JERUSALEM: Israel and Hamas said they have agreed a new 72-hour truce starting on Tuesday, after increasingly vocal world demands for a ceasefire in the bloody Gaza conflict.
The breakthrough came during talks in Cairo on Monday, only days after a similar three-day truce collapsed in a deadly wave of violence within hours of starting on Friday.
The United States welcomed the ceasefire, adding that the onus was on the Palestinian militia to maintain the truce.
“This is a real opportunity. We strongly support the initiative,” Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told CNN.
Images of the bloodshed — which has cost more than 1,800 Palestinian lives, and 64 Israeli soldiers in and near Gaza as well as 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, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza, separately confirmed to Agence France-Presse they would abide by the new 72-hour ceasefire.
“Israel will be honouring the ceasefire from tomorrow (Tuesday) at 8:00am (0500 GMT),” an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.
“Hamas informed Cairo a few minutes ago of their approval of the truce for 72 hours from tomorrow,” a spokesman for the group, Sami Abu Zuhri, said.
And Ziad al-Nakhale, deputy leader of the Islamic Jihad, said in a statement: “The ceasefire is arriving in the coming hours.”
A Palestinian delegation, including representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority, was already in Cairo for talks on the terms of an agreement between Israel and Gaza, set to take place during the three-day truce.
The Israeli official confirmed that a delegation would be arriving in Egypt to participate in the talks, as per the terms of the ceasefire, without providing further details.
The official also said Hamas was to blame for weeks of continued bloodshed after refusing an identical Egyptian proposal which Israel had accepted.
“It was Hamas that rejected it, it is Hamas that is responsible for the violence we’ve seen over the past three weeks,” he said.
Senior Hamas member Ezzat al-Rishq, who is part of the movement’s delegation to Egypt, stressed the agreement was based on the “Palestinian demands.”
“After the 72-hour period ends and if there is no agreement reached, we will have to make a decision on whether to extend the ceasefire or not,” he told Agence France-Presse.
The ceasefire came after Israeli forces had largely observed a unilateral seven-hour pause in their offensive on Monday.
Hamas did not observe the truce and fired 42 rockets and mortar shells over the border during the pause, 24 of which hit Israel and another one which was shot down, the army said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated following the end of the unilateral lull there would be no end to the Gaza military operation without first ensuring “quiet and security” in Israel “for a prolonged period.”
The Israeli military later 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. There are many more missions to complete,” army spokesman Moti Almoz said on television.
Israel launched the military operation against rocket-firing militants in Gaza on July 8, and nine days later it sent ground troops into the enclave to destroy the network of sophisticated tunnels.
The truce announcement came after international outrage grew over an Israeli strike near a UN school on Sunday that killed 10 people, in the third such strike in 10 days.
With UN figures indicating most of the 1,867 people killed in Gaza so far were civilians, the world has stepped up its demands for an end to the bloodshed.
In Paris, France’s top diplomat, an increasingly vocal critic of the war, demanded the world impose a political solution to end “the carnage”.
His remarks came a day after the UN denounced a fresh strike on one of its schools which was sheltering 3,000 refugees as “a moral outrage and a criminal act”, and the United States said it was “appalled”.
Israel said it had targeted three militants near the school and added it was investigating the strike.
Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov also added his voice to growing calls for an agreement to end the violence, his ministry said Monday.
In Jerusalem, one Israeli was killed and five hurt when a Palestinian rammed an earthmover into a bus, turning it over before the driver was shot dead by police, according to Israeli officials, describing it as a “terrorist attack”.
Shortly afterwards, an Israeli soldier was shot and seriously wounded near a bus stop not far from the site of the earlier attack, with police combing the area for his attacker.