Palestinians accept Egyptian plan for 72-hour truce in fighting with Israel

Egyptian proposal for a new 72-hour ceasefire hopes to push the warring sides towards a long-term peace agreement for the Gaza Strip

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 4:49am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 10:46am

Israel has accepted a new Gaza ceasefire proposed by Egyptian mediators and will send negotiators to Cairo today if the truce holds, Israeli officials said.

Egypt had called on Israel and the Palestinians to commit to a new ceasefire that would start at 9pm GMT and be in effect for 72 hours. A previous three-day pause expired on Friday and fighting in a month-old war resumed.

Palestinian negotiators said earlier that they had accepted the new 72-hour truce, clearing the way for a possible resumption of talks on a long-term ceasefire arrangement in the Gaza Strip.

At least 15 rockets hit Israel by mid-afternoon without causing injuries or damage, and Israel struck 35 targets in Gaza, the military spokesman's office said. A Palestinian boy was shot dead in a clash with Israeli troops outside the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestine TV reported.

Watch: New 72-hour Gaza truce agreed in Cairo: Palestinians

Israel had walked away from ceasefire talks over the weekend, after militants resumed their rocket fire on southern Israel with the expiration of an earlier three-day truce.

"We are here to look for an agreement. We cannot have an agreement without talks, so we accepted an Egyptian proposal to have a ceasefire for 72 hours in order to resume the talks," said a Palestinian negotiator.

The Egyptian-mediated talks are aimed at brokering a long-term truce arrangement between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip following the heaviest fighting between the bitter enemies since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

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 destroyed. Sixty-seven people were killed on the Israeli side, including three civilians.

The fighting ended in a temporary 72-hour ceasefire last Tuesday, during which Egypt had hoped to mediate a longer-term agreement. But when the three-day window expired, militants resumed their rocket fire, sparking new Israeli reprisals. The violence has continued throughout the weekend, albeit not as strong as at the height of the fighting.

Earlier, Palestinians had threatened to quit the negotiations if Israel did not return, while Israeli leaders said there would be no talks as long as the rocket fire continues .

"Israel will not negotiate under fire," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, warning his country's military campaign "will take time".

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Hamas, slammed Netanyahu's statement. "Netanyahu failed in this battle, and the loser has no right to dictate or impose any preconditions," he said.

Hamas is seeking an end to an Israeli-Egypt blockade that has decimated the local economy.

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent arms smuggling, and it says Hamas must disarm as part of any long-term arrangement. Hamas has said handing over its weapons arsenal, which is believed to include several thousand remaining rockets, is inconceivable.

Instead, one proposal circulated by the Egyptian mediators over the weekend offered a minor easing of some of the restrictions, according to Palestinian negotiators. It was not clear if this was an Egyptian or an Israeli proposal. The Palestinian negotiators said they rejected the ideas, insisting on a total end to the blockade.

Palestinian negotiator Bassam Salhi, who represents a small PLO faction, said his team met late on Saturday with the Egyptian mediators.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Reuters