Thursday 25 December 2014

Israelis and Palestinians enter 72-hour Gaza truce

* Under Egyptian proposal, both sides hold fire from 0500 GMT
* Israeli envoys due in Cairo to negotiate more enduring deal
* Ground forces quit Gaza, having razed 32 infiltrator tunnels
* Palestinian death toll 1,834; 67 killed on the Israeli side

By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Lin Noueihed and Dan Williams

Published 05/08/2014 | 07:04

A Palestinian family looks through their damaged home after returning to Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and began a 72-hour truce with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war. Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,834 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)
A Palestinian family looks through their damaged home after returning to Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
A Palestinian family rides a donkey cart past damaged homes after returning to Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
Palestinians sit next to their destroyed house after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A general view of destroyed buildings in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
The ruins of destroyed houses are seen in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Palestinians sit next to their destroyed house after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A Palestinian woman reacts after retuning to her badly damaged house in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Palestinians search for their belongings amongst the ruins of their destroyed house after returning to it in the Shejaia neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians look at destroyed houses after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians sit next to their destroyed house after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A Palestinian woman searches for her belongings amongst the rubble of her destroyed house after returning to the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians sit next to their destroyed house after returning to it in the Shejaia neighborhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during an Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki (C) leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague August 5, 2014. Al-Malki said on Tuesday after meeting prosecutors at the International Criminal Court that there was "clear evidence" that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague August 5, 2014. Al-Malki said on Tuesday after meeting prosecutors at the International Criminal Court that there was "clear evidence" that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos
The ruins of destroyed houses are seen in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki (C) leaves the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague August 5, 2014. Al-Malki said on Tuesday after meeting prosecutors at the International Criminal Court that there was "clear evidence" that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza. REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/United Photos
An Israeli soldier from the Nahal Brigade carries a weapon after returning to Israel from Gaza August 5, 2014. Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A Palestinian woman leads a girl past destroyed buildings after returning to Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly
Palestinians inspect a damaged building after it was hit by mistake by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel by Palestinian militants, in the West Bank town of Beit Sahur near Bethlehem August 5, 2014. IREUTERS/Ammar Awad
A Palestinian man gestures in front of a damaged building after it was hit by mistake by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel by Palestinian militants, in the West Bank town of Beit Sahur near Bethlehem August 5, 2014. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
An Israeli soldier from the Nahal Brigade carries a weapon after returning to Israel from Gaza August 5, 2014. Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
An Israeli soldier gestures from atop a tank after crossing the border back into Israel August 5, 2014. Israel pulled its ground forces out of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas mediated by Egypt as a first step towards negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old war. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

ISRAEL and Hamas-led Palestinian guerrillas entered a 72-hour truce this morning mediated by Egypt with a view to encouraging negotiations on a more enduring end to the month-old Gaza war.

Minutes before the ceasefire took hold at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT), Hamas launched a salvo of long-range rockets, calling them revenge for Israel's "massacres". Sirens went off as far north as Jerusalem's outlying areas. There was no word of casualties.

 

Israeli ground forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip ahead of the truce, with a military spokesman saying their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels had been completed.

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian boy Mohammed Eweda , whom medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian boy Mohammed Eweda , whom medics said was killed in an Israeli air strike, during his funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian man reacts as he carries the body of a girl from the Abu Nejim family, whom medics said was killed along with other eight family members by an Israeli air strike, before her burial at a cemetery in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
Israeli soldiers walk past tanks at a staging area near the border with Gaza Strip. Reuters
An Israeli soldier launches a Skylark unmanned aerial vehicle near the border with Gaza Strip. Reuters
Israeli women take cover as a siren warning of incoming rockets sounds in the southern city of Ashkelon. Reuters
A general view of destroyed and damaged houses in Beit Hanoun town, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the northern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian man walks amidst the destruction in the Shejaia neighbourhood, which witnesses said was heavily hit by Israeli shelling and air strikes during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City. Reuters
Palestinian mourners carry the bodies of members of the Najam family, killed overnight in an Israeli strike at the family house, during the funeral in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip. AP
Palestinians gather as rescue workers search for victims under the rubble of a house which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
An armoured military ambulance damaged in a Palestinian mortar strike is seen near the border with the Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian man reacts after the body of his mother was removed from under the rubble of their house which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Reuters
A Palestinian stands amid the rubble of his bedroom in a building destroyed by Israeli strikes in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip. AP
Palestinians walk in front of destroyed buildings hit by an Israeli strike in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip. AP
Israelis stand near a flipped bus at the scene of an attack in Jerusalem An Israeli-declared cease-fire and troop withdrawals slowed violence in the Gaza war Monday, though an attack on Israeli bus that killed one person in Jerusalem underscored the tensions still simmering in the region. AP
An Israeli border police officer stands near a flipped bus at the scene of an attack in Jerusalem. An Israeli-declared cease-fire and troop withdrawals slowed violence in the Gaza war Monday, though an attack on Israeli bus that killed one person in Jerusalem underscored the tensions still simmering in the region. AP
Residents stand on balconies as they look at the scene of a suspected attack in Jerusalem. A Palestinian killed an Israeli and overturned a bus with a construction vehicle on Monday and a gunman wounded a soldier in attacks in Jerusalem that appeared to be a backlash against Israel's Gaza war. Reuters
An Israeli soldier walks next to army excavators at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip. Reuters
A man walks past Israeli police officers standing near the home of a Palestinian who killed an Israeli and overturned a bus with a construction vehicle on Monday, in the Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabal Mukaber. Reuters
An Israeli soldier from the Givati brigade carries his gear after returning to Israel from Gaza. Egypt presented Palestinian demands to Israel on Monday as part of efforts to mediate a ceasefire in Gaza which could pave the way for negotiations to end more than three weeks of fighting, an Egyptian source said. Reuters

