Israel, Palestinians Reach Gaza Ceasefire Deal

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators announced Tuesday they have agreed to an open-ended ceasefire to halt seven weeks of deadly combat in Gaza.

The truce took effect at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT), though fighting continued up to that point, the Associated Press reported. Just before its start, mortar fired into southern Israel killed at least one Israeli. But celebratory gunfire broke out in Gaza, with mosques' loudspeakers carrying chants typically reserved for holidays.

The ceasefire was announced by Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, from his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Egypt brokered the deal, which calls for Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza, allowing shipments of humanitarian aid and building materials for repair and reconstruction.

A statement from Egypt's foreign ministry said indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians should resume within a month of the ceasefire's implementation, Reuters reported. The continuing talks will address Israel's demand for disarming the militant group Hamas, which governs Gaza. Palestinians also want the opening of a seaport and airport and greater easing of the blockade.

Egypt has been appealing to Israel and Hamas to enact a cease-fire and resume negotiating an end to the fighting that erupted July 8.

Israeli cabinet members were apprised by phone of the ceasefire decision but were not asked to vote on it, Israeli senior officials told the Jerusalem Post.

Palestinians celebrate following announcement of a ceasefire in Gaza City on Aug. 26, 2014. /Reuters Palestinians celebrate following announcement of a ceasefire in Gaza City on Aug. 26, 2014. /Reuters

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri insisted the agreement was a "victory" for his group.

Asserting Palestinians "won" the battle, Abu Zuhri said Israeli military forces were unable to defend their people, who had to hide or flee under attack. The spokesman also said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a failure because the operation in Gaza "achieved nothing."

Nearly two months of Israeli airstrikes in response to Hamas rocket fire have killed at least 2,133 Palestinians, most of them civilians, including close to 500 children, Palestinian health officials and the United Nations report. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and four civilians have been killed.

The United States, which has long called for an end to the fighting, said it strongly supports the truce.

"As soon as calm is restored, the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the people in Gaza must be accelerated," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. He said the U.S. was committed to that effort and to working with international partners on rebuilding Gaza.

The United Nations has estimated that the Gaza violence has forced 475,000 Palestinians to seek refuge at its shelters.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the ceasefire, saying in a statement that "it is up to the parties to live up to this responsibility. After this latest round of killing and the further widespread destruction of Palestinian homes, civilians on both sides need a reprieve. ..."

There have been several ceasefires, and on-off peace talks in Cairo. But violence resumed quickly when contentious negotiations broke down over Israel's demand that Hamas be disarmed and the Palestinians' call for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

VOA News / Aug. 27, 2014 08:11 KST