OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/NEWDELHI: Palestinian and Israeli negotiators will meet in Cairo to discuss a longer-term truce after the United States and United Nations brokered a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, a joint U.S.-U.N statement said early Friday.
The announcement came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network “with or without a cease-fire” as the Palestinian death toll soared past 1,400 – surpassing the number killed in Israel’s last major invasion of Gaza five years ago. There was no immediate Israeli comment on the announcement.
In a statement released in New Delhi where Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling, the U.S. and U.N. said they had gotten assurances that all parties to the conflict had agreed to an unconditional cease-fire.
“This humanitarian cease-fire will commence at 8 a.m. local time on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. It will last for a period of 72 hours unless extended. During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place,” the statement said. “We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian cease-fire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the cease-fire.”
The statement said the cease-fire was critical to give civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence. During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive humanitarian relief and have time to bury the dead, take care of the injured and restock food supplies. The time also will be used to repair water and energy infrastructure.
Earlier, the Israeli military said it was calling up an additional 16,000 reserve soldiers to pursue its campaign against Hamas.
At least 1,441 Palestinians have been killed, three-quarters of them civilians, since hostilities began on July 8, according to Gaza health officials – surpassing the at least 1,410 Palestinians killed in 2009, according to Palestinian rights groups.
Israel says 56 soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker have died – also far more than the 13 Israeli deaths in the previous campaign.
As the toll grew, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused both Israel and Hamas militants of violating the rules of war. She said Hamas is violating international humanitarian law by “locating rockets within schools and hospitals, or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas.” But she added that this did not absolve Israel from disregarding the same law.
The Israeli government, she said, has defied international law by attacking civilian areas of Gaza such as schools, hospitals, homes and U.N. facilities. “None of this appears to me to be accidental,” Pillay said.
“They appear to be defying – deliberate defiance of – obligations that international law imposes on Israel.”
Pillay also took aim at the U.S., Israel’s main ally, for providing financial support for Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-rocket defense system. “No such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling,” she said.
At the United Nations, Israel’s Ambassador Ron Prosor responded to criticism of his country, saying: “I think the international community should be very vocal in standing with Israel fighting terrorism today because if not, you will see it on your doorstep tomorrow.”
Israel expanded what started as an aerial campaign against Hamas and widened it into a ground offensive on July 17. Since then, Israel says the campaign has focused on destroying cross-border tunnels militants constructed to carry out attacks inside Israeli territory and ending rocket attacks on its cities.
Israel says most of the 32 tunnels it uncovered have now been demolished and that getting rid of the remainder will take no more than a few days.
“We have neutralized dozens of terror tunnels and we are committed to complete this mission, with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu said Thursday in televised remarks. “Therefore, I will not agree to any offer that does not allow the military to complete this important mission for the security of the people of Israel.”
Washington said it had agreed to restock Israel’s dwindling munitions supplies, despite concern over the mounting death toll.
The White House Thursday said there was little doubt that Israeli artillery was the source of a “totally indefensible” strike that killed 16 people at a U.N. school, Wednesday.
“It does not appear there’s a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved in this incident,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “There is clearly more that can and should be done to ensure the safety of innocent civilians.”
The shelling of the school also drew sharp condemnation from U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, who described it as “reprehensible.”
In the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, Israeli tank shells landed near another U.N.-run school Thursday and at least 30 people sheltering inside were wounded by shrapnel and shattered glass, witnesses and hospital officials said.