JERUSALEM: Israel and Hamas said they had agreed a new 72-hour truce starting today, after increasingly vocal world demands for a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict.
The apparent breakthrough came during talks in Cairo on Monday, days after a similar three-day truce collapsed in a deadly wave of violence within hours of starting on Friday.
Images of the bloodshed, which has cost more than 1,800 Palestinian lives and 64 Israeli soldiers in and near Gaza and three civilians in Israel, have sent tensions in the region soaring, earning the Jewish state strong criticism.
“How many more deaths will it take to stop what must be called the carnage in Gaza?” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius asked, as Britain said it was reviewing licences to sell arms to Israel.
Israel and Hamas separately confirmed each agreed to abide by the new ceasefire. “Israel will be honouring the ceasefire from tomorrow (Tuesday) at 8am (0500 GMT),” an Israeli official said.
“Hamas informed Cairo a few minutes ago of their approval of the truce,” a spokesman for the group, Sami Abu Zuhri, said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said there would be no end to military operation without first securing a long-term period of calm for his people. Violence hit west Jerusalem, with police saying they had foiled a “terror attack” when a Palestinian rammed an earthmover into a bus, killing one before being shot dead.
But after the unilateral Israeli truce ended, Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo, including Hamas, were working on another ceasefire.
“Egypt’s contacts with relevant parties have achieved a commitment for a truce, and an agreement for the rest of the relevant delegations to come to Cairo to conduct further negotiations,” an Egyptian official said.
On the ground in Gaza, Israeli forces observed the unilateral seven-hour pause. The humanitarian window got off to a shaky start with an air strike levelling a house in a beachfront refugee camp in Gaza City, killing three people, including a nine-year-old girl. “There is no truce. How could there be a truce?” raged Ayman Mahmud, who lives in the neighbourhood. “They are liars! They don’t even respect their own commitments!”
The Israeli military said it still has many missions to carry out in Gaza despite destroying all of the known tunnels militants use to attack its territory. “We will not leave; we will stay in the Gaza Strip,” army spokesman Moti Almoz said on television.
“All tunnels we have located have been destroyed,” he said, adding “talking about the end of the mission against the tunnels doesn’t mean talking about an end to the Gaza mission.”