 2014
A 72-hour cease-fire expired at 8 a.m. today, and not long after, Gaza militants began firing rockets at Israel, The Associated Press reported.
The Israeli military said at least 10 rockets had been fired at Israel since the truce ended. Prior to the attacks, a senior official for Hamas said the militant groups would not extend the cease-fire.
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Israel has conditionally agreed to extend a ceasefire that ended a month of fighting in Gaza beyond a Friday deadline, an Israeli official said on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official did not say for how much longer Israel had agreed to extend the truce, only that: "Israel has expressed its readiness to extend the truce under its current terms," referring to the deal brokered by Egypt that took effect on Tuesday.
Hamas had no immediate comment.
IDF confirms rocket sirens in southern Israel were false alarm http://t.co/QN677jtlXE
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) August 6, 2014
ABC Foreign Editor Jon Williams reports that the IDF have confirmed the rocket sirens are sounding, but are checking to see if it is a false alarm.
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) August 6, 2014
Reuters reports that Israel has arrested one of the suspects in the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June.
Hussam Kawasme, a 40-year-old resident of the West Bank city of Hebron, was arrested on July 11 in connection with the killing of Israelis Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrah, who went missing on June 12 and were discovered dead a couple of weeks later.
Their kidnapping sparked a cycle of violence that led to the month-long conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
Kawasme's arrest was made public for the first time on Tuesday in a document from an Israeli court case over whether houses belonging to him and two other suspects - who remain at large - should be destroyed as a punitive measure.
The lawyers listed as representing Kawasme were not reachable for comment.
The court document said Kawasme had admitted to helping to organize the kidnapping - securing funding from the Hamas Islamist group in Gaza and purchasing weapons which he passed on to the two other suspects who carried out the attack.
Kawasme also helped to bury the bodies of the teenagers in a plot of land he had bought a few months earlier, it said.
Israel has named the other two suspects in the case as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha.
India's NDTV has released footage that appears to show three Palestinian militants setting up a rocket launching site in a crowded area of Gaza. The rarity of the video is remarkable, as militants in the enclave are notoriously covert in their launching operations.
NDTV journalist Sreenivasan Jain describes the scene from his neighboring balcony, narrating as blurred figures move in and out of the suspected rocket site.
Read more here.
In an interview with HuffPost UK, former British Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi explained why she dramatically quit the government on Tuesday.
Speaking exclusively to The Huffington Post UK in her first interview since resigning on Tuesday morning, the Tory peer accused the coalition of failing to act as an "honest broker" in the Middle East and called for an immediate arms embargo against Israel.
"The British government can only play a constructive role in solving the Middle East crisis if it is an honest broker," the former Foreign Office minister said, "and at the moment I do not think it is."
Read the full story here.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Jordan has circulated a revised U.N. resolution calling for a durable cease-fire in the Gaza war and condemning "all violence and hostilities against civilians."
Jordan's new U.N. Ambassador Dina Kawar said the draft resolution was submitted to the Security Council on Tuesday in a form that could be put to a vote.
"We are in consultation with all council members and we hope by the next day or two that we come with a product," she said.
The draft resolution calls for "the sustained reopening" of crossing points into Gaza and calls on the U.N. to establish a mechanism to monitor implementation of a cease-fire agreement.
It makes no mention of Hamas or its rocketing of Israel and is likely to face an uphill struggle winning U.S. approval.
Agence France Presse reports on an initial assessment of the cost of damage to the Gaza Strip after weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Palestinian deputy economy minister Taysir Amro said "direct damages" will cost Gaza at least -6 billion in damage, and that the number will rise once further assessment of the full scale of damage is possible, according to the news agency.
Read the full story here.
People are beginning to leave UNRWA shelters in #Gaza. 4 the 1st time there is a slight decrease in numbers: 267,970 in 90 UNRWA shelters RT
— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) August 5, 2014
Our concern is that people r leaving UNRWA shelters in #Gaza & returning 2 damaged & dangerous homes. Many homes feared destroyed RT
— Chris Gunness (@ChrisGunness) August 5, 2014
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said there was "clear evidence" of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court prosecutors on Tuesday to push for an investigation.
Malki visited The Hague shortly after Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza entered a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt in an effort to pave the way for an extended ceasefire.
Malki said the Palestinian Authority wanted to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes by all sides and had discussed a timeline with prosecutors to join the court. He did not provide details.
