Gaza conflict: Israel and Hamas begin 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire
An Israeli tank advances in a staging area near the Israel-Gaza border on Thursday. Photograph: Tsafrir Abayov/AP
Shelling continued in the Gaza Strip minutes before the ceasefire began at 8am local time and four Palestinians reported killed by Israeli tank fire
By: Harriet Sherwood, Jason Burke and Paul Lewis
A tense ceasefire has officially come into effect in Gaza after Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour pause in their three-week conflict. The United States and United Nations brokered the temporary truce to allow for humanitarian relief and bring both sides to the table for talks on a longer-term halt to hostilities.
After a night of heavy bombardment, shelling continued in the Gaza Strip and rocket fire from Hamas hit Israel minutes before the ceasefire began at 8am on Friday local time. An Israeli army spokesman said it was looking into reports four Palestinians were killed and 15 wounded by tank fire nearly two hours after the truce began.
Delegations from Israel and Palestine are due to convene in Cairo for negotiations to be mediated by the Egyptian government.
Both Israel and Hamas earlier confirmed they had agreed to the truce. In a brief statement issued about an hour before the ceasefire was due to begin, the Israeli government said: “In accordance with the authority granted by the security cabinet to the prime minister and the minister of defence, Israel has accepted the UN/US proposal for a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire beginning 8am Friday.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group would abide by the ceasefire, Reuters reported. “Acknowledging a call by the United Nations and in consideration of the situation of our people, resistance factions agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian and mutual calm that begins at 8am on Friday as long as the other side abides by it,” he said. “All the Palestinian factions are united behind the issue in this regard.”
Gaza officials say at least four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli tank fire nearly two hours after Israel and Hamas began observing a three-day cease-fire.
Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra and Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji said 15 other Palestinians were wounded in the shelling east of the southern Gaza city of Rafah.
An Israeli Army spokesman in Jerusalem said the military was looking into the incident.
As the ceasefire started fishermen in Gaza City set out to sea for the first time since the war began. City inhabitants tentatively left their homes, some for the first time for days, and queues formed for taxis.
Most of those immediately on the streets were hoping to return to homes they had not seen for weeks, or salvage belongings. Grocery shops rapidly opened, selling basic foodstuffs.
But while most seemed optimistic and pleased that the ceasfire had been declared others remained defiant.
Samira Attar, 27, sitting in a donkey cart with her husband and five children and three mattresses, said she was heading back to her house in Atattraa, in the north of the strip. “I am going back to my house for the first time for 17 days. I hope this ceasefire will hold for the whole 72 hours and longer, God willing. We don’t need more bloodhsed, or more devastation. I’d like to see Israel to be defeated and broken but the circumstances were very difficult,” Attar said.
Harth Nassr, 34, a restaurant worker from Beit Hanoun, a heavily hit village in the north east of the Gaza Strip, said he too was optimistic.
“I think it will hold this time. Everybody is tired of this war,” Nassr said.
Nassr’s home was destroyed after he evacuated following a warning from Israeli forces to leave the area. “I left my house ten days ago. I went there only once in the last ten days and found the whole building, all three storeys, destroyed. I’m going back today to see if I can get any of my belongings,” Nassr said.
Fighting had continued until the last moment before the ceasefire began. Gaza came under heavy shelling and artillery fire overnight, and sirens warning of rocket attacks sounded in southern Israel. Palestinian sources said 17 people, including 10 members of one family, had been killed in Khan Younis in the early hours of Friday. The Palestinian death toll on Friday morning stood at more than 1,400, most of them civilians.
The Israel Defence Forces said five of its soldiers were killed in a mortar attack on the Gaza border, bringing the total number of military casualties to 61. Three civilians were also killed by rocket fire in Israel.
However others doubted that the war was over. Isham Abu Ramadan, 42, a construction worker who said his house was destroyed in an air strike earlier this month, said he was not optimistic.
