Israel and Hamas agree to ceasefire

Egypt announces truce following talks with Clinton in Cairo and just hours after a bomb attack on a bus in Tel Aviv injures 27

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 2:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2012, 3:59am

Israel and Hamas agreed yesterday to a ceasefire brokered by Egypt, just hours after a bomb attack on a bus rocked Tel Aviv.

The ceasefire, which was to begin at 9pm (3am HKT) last night, would bring an end to eight days of intensive Israeli fire on the Gaza Strip and militant rocket attacks out of the enclave.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr made the announcement in a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"These efforts ... have resulted in understandings to cease fire and restore calm and halt the bloodshed that the last period has seen," Amr said.

Under the terms of the ceasefire, Israel would cease all military activity against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and Palestinian militants would cease rocket attacks into Israel, an official said. After 24 hours of quiet, Gaza's border crossings with Israel would be opened further to allow freer movement of goods and people. Egypt will be the guarantor of the peace deal.

The deal came about despite fears that efforts would be derailed by a terror attack in Tel Aviv. The bomb exploded aboard an Israeli bus near the nation's military headquarters in Israel's commercial hub, wounding 27 people.

The blast was the first bombing in Tel Aviv since 2006.

While Hamas did not take responsibility for the attack, it praised the bombing. "We consider it a natural response to the occupation crimes and the ongoing massacres against civilians in the Gaza Strip," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

The blast was from a device placed inside the bus by a man who then got off, said Yitzhak Aharonovich, Israel's internal security minister.

"I was sitting in the middle of the bus. We were about to pull into a station and suddenly there was a huge explosion," said Yehuda Samarano, 59, from his hospital bed where he was being treated for shrapnel wounds to his chest and leg. "I flew from my seat. Everything became white and my ears are still ringing now."

Police set up roadblocks across the city trying to apprehend the attacker.

"We strongly believe this was a terror attack," a police spokesman said. He said three of the 27 wounded were moderately to seriously hurt.

Clinton said the US "strongly condemns" the bombing, which she called a "terrorist attack".

Some 10,000 Palestinians sought shelter in 12 UN-run schools, after Israel dropped leaflets urging residents to vacate their homes in some areas of Gaza, a UN spokesman said.

A four-year-old boy was among those killed in Gaza yesterday, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra.

The attacks brought to 144 the number of Palestinians killed since Israel launched its offensive last Wednesday.

Among the dead were 60 civilians, al-Kidra said. Five Israelis have also been killed by Palestinian rocket fire.