Wednesday 22 October 2014

Israel and Hamas agree unconditional 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire

Published 31/07/2014 | 22:40

Relatives of Palestinians, whom medics said were killed in an Israeli air strike on their van, grieve at a hospital Gaza City July 31, 2014.
Relatives of Palestinians, whom medics said were killed in an Israeli air strike on their van, grieve at a hospital Gaza City July 31, 2014.
Rockets are fired from Gaza Strip towards Israel, Thursday, July 31, 2014, as international efforts to end the 23-day-old conflict seemed to sputter despite concern over the mounting death toll. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
Rockets are fired from Gaza Strip towards Israel, Thursday, July 31, 2014, as international efforts to end the 23-day-old conflict seemed to sputter despite concern over the mounting death toll. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
An Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC) drives near the border with the Gaza Strip July 31, 2014. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, said on Thursday he would not accept any ceasefire that stopped Israel completing the destruction of militants' infiltration tunnels. Gaza officials say at least 1,410 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered territory and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola (ISRAEL - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY CONFLICT)
An Israeli armoured personnel carrier (APC) drives near the border with the Gaza Strip July 31, 2014. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing international alarm over a rising civilian death toll in Gaza, said on Thursday he would not accept any ceasefire that stopped Israel completing the destruction of militants' infiltration tunnels. Gaza officials say at least 1,410 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered territory and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola (ISRAEL - Tags: CIVIL UNREST MILITARY CONFLICT)

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire from tomorrow morning, the United States and the United Nations announced.

A joint statement by America and the UN said tonight they received assurances that all parties to the conflict had agreed to an unconditional ceasefire during which there would be negotiations on a more durable truce.

The statement was released in New Delhi, where US secretary of state John Kerry is meeting Indian officials.

"This humanitarian ceasefire will commence at 8am local time on Friday, August 1, 2014. It will last for a period of 72 hours unless extended. During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place," the statement said.

"We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire."

The statement said the ceasefire was critical to give civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence. During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive humanitarian relief and have time to bury the dead, take care of the injured and restock food supplies.

The time also will be used to repair water and energy infrastructure.

The announcement came hours after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas' tunnel network with or without a ceasefire as the Palestinian death toll soared past 1,400 - surpassing the number killed in Israel's last major invasion of Gaza five years ago.

There was no immediate Israeli comment on the ceasefire announcement.

Earlier, the Israeli military said it was calling up an additional 16,000 reserve soldiers to pursue its campaign against the Islamic militants.

At least 1,441 Palestinians have been killed, three-quarters of them civilians, since hostilities began on July 8, according to Gaza health officials. At least 1,410 Palestinians were killed in 2009, according to human rights groups.

Israel says 56 soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have died - also far more than the 13 Israeli deaths in the previous campaign.

As the toll grew, UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay accused both Israel and Hamas militants of breaking the rules of war.

She said Hamas was violating international humanitarian law by "locating rockets within schools and hospitals, or even launching these rockets from densely-populated areas". But she said this did not absolve Israel from disregarding the same law.

The Israeli government, she said, defied international law by attacking civilian areas of Gaza such as schools, hospitals, homes and UN facilities.

"None of this appears to me to be accidental," Ms Pillay said. "They appear to be defying - deliberate defiance of - obligations that international law imposes on Israel."

Ms Pillay also took aim at the US, Israel's main ally, for providing financial support for Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-rocket defence system. "No such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling," she said.

At the United Nations, Israel's ambassador Ron Prosor responded to criticism of his country, saying: "I think the international community should be very vocal in standing with Israel fighting terrorism today because if not, you will see it on your doorstep tomorrow."

Israel expanded what started as an aerial campaign against Hamas and widened it into a ground offensive on July 17. Since then, Israel says the campaign has concentrated on destroying cross-border tunnels built by militants to carry out attacks inside Israeli territory and ending rocket attacks on its cities.

Most of the 32 tunnels it uncovered have now been demolished and that getting rid of the remainder will take no more than a few days, Israel says.

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