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72-Hour Cease-Fire Takes Effect In Gaza

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel said it withdrew the last of its ground forces from Gaza on Tuesday as it and Hamas began a temporary cease-fire. The calm sets the stage for talks in Egypt on a broader deal for a long-term truce and the rebuilding of the battered, blockaded coastal territory.

Both sides halted cross-border attacks as the three-day truce took effect at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) Tuesday. The shelling stopped and in Gaza City, where streets had been deserted during the war, traffic picked up and shops started opening.

If the calm holds, it would be the longest lull in almost a month of fighting that has killed nearly 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.

In coming days, Egyptian mediators plan to shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo to try to work out new arrangements for Gaza.

As details of the Palestinian demands emerged, there were some signs that Hamas is willing to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a role in Gaza as part of rebuilding efforts.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas' Palestinian Authority in 2007, prompting the Egyptian-Israeli blockade of the territory. Abbas' return would presumably aim to reassure Israel and Egypt, allowing an easing of the closure.

The Palestinian delegation in Cairo presented a joint list of demands to Egypt, said Hana Amireh, a West Bank-based PLO official who is in touch with the delegation.

The demands include a call for internationally funded reconstruction that would be overseen by an Abbas-led government that was formed in a unity deal with Hamas before the war.

The delegation is led by one of Abbas' confidants but includes members of Hamas and other factions.

Efforts are under way to arrange a pledging conference of donor countries in Norway at the beginning of September, Mohammed Mustafa, the West Bank-based deputy prime minister of the technocrat government, told The Associated Press that

However, Hamas official Izzat Rishq suggested that while the group is willing to let Abbas handle the fund-raising at the donors' conference, it will seek a role in reconstruction.

"We know that we have a national unity government that can handle the donors' conference and the rebuilding, but implementing it on the ground requires national cooperation," he told The Associated Press.

An Israeli government official said an Israeli delegation would attend the Cairo talks, but would not say when it was to arrive in the Egyptian capital. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue with the media.

Israel TV's Channel 10 said Israel wanted to make sure the cease-fire held before sending negotiators to Egypt.

The situation on the ground remains volatile, and any cease-fire violation could quickly derail the Cairo talks. Gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions are wide, and it's not clear how much can be achieved once talks get under way.

Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior official in Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said Israel is willing to discuss an easing of Gaza border restrictions, but needs guarantees that Hamas will not be able to re-arm.

He said the international community "can have a role in securing the security arrangements that are going to be agreed upon in Gaza," including preventing the entry of goods that could be diverted by Hamas for military purposes.

If such arrangements are reached, "the international community (is) of course going to have a role in helping and financing the reconstruction of Gaza," he said.

Israel is concerned that Hamas would be able to restock its military arsenal if the borders are opened.

Over the years, Hamas has smuggled rockets and other weapons into Gaza through smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. The flow only halted after a new government in Egypt took over a year ago and destroyed the tunnels.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly raised the idea in recent days of disarming Hamas, with the help of the international community.

Hamas is deeply rooted in Gaza. Despite the blow to its fighting capabilities in the past month, Hamas has thousands of armed men under its command.

As Tuesday's truce took effect, residents returned to devastated areas to inspect the damage.

One of the hardest-hit areas of recent days was the southern Gaza town of Rafah, which had come several days of heavy Israeli shelling and airstrikes, starting Friday, after Israel suspected an Israeli soldier had been captured by Hamas. Israel later said the soldier was killed in battle that day.

"I never saw anything like this in my life," Tawfiq Barbakh, a 67-year-old father of 12, said of the Israeli shelling as he surveyed his badly damaged home. "I don't know how many shells landed every minute but it felt like 20 or 30."

The war began July 8, but was preceded by several weeks of tensions. The current round of confrontations began with the June 12 abduction-killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, blamed by Israel on Hamas, followed by the apparent revenge killing of a Palestinian-American teen, the roundup of hundreds of Hamas activists by Israel, and finally barrages of Gaza rocket fire on Israel.

Israel launched airstrikes it said were aimed at stopping the rocket fire. It expanded the operation July 17 by sending in ground forces in what it described as a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used to stage attacks.

The fighting has claimed nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives. The war has also left 67 dead on the Israeli side, all but three of them soldiers.

The U.N. and Gaza human rights groups monitoring the death toll have said more than 75 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians.

But an Israeli military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said Tuesday that about 900 Palestinian militants had been killed by Israeli forces during the war.

In a conversation with The Associated Press on Sunday, another military official had said at least 300 militants were killed. Asked about the sharp jump in figures over just two days, Lerner said the figure of 900 militants killed was an approximation, based on reporting from individual Israeli units, but provided no further detail.

Lerner said Israel withdrew all its remaining forces from Gaza on Tuesday after troops completed the destruction of 32 cross-border tunnels that were built for Islamic militant attacks inside Israel.

He said that over the past month, Hamas and other Gaza militants had fired some 3,300 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel. He estimated that Israeli forces destroyed another 3,000 rockets on the ground — but that Hamas has an equal number left for future use.

One of the rockets fired from Gaza before Tuesday's cease-fire hit a home in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem in the West Bank, causing damage, but no injuries, police said.

___

Enav reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Hamza Hendawi in Rafah contributed to this report.

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From Reuters:

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.

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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.

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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)

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From Reuters:

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.

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Reuters reports:

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.

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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.

For more, click here.

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From Reuters:

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.

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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.

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08/05/2014 4:20 PM EDT
Israel Arrests Kidnapping Suspect

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.

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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.

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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.

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From the Associated Press:

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.

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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.

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From Reuters:

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.

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08/05/2014 6:35 AM EDT
Gaza, Post-Offensive
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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:

Click here for more.

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08/05/2014 2:23 AM EDT
72-Hour Cease-Fire Takes Effect
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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.

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An Israeli official says Israel has agreed to a temporary Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, Reuters reports.

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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.

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08/04/2014 3:29 PM EDT
Ceasefire Agreement?

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.


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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.

More from Reuters:

(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.

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The number of displaced Palestinians seeking shelter at UN facilities has topped 270,000.

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08/04/2014 11:48 AM EDT
Report: Israel Is Resuming Strikes

A spokesperson for the Israeli army reportedly told Agence France Presse that Israel is resuming its airstrikes in Gaza.

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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.

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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.

Haaretz reports:

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.

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Around the Web

Israel Moves to Wrap Up Gaza Military Operation - NYTimes.com

Gaza–Israel conflict - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Israel Resumes Gaza Strikes After Cease-Fire Lull - ABC News

Israel, Hamas agree to 72-hour cease-fire - USA Today

Israel, Hamas Agree to 72-Hour Cease-Fire in Gaza