Israelis, Palestinians enter 72-hour Gaza truce

2014-08-05 09:05

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Israel and Hamas entered a 72-hour truce 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, 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. A military spokesperson said the main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels had been completed.

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

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.

The war has claimed the lives of 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.

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

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 spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said the Islamist group had also informed Egypt “of its acceptance of a 72-hour period of calm”, beginning today.

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.

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