“We have long experience of Israel. They break the ceasefire all the time. They want to hit us more. They want more massacres. Israel doesn’t want to end the war as well as they don’t want a peace settlement. I don’t want a ceasefire. I want the resistance to fire until the end when Israel is defeated and asks for a truce,”
Meanwhile, Israeli security forces were on high alert in East Jerusalem and the West Bank after Palestinian leaders called for a “day of rage” on Friday. Several protest marches were expected to begin after noon prayers.
Access to the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City was restricted men over 50, women and children.
Last Friday, seven Palestinians were killed in clashes with security forces during protests over the war in Gaza, raising concerns over the use of live fire by the Israel Defence Forces.
Rocket sirens sounded in the south of Israel two hours after the start of the ceasefire, and police warned that the border area was still closed to the public and “very dangerous”.
In a joint statement on Thursday evening the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said the ceasefire would give “innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence”. The pause would allow Gaza’s civilians to “bury the dead, care for the injured, and restock food supplies”, they said. Repairs would also be made to water and power infrastructure damaged in the 24 days of conflict, which has killed 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
However, “forces on the ground will remain in place”, meaning Israel had succeeded in its insistence that its troops continue to search for and destroy Hamas tunnels during any humanitarian pause.
“We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire,” the two top diplomats said.
“This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence,” the statement continued. “During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief, and the opportunity to carry out vital functions, including burying the dead, taking care of the injured, and restocking food supplies. Overdue repairs on essential water and energy infrastructure could also continue during this period.”
Ban and Kerry, who have been at the forefront of efforts to seek an end to the conflict, said the UN’s representative in Jerusalem, special coordinator Robert Serry, had received “assurances that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza”.
The US-UN statement added: “Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately be going to Cairo for negotiations with thegovernment of Egypt, at the invitation of Egypt, aimed at reaching a durable ceasefire. The parties will be able to raise all issues of concern in these negotiations.”
The ceasefire was first announced in New Delhi during a diplomatic visit by Kerry. It followed mounting international outrage over the shelling earlier this week by Israeli forces of a UN school sheltering thousands of Palestinian families who had fled their homes after being warned by Israel to evacuate ahead of bombing. At least 15 people, including sleeping children, were killed and hundreds injured.
Ban condemned the attack as “outrageous and unjustifiable” and President Barack Obama’s press secretary , delivering an unusually forthright response, called the attack “totally unacceptable” and “totally indefensible”.
Previous unilateral ceasefires have been short-lived, with each side blaming the other for violations. This is the first time that both parties have agreed to a pause during which further negotiations will begin.
The Egyptian government made a similar proposal more than two weeks ago, which Israel agreed to, but Hamas rejected.
The composition of the delegations to attend talks in Cairo was still being worked on into the night. Diplomatic sources indicated that the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would help decide the team representing the the Palestinian side, but was not expected to attend the negotiations.
Egypt was expected to take a central role in facilitating the talks, which will begin as soon as the parties arrive in Cairo and could, if the ceasefire is extended, last several days.
The US was also sending a small delegation, including Bill Burns, deputy secretary of state, and Frank Lowenstein, Kerry’s special envoy for Middle East.
There were no immediate plans for Kerry, who whose recent attempt to forge a ceasefire collapsed amid acrimony last weekend, to attend the talks, although a western diplomat said his attendance remained “a possibility”.
“This is a lull of opportunity,” Kerry told reporters in New Delhi, according to Reuters. “It is imperative people make the best effort to try to find common ground.”
Posted on August 1, 2014, in NEWS and tagged 72, begin, bombardment, calm, ceasefire, conflict, continued, delegations, effect, free palestina, free palestine, Friday, gaza, gaza conflict, gazaunderattack, gazaunderfire, hamas, hamas spokesman, hour, humanitarian, israel, israel and palestine, news, rocket fire, sami abu zuhri, shelling, situation, source, the guardian, war. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.