Shajaiyah in Gaza. Staggering level of destruction. Families having to rebuild....again. pic.twitter.com/fGfykUwA4K
— Jon Donnison (@JonDonnison) August 5, 2014
Sayeeda Warsi, senior minister of state at the British Foreign Office, has tendered her resignation because she can "no longer support" the country's policy on Gaza, BBC News reported.
Warsi took to Twitter to confirm the news:
With deep regret I have this morning written to the Prime Minister & tendered my resignation. I can no longer support Govt policy on #Gaza
— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) August 5, 2014
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BREAKING: 3-day truce between Israel, Hamas takes effect, sets stage for talks on sustainable cease-fire
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 5, 2014
BREAKING: Israeli military: All forces will have withdrawn from Gaza by start of cease-fire at 8 a.m.
— The Associated Press (@AP) August 5, 2014
A spokesman for Hamas told Reuters that the Islamist group also agrees to a Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
"Hamas told Egypt a short while ago of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.
An Israeli official says Israel has agreed to a temporary Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Reuters reports.
#BREAKING: Israel agrees to Egyptian ceasefire proposal: Israeli official
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) August 4, 2014
Egypt is urging senior Israeli and Palestinian delegations to join in talks on a permanent ceasefire for Gaza in the Egyptian capital, Reuters reports. Cairo also calls on Palestinians and Israelis to accept a proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire that would start tomorrow morning.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports that the Palestinian factions have agreed to an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour ceasefire that would start tomorrow morning. While Palestinians officials have said Israel agreed to the truce as well, there is no official response from the Israeli government yet.
Read more here.
Egypt, Hamas, PIJ and the Palestinian authority all confirm Gaza ceasefire tomorrow morning. The Israeli government says silent
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) August 4, 2014
— Derek Stoffel (@DerekStoffelCBC) August 4, 2014
Britain is investigating the possible death of one of its citizens in Gaza, Reuters reports on Monday. The country's Foreign Office said it had received reports a British national was killed in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday.
(Reuters) - Britain is "urgently" investigating reports that a British national was killed in Gaza over the weekend, a spokesman for the British government said on Monday.
Britain sought to establish the man's fate as a brief Israeli truce to allow aid to reach Palestinians ended amid accusations of strikes by both sides, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash against the war in Gaza.
Citing friends of the man, British media reported that an aid worker from Rochdale in northern England had been killed on Sunday during an Israeli strike on Rafah while he was delivering supplies for a hospital.
"We are aware of the reports of the death of a British national in Rafah and are urgently looking into them," a spokesman for the Foreign Office said.
#BREAKING Israel says it has destroyed all known Gaza tunnels
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) August 4, 2014
The number of displaced Palestinians seeking shelter at UN facilities has topped 270,000.
BREAKING: The number of displaced Palestinian civilians in our shelters has risen to 272,987. Our 90 shelters average 3,033 people each.
— UNRWA (@UNRWA) August 4, 2014
A spokesperson for the Israeli army reportedly told Agence France Presse that Israel is resuming its airstrikes in Gaza.
— Julia Macfarlane (@juliamacfarlane) August 4, 2014
In a statement released on Monday, Human Rights Watch accused Israeli troops of having opened fire and killing several fleeing civilians in the town of Khuza'a in southern Gaza. The international human rights group says the incidents took place between July 23 and July 25.
Human Rights Watch investigated several incidents between July 23 and 25 when, local residents said, Israeli forces opened fire on civilians trying to flee Khuza’a, but no Palestinian fighters were present at the time and no firefights were taking place.
On the morning of July 23, Israeli forces ordered a group of about 100 Palestinians in Khuza’a to leave a home in which they had gathered to take shelter, family members said. The first member to leave the house, Shahid al-Najjar, had his hands up but an Israeli soldier shot him in the jaw, seriously injuring him.
Israeli soldiers detained the men and boys over age 15 in an area close to the Gaza perimeter fence. Based on statements from witnesses and news reports, some were taken to Israel for questioning. Israeli forces released others that day, in small separate groups. As one group walked unarmed to Khan Younis, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing one and wounding two others.
Read the briefing here.
A gunmen opened fire near Jerusalem's Hebrew University, hitting a soldier in the stomach. It was the second incident in the Israeli capital this morning. Earlier, a man drove a construction vehicle into a bus.
According to a preliminary investigation of the Mt. Scopus incident, a man dressed in black shot a 20-year-old soldier in the stomach, wounding him seriously, got on a motorcycle that was waiting for him and fled the scene. A security guard standing nearby shot at the suspect, but failed to hit him. Security forces are attempting to apprehend the attacker.
Read the full story here.