CAIRO: Israel and Hamas said they have agreed a new 72-hour truce starting Tuesday, after increasingly vocal world demands for a cease-fire in the bloody Gaza conflict.
The apparent breakthrough came during talks in Cairo Monday, only days after a similar three-day cease-fire collapsed in a deadly wave of violence within hours of starting Friday.
Images of the bloodshed – which has cost more than 1,800 Palestinian lives, and 64 Israeli soldiers in and near Gaza and three civilians in Israel – have sent tensions in the region soaring, earning Israel strong criticism.
“How many more deaths will it take to stop what must be called the carnage in Gaza?” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asked, as Britain said it was reviewing licenses to sell arms to Israel.
Israel and Hamas separately confirmed to AFP that each agreed to abide by the new 72-hour cease-fire.
“Israel will be honoring the cease-fire from tomorrow [Tuesday] at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT),” an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.
The official confirmed that an Israeli delegation would be heading to Cairo for talks. But another official said Israel would be watching “with a certain amount of skepticism,” since previous cease-fire plans have quickly collapsed.
Israeli media reports said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security Cabinet had reached the decision in a round of phone calls.
“Hamas informed Cairo a few minutes ago of their approval of the truce for 72 hours from tomorrow,” a spokesman for the group, Sami Abu Zuhri, said. “We hope this will secure a permanent cease-fire and restore stability,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
A Palestinian official affiliated with one of the militant factions said a temporary cease-fire would open the door to more comprehensive negotiations.
Previously Monday, Netanyahu had said there would be no end to the Gaza military operation without first securing a long-term period of calm for his people.
“The campaign in Gaza is continuing,” he said at the end of a seven-hour unilateral humanitarian lull that saw violence subside. “This operation will only end when quiet and security is established for the citizens of Israel for a prolonged period.”
Israel began aerial and naval bombardment of Gaza on July 8 after what it said was a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas and others and it later sent in ground forces.
It has already begun to wind down its offensive, saying the army had completed the main objective of the ground assault, the destruction of cross-border infiltration tunnels from Gaza.
With its goals met, Israel is seen as more likely to come to accept an end to the fighting.
Earlier Monday, a brief humanitarian truce began at 0700 GMT. But it got off to a tragic start with an airstrike leveling a house in a beachfront refugee camp in Gaza City, killing three people, among them a 9-year-old girl, the emergency services said.
The strike caused the house to pancake, leaving a huge pile of rubble strewn with twisted metal rods and broken glass and only a very narrow gap for rescuers to get inside.
“There is no truce. How could there be a truce,” raged Ayman Mahmud, who lives in the neighborhood.
“They are liars! They don’t even respect their own commitments!”
And Gaza medics said they retrieved 32 bodies from the rubble.
Hamas did not observe the truce, firing 42 rockets over the border during the pause, 24 of which hit Israel and another one which was shot down, the army said. An Israeli military spokesman later said troops were resuming their operations.
International outrage grew Monday over an Israeli strike near a U.N. school the day before that killed 10 people, among them refugees who had been seeking shelter. It was the third such strike in 10 days.
In Paris, France’s top diplomat, an increasingly vocal critic of the war, demanded the world impose a political solution to end violence.
“Israel’s right to security is total, but this right does not justify the killing of children and the slaughter of civilians,” he said, with French President Francois Hollande urging an end to the “massacres” in Gaza.
Their remarks came a day after the U.N. denounced a fresh strike on one of its schools which was sheltering 3,000 refugees as “a moral outrage and a criminal act,” and the United States said it was “appalled.”
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, one Israeli was killed and five hurt when a Palestinian rammed an earthmover into a bus, turning it over before the driver was shot dead by police, according to Israeli officials.
Shortly afterward, an Israeli soldier was shot and seriously wounded near a bus stop not far from the site of the earlier attack, with police combing the area for his attacker.