 

Troops and tanks would be "redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions," spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting if attacked.

 

Several previous attempts by Egypt and other regional powers, overseen by the United States and United Nations, failed to calm the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting in two years.

 

Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,834 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed since fighting began on July 8, after a surge in Palestinian rocket launches.

 

Israel was expected to send delegates to join talks in Cairo to cement a longer-term deal during the course of the truce.

 

For now, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel's Army Radio: "There are no agreements. As we have already said, quiet will be answered with quiet."

 

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the Islamist group had also informed Egypt "of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm," beginning on Tuesday.

 

The U.S. State Department praised the truce and urged the parties to "respect it completely". Spokeswoman Jen Psaki added that Washington would continue its efforts to help the sides achieve a "durable, sustainable solution for the long term".

 

Efforts to cement the ceasefire into a lasting truce could prove difficult, with the sides far apart on key demands, and each rejecting the other's legitimacy. Hamas rejects Israel's existence, and vows to destroy it, while Israel denounces Hamas as a terrorist group and eschews any ties.

 

Besides the truce, Palestinians demand an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on impoverished Gaza and the release of prisoners including those Israel arrested in a June crackdown in the occupied West Bank after three Jewish seminary students were kidnapped and killed.

 

Israel has resisted those demands in the past.

 

 

ISRAEL: DEMILITARISE GAZA

 

Lerner said the army overnight destroyed the last of 32 tunnels located inside Gaza and which had been dug by Hamas for cross-border attacks at an estimated cost of $100 million.

 

"Today we completed the removal of this threat," he said.

 

Israeli officials say, however, that some tunnels may have gone undetected and that the armed forces are poised to strike at these in the future.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also wants to disarm Hamas and demilitarise Gaza, stripping of their arsenals guerrillas who launched more than 3,300 rockets and mortar bombs at Israel this past month. Hamas has ruled that out.

 

"For Israel the most important issue is the issue of demilitarisation. We must prevent Hamas from rearming, we must demilitarise the Gaza Strip," Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev told Reuters television.

 

Since the fighting began, several previous truces barely held. Regev said Israel had accepted Egypt's terms weeks before Hamas, and expressed a wish that the truce would last: "I hope this time we see the ceasefire work that's good for everybody."

 

Egypt has positioned itself as a mediator in successive Gaza conflicts but, like Israel, its current administration views Hamas as a security threat.

 

Besides the loss of life, the war has cost both sides economically. Gaza faces a massive $6-billion price tag to rebuild devastated infrastructure. Israel has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism, other industry, and fears cuts in overall economic growth this year as well.

 

In northern Gaza, some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the fighting cautiously headed back to their battered towns. A column of evacuees trundled into northern Beit Hanoun in donkey-drawn carts.

 

The violence had shown signs of abating early on Tuesday, with few reported incidents. Two rockets were fired at a southern Israeli city, Ashkelon, and Israel's Iron Dome interceptor shot them down. There were no casualties.

 

On Monday, Palestinians accused Israel of bombing a refugee camp in Gaza City, killing an eight-year-old girl and wounding 29 people in a disruption of what was supposed to have been a seven-hour humanitarian ceasefire.

 

A military spokeswoman disputed this, saying Israel had withheld aerial fire for seven hours on Monday, in a move to free up aid supplies and allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the war to go home.

 

Media in Britain reported that a British aid worker was killed on Sunday during an Israeli strike in Rafah while he was delivering supplies to a hospital. The British Foreign Office said it was looking into the report.

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