Hamas and Israel agree 72-hour Gaza ceasefire

UN and US announce two sides agree humanitarian truce to begin on Friday morning and indirect talks to be held in Cairo.

The UN and the US have announced that Israel and Hamas have agreed to an unconditional 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire to begin on Friday morning.

In a joint statement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and United States Secretary of State John Kerry said the two sides would cease fire at 8am local time (05:00 GMT) and talks would be held in Cairo.

A senior US State Department official said the Gaza talks could start as early as Friday, depending on how long it takes the parties to reach Cairo.

The official said representatives from Israel and the US will not sit across the table from Hamas in Cairo.

The joint UN-US statement said: “This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence.

“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.

“Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately be going to Cairo for negotiations with the government 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.”

Diplomatic background

Speaking during a visit to New Delhi, the Indian capital, Kerry called the ceasefire “precious time”.

“It is a lull of opportunity, a moment for the different factions to be able to come together with the state of Israel in an effort to try to address ways to find a sustainable ceasefire and then obviously, over a longer period of time, address the underlying issues,” he told journalists.

Discussing the background to the ceasefire at a briefing in New Delhi, a senior US State Department official said: “We identified early on in this process that getting a ceasefire would require co-ordinating with countries that had relations and influence – relations with and influence over Hamas, and would be able to both convey a message quickly and receive a response in short order. 

“And dozens of times over the last week to ten days, we were conveying messages through the Qataris and the Turks, and that proved a very important part of getting this humanitarian ceasefire established.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera following the announcement of the ceasefire, Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan said: “It’s not our duty to protect Israel or be a guardian of Israel’s security.

“But, at this time, all of the Palestinian resistance movements have declared and approved the ceasefire for 72 hours, so I think they respect that and [will] be committed to their declaration.”

As of late Thursday, Gaza’s ministry of health put the death toll of Palestinians at 1,444, with more than 8,350 wounded.

Sixty-four Israelis, nearly all of them soldiers, have died since Israel launched its offensive against Gaza on July 8.

The Israeli army said five of its soldiers were killed from mortar fire late on Thursday along the border of the besieged Gaza Strip.

Humanitarian crisis

Earlier on Thursday, the US said there was “little doubt” Israeli bombs killed 19 people at a UN shelter in Gaza on Wednesday, in its strongest condemnation yet of Israeli attacks on civilians in the Palestinian enclave.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest, said on Thursday that the shelling of the school in Jabaliya was “totally indefensible”.

Earlier on Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, had said his country was determined, regardless of ceasefire efforts, to complete the destruction of tunnels that Palestinian fighters have built under the Gaza-Israel border.

“Until now, we have destroyed dozens of terror tunnels and we are determined to finish this mission – with or without a ceasefire,” he said.

The UN’s top rights and refugee officials condemned Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and warned of a major humanitarian crisis with at least 440,000 people having fled their homes.