12-hour ceasefire agreed between Israel and Hamas
US Secretary of State John Kerry said the search for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza will extend into the weekend, as Israel and Hamas signalled readiness to halt hostilities for 12 hours.
Mr Kerry said mediators want the initial pause to build into a weeklong truce for the Islamic Eid festival, an idea he said hasn't been made final. Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu "has indicated his willingness to do that as a good-faith down payment to move forward," Mr Kerry said, speaking late last night at a press conference in Cairo.
Hamas, the Islamist organisation that rules Gaza, has also agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire starting at 7am today, according to the group's news agency al-Ray and pro-Hamas TV station al-Aqsa.
Neither side has agreed to Mr Kerry's plan for a weeklong ceasefire during which talks on a durable settlement can get under way. While the "basic outline" is accepted on all sides, Mr Kerry said, there are still problems of "terminology and context of the framework." He said he'll continue the pursuit today from Paris, where foreign ministers from European Union nations and Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey are due to join negotiations.
Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, told reporters at the White House that a 12-hour pause "would be a very modest initial step".
The conflict between Israel and Hamas has left more than 860 Palestinians and 35 Israeli soldiers dead since it escalated on July 8. There have been earlier humanitarian pauses during that period, for injured people to be moved or civilians to replenish supplies.
Protests spread to the West Bank late on Thursday, and several Palestinian demonstrators were killed in clashes with Israeli security forces. Channel 2 and other Israeli media said ministers at a security cabinet meeting late yesterday weren't satisfied with the latest shape of Mr Kerry's broader plan. Mr Kerry, at the press conference, said no formal proposals have been submitted.
The Ynet news website reported that during a 12-hour halt Israel will continue to destroy tunnels used by Hamas militants to launch raids into the Jewish state but won't initiate fire. It also cited Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon as telling the army to be ready to "significantly expand the ground offensive in Gaza very soon". Israel says its military offensive aims to end the barrage of rockets fired at its towns from Gaza, and destroy the tunnels. Hamas says the economic embargo on the territory must end as part of any accord. Egypt, which has mediated past conflicts, is working with Kerry to broker a deal.
Meanwhile, our own Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said the high number of civilian deaths in Gaza from Israel's military actions "cannot be justified".
But the Israeli ambassador to Ireland has praised Mr Flanagan for his "understanding" of Israel's plight in combatting attacks by Hamas. In the wake of criticism of the Government's stance, Mr Flanagan met Israeli ambassador Boaz Modai yesterday morning to discuss the ongoing conflict. During the meeting, Mr Flanagan expressed his concern for the high number of Palestinian deaths.