CAIRO: A 72-hour cease-fire went into effect after midnight Sunday after Israel and Hamas accepted a fresh Egyptian proposal, clearing the way for the resumption of talks on a long-term truce meant to end a month of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip that has cost nearly 2,000 lives.
The announcement marked the second time in less than a week that the two sides have agreed to Egyptian mediation. A similar 72-hour truce last week collapsed in renewed violence over the weekend.
In Cairo, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the truce would take effect at midnight and would create the atmosphere to resume humanitarian aid to the battered Gaza Strip and allow for indirect talks on a more lasting and comprehensive deal.
Hamas is seeking an end to the blockade on Gaza, while Israel wants Hamas to dismantle its arsenal of rockets and other weapons.
Palestinian negotiators, who met with Egyptian officials throughout the weekend, said early Sunday that they accepted the proposal. Later Sunday, Israeli officials announced their agreement. Israeli and Palestinian delegations are back in Cairo.
Qais Abdel-Karim, a member of the Palestinian delegation, said indirect talks with the Israelis would begin on Monday morning.
“We are going to engage in serious talks in the 72 hours to end the blockade and deliver humanitarian materials into Gaza with the hope of reaching a lasting cease-fire,” he said. The goal, he added, was to end the blockade, which he called “the reason for the war.”
In nearly a month of fighting, more than 1,900 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians. Nearly 10,000 were wounded and thousands of homes were destroyed. Sixty-seven people were killed on the Israeli side, including three civilians.
The U.N. says just under three-quarters of those killed in Gaza were civilians, and around a third of the civilian victims were children.
Seven Gazans were killed on Sunday, including a woman and two 17-year-olds, in a barrage of Israeli air strikes, and another 10 bodies were pulled from the rubble of previous strikes east of Gaza City, local medics said. Israel had walked away from cease-fire talks over the weekend, after militants resumed their rocket fire. “ Israel will not negotiate under fire,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier Sunday, warning that his country’s military campaign “will take time.”
Last week’s talks failed in part because Israel rejected Hamas’ demand for a complete end to the blockade. Israel says the closure is a necessary security measure. Officials do not want to make any concessions that would allow Hamas to declare victory.
A senior Palestinian negotiator acknowledged that the Palestinian demands would be more modest this time around. He said they would seek an end to the bloodshed in Gaza, internationally backed efforts to rebuild and an easing – but not an end – to the blockade.
“We might not get everything we want, particularly on freedom of movement. But we believe the Israelis and the world have gotten the point that Gazans should live normally and things should be much better than today,” said the negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal Palestinian deliberations.
Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent arms smuggling and that Hamas must disarm. Hamas has said handing over its arsenal, which is believed to include several thousand remaining rockets, is out of the question.
An Egyptian crackdown on smuggling tunnels along Gaza’s southern border has made things even tougher by robbing Hamas of its key economic pipeline and weapons conduit.